CSU launches air travel offset in step for climate neutrality

Plane flying over mountains

The next phase in Colorado State University meeting its climate neutrality goal of 2040 is an air travel offset program that begins Feb. 1. 

Completing an initiative that began in 2017 by the President’s Sustainability Commission, CSU will assess a $10 offset fee for domestic air travel trips and $20 for international air travel trips on university business. Sponsored research travel and trips paid for with personal funds are exempt. 

“By implementing an air travel offset program that invests directly in a CSU Emissions Reduction Fund, we are using our campus as an incubator for sustainability innovation while also addressing a sizable portion of our greenhouse gas inventory,” said Lynn Johnson, vice president of university operations. 

“One of the upsides of the pandemic has been advances in technology and remote work to make attending virtual meetings and conferences easier and more accessible,” Johnson wrote in a Jan. 18 letter introducing the policy. “Air travel at the University has significantly declined in the past two years, and we encourage you to continue to use remote options when available and feasible, so we don’t return to pre-pandemic air travel emission levels.” 

$7 million spent in year before pandemic

Johnson wrote that CSU spent more than $7 million on air travel in fiscal year 2019, producing more than 20,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MTCO2e) in greenhouse gas emissions. 

“As a large research university, we understand that some of our work will require air travel; however, we recognize that those flights have a negative impact on the planet,” said Carol Dollard, a utility engineer for CSU’s facilities management team and co-chair of the President’s Sustainability Commission. “This air travel offset fee program will provide a resource to implement carbon reduction projects across campus to help mitigate the impacts of those flights. 

“The carbon reduction projects will not only reduce the University’s carbon emissions but likely reduce utility costs – thus providing added benefits to the University.” 

Projects will fund new equipment

The carbon reduction fees will help fund projects across the University. Some examples include LED lighting retrofits, on-demand water heaters and replacing energy-intensive equipment with more efficient models. 

With FY21-type flight usage, the fund would receive less than $10,000 per year. Pre-pandemic CSU flight totals would net more than $165,000. Air travel is the third largest part of greenhouse gas emissions at CSU behind electricity and natural gas. 

In partnership with Fort Collins and local utility providers, CSU is well on its way to its 100% renewable electricity goal by 2030. Natural gas use will go down, in part due to one of the largest geo-exchange systems in Colorado. 

CSU’s business and financial services will run a monthly report to track air travel purchases paid for by the University. Facilities management will collect the fees for a dedicated CSU Emissions Reduction Fund. The front-end process for booking and purchasing air travel will not change.

Program continues CSU’s commitment to sustainability

“The air travel offset program is consistent with our commitment to sustainability as a core value,” said Aaron Fodge, CSU’s alternate transportation manager. “Transportation emission reductions from air travel, commuting, and our fleet will take creative thinking and a commitment by all employees and students.” 

CSU was named the Top Performer among Doctoral Institutions in the 2021 Sustainable Campus Index, and has been named to both the Princeton Review Green Honor Roll and the Sierra Club’s Cool Schools list for eight consecutive years. 

“Even as we celebrate our accomplishments, we recognize that there are serious sustainability challenges that must be addressed and this program is just one step in ensuring a sustainable thriving planet,” Johnson wrote.

 To learn more about sustainability efforts at CSU, visit green.colostate.edu.

TIPS TO REDUCE YOUR CARBON FOOTPRINT WHILE TRAVELING 

  • Forego flying and meet virtually – this has the biggest carbon reduction impact.
  • For shorter distances, travel by charter bus, train, or carpool in CSU fleet vehicle.
  • Combine trips – pair a conference with a site visit or complete two meetings in one trip.
  • Fly non-stop – taking off and landing uses the most fuel so direct flights are more efficient.
  • Fly on planes that emit fewer emissions – larger and newer planes are typically more efficient.
  • Travel in coach – larger seats and expanded leg room in business and first class equal three times as many emissions as the efficient coach seats.
  • Pack light – more weight on the plane means more fuel needed.