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Sustainable Travel

Flying and sustainable alternatives

As an international university in the heart of London, flying is common for many of our staff and students. Our researchers travel around the world to share their work and achieve real-world impact as part of our Vision 2029 mission to make the world a better place. But flying also makes up a significant part of our university's carbon emissions.

In 2018/19, King's caused over 6,500 tonnes of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) through flying, our fourth biggest source of emissions behind procurement, electricity and gas. We will release a detailed annual report of our flight emissions on this webpage in the future as part of our committment to reduce carbon emissions. 

The King's Travel Policy and Travel Procedure are currently in the process of being updated. While the old policy focused on cost savings as a priority, King's is planning to put more focus on sustainability in the updated policy, including allowing ground travel where it may be more expensive than flights. To support students and staff wishing to travel more sustainably, we have outlined a number of ways to travel more sustainably below. 


Travelling more sustainably

Consider alternatives to travel

Before booking travel, consider whether travel is necessary. For example, consider whether equal benefits could be achieved by joining a meeting remotely, giving a digital presentation, or only sending a set number of staff from one team to any given meeting or conference. 

King's has a range or resources available to staff wishing to meet and collaborate remotely, such as Microsoft Teams and Skype, as well as training resources to ensure students and staff are confident in their use of these technologies. To find out more about how IT can support you, visit the IT pages

Book through our preferred travel provider

All travel at the university should be booked through our preferred travel provider to ensure compliance with our Procurement policies. 

Booking through Key Travel has many advantages. Key Travel provide the university with accurate data on our staff travel, which means we can report on our carbon footprint, set targets, and track our progress. Key Travel also has the option to sort by "greenest" travel - for example, this may suggest more direct flights, or routes that use planes with greater fuel efficiency. 

Travelling within the UK

If you are travelling within the UK, we strongly recommend taking the train instead of flying. If booked in advance trains are a cost- and time-effective way of travelling within the UK, especially once costs and time to travel to and from the airport are taken into account. 

Cutting out domestic flights can also have a significant carbon impact. Choosing the train over a flight to Edinburgh can save an estimated 169 kg of carbon per return journey. For domestic journeys in, a plane passenger is responsible for approximately 250g of carbon for every km travelled, while rail passengers on the UK rail network only emit 40 grams over the same distance. To book train tickets, visit the online booking portal for Key Travel. Its booking system is powered by Trainline, meaning you can easily compare prices for tickets. As a staff member you can set up an account with key Travel, but if you experience any issues please contact the Procurement team

Travelling in Europe

For short haul destinations, we recommend to consider travelling by train, in particular to Eurostar destinations such as Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam, which have regular connections from London. These can be booked easily through our travel provider Key Travel. If you are booking a flight to these destinations, the online booking system will also give you Eurostar alternatives (please note, for Eurostar services to Amsterdam, please search for Amsterdam Centraal). 

There are other destinations in mainland Europe which can be reached by train within a day from London. Independent travel website The Man in Seat 61 provides an extensive guide to train and other land-based travel to mainland Europe, including suggested routes and connections. Examples include suggested routes for cities frequently visited by King's staff, such as Frankfurt (5-6 hours), Berlin (9-10 hours) or Geneva (~7 hours). While international trains can currently not be booked through Key Travel, we have been advised that this functionality will be available later in 2020. 

Choosing the best option when travelling by plane

Where land-based travel is not possible, more carbon-efficient ways of travelling by plane should be considered. These include: 

1. Booking direct flights instead of stop-overs

Take-off is more fuel-intensive than cruising at altitude, and therefore direct flights are less carbon-intensive than multi-leg trips. Particularly for short flights, take-off may account for a significant part of the flight's total emissions. Many of the shortest flights taken at King's via Key Travel in 2018/19 were taken as a result of connecting flights on routes where direct flights are available, or where onward ground travel may have been possible.  

2. Flying economy rather than business or first class

Emissions per passenger change depending on which travel class a passenger flies in, and are higher for business and first class. This is because business and first class passengers use more space on the plane than a passenger flying economy, and are therefore responsible for a larger part of the flight's total emissions. For long-haul flights, economy passengers are responsible for 150g of CO2e per km, while business and first class passengers are responsible for 435g and 599g respectively. This means a passenger flying first class causes carbon emissions four times as high as a passenger flying economy on the same route. 

For this reason, as well as financial and compliance obligations, premium travel should only be booked in exceptional circumstances and has to be approved in line with the King's Travel Policy


Carbon offsetting

Our first priority is to reduce the number of flights taken at King's. However, we recognise that some flights might be necessary. While we do not see carbon offsetting as a subsitute for action on reducing flying, we do want to reduce our negative impact. Therefore, we are currently working on a university-wide strategy for carbon offsetting. Once options have been established, we plan to take them to the King's community of students and staff, and ask them to participate in the decision-making. 

In the meantime, departments and faculties may choose to offset their flights if their department and funding policies allow them to do so. 


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