On track for change: how to travel more sustainably to European conferences

By Hannah Morgans, Sustainability Communications Project Officer and Alix Dietzel, Senior Lecturer in Climate Justice in the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies and Associate Director for Impact and Innovation at the Cabot Institute for the Environment. 

A significant part of the University’s carbon footprint comes from business travel and the Sustainability Team has published a Business Travel Toolkit to help staff choose the most appropriate and low carbon option. That’s why we were thrilled to hear about Alix Dietzel’s recent trip to Bonn Climate Conference, where she opted to travel by rail over flying. We caught up with her to find out how it went, and hopefully inspire more of our community to do the same!  

Can you share your reasons for going to the conference?

Conn C
Bonn Climate Conference, June 2024

“I went to Bonn to observe the climate change negotiations ahead of the next Conference of the Parties (COP29) in Azerbaijan. These ‘intersessional’ negotiations mark the halfway point between COPs and it is a good chance to see what is on the table at the next COP, where we are after COP28 and what the major sticking points are. In addition, this year Dr Alice Venn, Dr Katharina Richter and myself, got the chance to present a ‘side-event’, which was selected from over 400 applications by the UNFCCC. We teamed up with C40 cities, Green Africa Youth Organization and the Youth Climate Change Council Alliance to discuss how to pursue inclusive urban climate policies. 

Why did you decide to travel by rail?  

“My main consideration was the emissions. Bonn is 8-10 hours away by train – about the same amount of time it took me to get to Dubai by plane for COP28. I avoid flying when I can, but sometimes it is unavoidable due to practicalities. In this case, I was able to add two travel days to my itinerary by only attending the conference for four days. I don’t like to leave my four-year-old daughter for longer than a week – she needs me. I’m privileged to have her in full-time nursery and am married to a very involved father, which made it possible to leave for this long.”  

Alix enjoying a coffee in Brussells

Can you tell us about the journey? 

“I did a four-leg journey. Bristol to London (1.5 hours), London to Brussels (2 hours), Brussels to Cologne (2 hours) and finally Cologne to Bonn (half an hour).  

In terms of comfort, I preferred the train journey to flying! I’m quite tall and train seats are roomier, especially the Eurostar and ICE trains in Germany. There’s also free Wi-Fi, multiple plugs for charging, plenty of room for a laptop, and it’s easier to get up and buy snacks or stretch your legs on the train than on a plane.  

The changes between trains were great for getting fresh air and trying foods from different countries. I haven’t been to three countries in one day before, and that is a perk – having lunch in London, a coffee break in Brussels and then dinner in Germany was a culinary treat! 

I missed one connection due to a delayed train from London to Brussels, which meant I queued for 20 minutes to get a special ticket from the Eurostar counter. I was only delayed by an hour and it didn’t cost me any more money.” 

 

How was your experience at the conference? 

“I really enjoyed watching the intersessional negotiations because they felt more relaxed, honest, and open compared to the COPs where there is a lot of pressure to find agreement. It’s also a space where you can approach negotiators more easily, because things are less hectic. For example, I was able to have a chat with a UK negotiator and share a bit about my research with him between negotiations.

Bonn Climate Conference, June 2024

It’s much smaller than a COP. COP28 had 100k people present and sprawled over a huge venue that has not only the negotiations, but ‘exhibition spaces’ which have events, meaning at times there are about 400 talks at once you could attend! SB60 had 8,600 people and was contained in a single building. This makes it much easier to navigate and focus on the negotiations, with only 5-10 events overlapping at any one time.”  

What would you say to colleagues considering land-based business travel instead of flying? 

“Try it! Speak to the University’s business travel booking team at Clarity and consider your options. Even doing half of the journey by rail would have huge emissions savings and enable them to compare. I am mindful of equality and inclusion issues, such as caring responsibilities, and would reassure them that sometimes, you do have to fly, and that this is understandable.” 

We estimate that Alix’s journey by rail saved 159kg of CO2 – the equivalent to heating an average home for nearly two months.  

If you’d like to explore routes travelling over land rather than flying visit https://routezero.world/.  

If you’re a member of staff considering how to take low impact business travel, visit the Business Travel Toolkit or contact the University of Bristol Business Travel Team. 

