Addressing Work-related Green Travel with a Panel Discussion

On May 22, JYTTE’s Climate and Environment Working Group organized a panel discussion on Green Travel with senior researcher Teea Kortetmäki, sustainability and responsibility specialist Ulla Helimo, doctoral researcher Sami El Geneidy, and international coordinator Emilia Likolahti. The panel was hosted by senior Lecturer and adjunct professor Stefan Baumeister, who is currently coordinating Jytte’s climate and environment working group. In this blog text, Stefan writes about green travel and summarizes the key points discussed in the panel.

Green Travel as a way to reduce the carbon-footprint of our travel behavior

Green travel provides us with the opportunity of becoming more aware of the negative environmental impacts of our travel behavior. At the same time, it also helps us to clearly take actions towards reducing our impacts as such. Green travel means that instead of flying, we select more low-emissions transportation modes such as trains, busses, ferries, or car-pool. While we as university staff members are especially dependent on transportation in order to meet one another, to present our work at international conferences, to do research visits and collect data, our travel behavior does significantly contribute to climate change and the environmental crisis. Transportation alone is responsible for about 25% of the total global carbon dioxide emissions.

While the best choice would always be to avoid traveling in the first place, there are circumstances were we do depend on it. Nevertheless, when we have to travel, the choice of transportation modes can have a significant impact on the environmental outcome of our journey. According to the European Environmental Agency, while flying on an airplane produces on average about 285 g of carbon dioxide per passenger and kilometer traveled, going by train would mean 20 times less emissions resulting in only 14 g of CO2.

Green travel means thinking about the impact one’s travel has on the environment and the climate. Green travel can help us to do our part in minimizing our impact on the environment. In relation to that, green travel means also to understand what kind of eco-friendly travel choices one can make and to walk the talk by actively choosing those options. Green travel means also that one has to go the extra mile and collect information on the alternatives to air travel that there might be. It does not have to be more expensive or difficult, as green travel can also mean saving money as these low-impact choices not necessarily are always more expensive.

One thing to remember is that green travel can be practiced in various forms. Ideally, one would avoid air travel for the entire journey. However, under some circumstances air travel might be difficult to avoid because of larger water bodies that have to be crossed or because the travel time would increase exceptionally if land-based transportation modes are underdeveloped. Combining air travel with other modes can still be considered green travel if at least more than half of the covered distance traveled has been covered by other modes than airplane. Options hereby would be to travel green one way and flying back or to cover some parts (however less than half of the journey) with air travel e.g. in order to cross water bodies or a country that doesn’t provide decent land-based travel modes.

Addressing the experiences of Green Travel with a Panel Discussion

On Monday May 22, JYTTE’s Climate and Environment Working Group organized a panel discussion on Green Travel to which four experts were invited: Teea Kortetmäki (Senior Researcher), Ulla Helimo (Sustainability and Responsibility Specialist), Sami El Geneidy (Doctoral Researcher) and Emilia Likolahti (International Coordinator). The panel was hosted by Stefan Baumeister (Senior Lecturer and Adjunct Professor).

At the beginning of the event, Stefan provided a short introduction on what green travel stands for, why we should practice more green travel and what green travel means in practice. Stefan also provided three concrete examples of green travel explaining how green travel works in practice, what kind of emissions reduction potentials it bears, how much time it takes to get to various destinations and what the price difference would be if one would avoid air travel. The routes discussed were from Jyväskylä to Umeå, Jyväskylä to Berlin and Jyväskylä to Rome. Finally, Stefan also spoke about his own experience with green travel which he practiced in October 2022 when he did an Erasmus+ Teaching Visit to the University of Latvia in Riga.

The panel discussion started with a round of introductions and the question to the panelists what green travel means to them, and in which form they have practiced it. All panelists had engaged in green travel in the past. Some shared experiences from private trips that they had done in various parts of the world but there were also examples of work-related trips with destinations around Europe such as from Finland to Switzerland, the UK and even to Turkey.

