Improving the Benefit-to-Carbon Cost Ratio for University of Washington Air Travel

Project Size: Large, >$1,000
Estimated Amount to be requested from the CSF: $15,375

Letter of Intent:

Air travel represents a noteworthy amount of carbon ascribed to the University of Washington. In the report titled, “2005 Inventory of Greenhouse Gas Emissions Ascribable to the University of Washington,” air travel accounted for 9.5% of 2005 emissions (CO2eq). This report compared 2005 to 2000 emissions, and it was estimated that air travel emissions increased over this time period while total university emissions decreased. A 2014 Keystone project update titled, “Carbon Footprint: Air Travel at the University of Washington” found that professional air travel accounted for 11% of UW carbon emissions. Given the likely continued trend in air travel across campus, it is expected that today, air travel makes up at least 11% of UW’s emissions — unfortunately we were unable to find data on specific emission categories for more recent time periods.


This proposed project will work to 1) quantify the CO2eq emitted in association with different types of trips for UW faculty, staff and students, including: to conduct research, attend conferences and meetings, give and host seminars, and study abroad, 2) assess the benefit of these various trips to the individuals taking the trip and the overall mission of the university, 3) assess if and for whom these trips have unintended negative consequence; 4) envision policy changes or institutional approaches that minimize air travel with low benefit-to-carbon costs (or have large unintended negative consequences), and enable alternatives to air travel for certain types of trips. The overall goal of this effort is to raise awareness about the impact air travel has on UW carbon emissions and create a framework for reducing these emissions while maintaining the educational and research mission of the university.


Funding is sought to support an hourly student for one year that will, as part of the capstone project for Program on the Environment, collect the required data on air travel at UW (harnessing travel reimbursements, study abroad enrollments, and seminar announcements); categorize the trips; conduct a literature review and distribute questionnaires to faculty, staff and students to assess the purpose and benefit of various trips; and leverage existing approaches used by other institutions or proposed in the literature or general media, and/or envision new approaches that could be taken by UW to reduce air travel. These efforts will be written up as part of the capstone project and will be compiled into an easily digestible report that will be shared with UW Sustainability, UW Travel Office, the UW Environmental Stewardship Committee, and other relevant offices across campus. Additionally, a visually compelling poster will be made and distributed to environmental RSOs on campus and an infographic will be created expressly for distribution on various UW social media channels (e.g. RSOs, Program on the Environment).  


The student conducting these analyses will be supervised by Dr. Kristi Straus (associate director of Program on the Environment) and Dr. Rebecca Neumann (associate professor in Civil & Environmental Engineering). Dr. Straus is a leader in sustainability education and teaches a class (ENVIR 239: Personal Choices, Broad Impacts)that focuses on using personal choice and action to combat climate change. Dr. Neumann is passionate about climate change, with much of her research program focused on better understanding climate-terrestrial feedbacks and how climate change will impact food and water quality. She has recently undertaken a personal and professional interest in taking and motivating action to mitigate climate change.


Budget assumptions:

One student working 10 hours per week during the academic year (assume 20 weeks) and 40 hours per week during the summer (assume 12 weeks) at $16.39 per hour (UW minimum wage) with benefit load rate of 20.9%. Total: $13,475.   We have also budgeted a small amount for administration support of the CSF grant, as PoE does not have a full time administrator.  Four hours per month at $30 per hour and a benefit rate of 32.1% is an additional $1,900.  Total: $15,375

Primary Contact First & Last Name: Becca Neumann