Our journey to Net Zero | Reviewing 1200+ carbon saving actions

The University is committed to reducing carbon emissions from its operations as quickly as possible and Climate Action Plans (CAPs) are integral to our Net Zero ambitions. The Sustainability Team is pleased to share that as of May 2024, 35 of the University’s 42 Schools and Divisions are actively working on plans, detailing over 1270 carbon-saving actions that are either in the pipeline, in progress or complete. 

Each CAP is designed by members of the School or Division, enabling them to pinpoint areas of highest impact. By empowering teams in this way, the Sustainability Team can provide expert support where it’s needed and monitor progress over time.       

Actions are selected using an online climate action planning tool, under themes including buildings, circular economy, transport and advocacy, as well as newly added themes ‘research’ and ‘teaching & learning’. The planning tool, developed by the Sustainability Team in partnership with Net Positive Futures, then enables users to edit issues and actions, and upload evidence, based on their area of impact and influence. 

The Sustainability Team’s managers for Transport, Energy, Circular Economy and Sustainable Science review CAPs annually, and provide feedback to support implementation and continuous improvement of plans, as well as reporting back to the Strategy Monitoring and Implementation Group.  

The recent review process reveals 90% of Schools and Divisions have now nominated a coordinator, who typically organise a CAP group or committee, consisting of volunteer students and staff. It’s estimated that around 600 staff and students are involved in the initiative across the University. Several Schools have now also recruited sustainability officers to lead the process, including Geographical Sciences, Physics and the Medical School.  

Barra Mac Ruairi, Chief Property Officer and co-chair of the Sustainability Strategy Monitoring and Implementation Group said:  

“I’d like to thank everyone participating in the Climate Action Plans initiative at the University for your time and energy.  

These plans are critical to meeting our Net-Zero ambitions, and are mandated by the University’s Senior Leadership Team. They represent our collective efforts towards reducing our carbon footprint and building a more environmentally conscious community.  

To the handful of Schools and Divisions that are yet to establish a CAP, we eagerly anticipate your submissions and look forward to collaborating with you to achieve full coverage.  

Let’s continue to stay engaged as we implement and build on actions in the year ahead, ensuring we make a positive impact on our campus and beyond.”  

Professor Philip Taylor, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research and Enterprise) and co-chair of the Sustainability Strategy Monitoring and Implementation Group said: 

“Climate action encompasses all areas of University activity, from research and learning to our buildings and travel. It’s really encouraging to see the level of engagement and impact across the University. Thanks to those playing a part in helping the University to reduce its environmental impact and work towards a more sustainable future.”

Find out more about the Climate Action Plans initiative.

How we’re driving down emissions with our new electric fleet

Fleet transport operations at the University of Bristol are on the road to Net Zero thanks to a major investment in new all-electric vans and e-cargo bikes. 

This month the University is expecting the delivery of its biggest ever order for electric vehicles (EVs), 13 Toyota vans worth a total of around £490,000.  

This exciting delivery represents a big step forward for the Cleaner Fleet Programme, managed on behalf of the University by the Sustainability team, which aims for an all-electric road vehicle fleet by 2025-26. 

The University first introduced EVs to its fleet in 2016, and (with the new delivery) now has a total of 42 all-electric vans and 7 hybrid electric vehicles, out of a total road fleet of more than 90 vehicles. In the past year the University has also established a fleet of 10 e-cargo bikes, helping to cut transport emissions still further.  

The EVs and cargo bikes replace older diesel and petrol vehicles used by schools and departments across the University for a range of activity including campus operations, research fieldwork and business travel. The Cleaner Fleet Programme also aims to increase vehicle-sharing within and between departments to help reduce the size of the overall fleet. 

James Ryle, Transport Special Projects Manager, is leading on the project and reflects on the undertaking:  

“Moving to an all-electric fleet is a big challenge for any organisation – sourcing new vehicles and installing charge points are significant projects in their own right. But it’s also an important way of limiting the climate and health impacts of transport, so it’s  very rewarding to see the new electric vans and cargo bikes take to the road.”  