The next question to the panelists centered around the motivation for green travel and also the benefits green travel has provided to the panelists in the past. Although the concern for the environment was named by all panelists as the leading factor, keeping one’s carbon footprint down, also other issues were named here which might have been less expected such as looking for adventure, having the chance to discover new places along the trip or meeting local people. However, also adapting to a slower lifestyle, having more time for oneself, or simply disconnecting from daily life and routines were mentioned here.

The panelists were then asked to share their experience on how they usually plan green travel and what are their most preferred modes of transportation. Different online planning tools were named such as Rio2Rome, the Interrail Travel Planner or The Man in Seat 61. All panelists agreed that planning takes a lot of time and effort but can also be part of the experience such as finding interesting new routes and connections. The preferences of transportation modes depended a lot on the country or travel situation but there was a clear tendency towards using trains as they provide the best service, comfort and speed. Also, trains produce the least carbon emissions of all transportation modes.

Is green travel more expensive?

In the following round, panelists were asked to evaluate, based on their own experience, whether green travel is necessarily more expensive and what to do with the extra time spend on the trip. Often green travel does in fact cost more than flying, but there are certainly also exceptions as highlighted by some of the panelists. Interrail tickets, for example, can be a cheap and flexible alternative to air travel. Also, bus tickets can sometimes be a far cheaper option. However, the slightly higher price can also be outweighed by the additional experience as one panelist put it. Green travel might open up the chance to see places on the route one would have simply missed if have taken the airplane instead.

In addition to the valuable experiences brought by green travel, some panelists also highlighted that they rather like to spend money on green travel, for example giving their money rather to the railway companies than financially supporting airlines. In terms of the additional time spent during the trip, panelists didn’t see this as a burden but rather as time well spent. Many found that there is more quality time spent on trains, buses, or ferries, than on airplanes. As the panelists described, the time can be better utilized and there is more personal space available, adding more ‘me time’ which the panelists often miss in their daily lives.

Some challenges still remain to be solved

Next, the panelists were asked to discuss challenges that they see with green travel, especially when it comes to work related travel. One of the major challenges brought forward is that green travel often contradicts with our travel policies due to higher costs and longer travel times. Especially the aspect of daily allowances is a challenge here. But also booking green travel through JYU’s travel agent CWT can be very difficult as CWT shows still a lot of reluctance towards arranging such trips. Green travel takes also more time to plan and there is a higher risk that one might get stuck or delayed during the trip because of the higher complexity of the itinerary that usually consists of more connections.

Following up on the previous question, the panelists were asked to assess what would need to change so that work-related green travel would get easier. There was a clear consensus that travel policies need to change and that CWT should rather support us in the planning of green travel than refusing to book such trips for us. Perhaps also the daily allowances could be adjusted so that they do not make green travel unnecessarily more expensive. Perhaps a 50% reduced daily allowance for the additional travel days could be agreed on?

Tips for dummies: how to get on with green travel?

Finally, the panelists were asked to share some concrete tips for those in the audience who got interested and wanted to try green travel themselves for the first time. Being patient is a very good advice given as it takes time to get to your destination. Also, one must accept that sometimes things don’t work out the way one had planned them so one shouldn’t expect too much, especially in the beginning. The panel also recommended to maybe one should start first with a simple trip, just to get a feel for green travel. Last but not least, it was also recommended to try first a hybrid trip meaning that in order to reach the destination with possibly little interruptions to fly there and then to travel back green. This way, one can make sure to reach wherever one is going in time while on the way back the pressure might be lower to be on time. Any delays would have less impact on the total trip as such.

In summary, it can be said that green travel provides a great opportunity for us to reduce our travel-related carbon footprint significantly. At the same time, it also allows us to discover and experience more on the way, partially turning the trip into the destination as such. However, in order for us to utilize the full potential of work-related green travel, changes in the university’s travel policies are still needed. Also, JYU’s travel agent should provide us with more support when it comes to planning and booking green travel – they should be the experts after all. Green travel can clearly be seen as one of the many tools we need to take more into account on our journey towards JYU’s carbon neutrality that we want to achieve by 2030.

Stefan Baumeister, senior lecturer (JSBE) and adjunct professor, member of Jytte’s board and the leader of the Climate and the Environment Working group