The investment is funded by the University as part of its commitment to achieving a net zero campus by 2030, with grant contributions from the Energy Savings Trust towards the cargo bikes. Staff can find out more about the University’s Cleaner Fleet Programme visit the Sustainability Sharepoint site 

Our journey to net zero | Reviewing 900+ carbon saving actions

The University is committed to reaching carbon neutrality from its buildings by 2030, and departmental Climate Action Plans (CAPs) are integral to achieving this. Each CAP is designed by members of the School or Department, enabling them to pinpoint areas of highest impact. By empowering teams in this way, the Sustainability Team can provide expert support where it’s needed and monitor progress over time.     

In January, 26 Schools and Departments submitted plans for an initial review, detailing over 900 committed carbon-saving actions that are either in the pipeline, in progress or complete. Actions are selected under four themes: buildings, circular economy, transport and advocacy, with the online planning tool prompting relevant steps to reduce carbon emissions. The Sustainability Team’s managers for Transport, Energy, Circular Economy and Sustainable Science reviewed each CAP, and provided feedback to enable effective implementation of plans.  

Climate Action Plans will now be reviewed annually, and progress recorded and reported to the Sustainability Strategic Monitoring and Implementation Group. With the first round of reviews complete, the Team has a solid benchmark for progress across the University. 

 Anna Lewis, Sustainable Science Manager, led the review process and said: 

“It’s so important to review the Departmental CAPs so that we can provide specialised feedback and offer support for the planned actions over the coming years. Innovative activities and plans are highlighted, which allows for peer learning as well as a consistent approach across the University.”

A recent survey of CAP coordinators has enabled the Sustainability Team to identify new ways to support CAP working groups (or committees, as they’re sometimes referred to). One outcome is to facilitate peer-to-peer learning opportunities, and the Sustainability Team will soon host a session in which coordinators will be able to review other CAPs, share ideas for improvement, and collaborate on future projects. 

CAP working groups continue to benefit from bi-monthly CAP Clinics, hosted by the Sustainability Team. These clinics focus around the four themes within the planning tool, but are also a space for coordinators to share any questions or challenges with the wider network.  

Overall, 62% of Departments have submitted a Climate Action Plan, with 83% of all Departments successfully engaged in the process. CAPs will continue to be an important resource to help the University achieve its ambitious net zero targets, as well as to continuously demonstrate its commitment to sustainability and climate action for many years to come. 

For more information visit the Sustainability website or contact sustainability-comms@bristol.ac.uk.  

Challenge yourself to change the future – Be the Change

Could you enjoy a four-minute shower? Could you refresh your wardrobe with only second-hand clothes? Could you move to a plant-based diet? These are some of the challenges the University is encouraging its staff and students to have a go at through its new campaign, ‘Be the Change’. 

The University of Bristol takes sustainability and its response to the climate and ecological crisis extremely seriously, and in 2019 we were the first UK university to declare a climate emergency. To evolve into a zero-carbon campus, we need all staff and students on board, which is why we’re supporting schools, departments and individuals to be more sustainable through our policies, Climate Action Plans and ‘Be the Change’. 

Individual choices can impact change 

Be the Change is based on evidence that the individual choices people make have a significant impact on our chances of limiting climate change to 1.5°C. Staff and students can have a go at a number of challenges relating to food, fashion, electricals, energy and water consumption, travel and action. 

The University will focus on a single challenge each month and promote activities and events that educate and engage people with that theme. Whether someone chooses to have a go at all six challenges for a month or take on one for a year, the key is to try. By making more sustainable choices, both on and off campus, we can make a positive difference to the future of our planet. 

What’s the main aim of the campaign? 

The aim of the campaign is to empower staff and students with tangible things that they can each do to make a difference. We hear from people across campus that they feel strongly about the climate emergency but they feel powerless or don’t know where to start. The campaign is intended to help people better understand the impact of consumerist lifestyles and the opportunity they have to create a more sustainable future for the planet. 

Evidence for change 

Be the Change is based on evidence from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and independent research ‘The Future of Urban Consumption in a 1.5°C World‘. 

The ‘Future of Urban Consumption in a 1.5°C World’ report defines the necessary emissions reductions needed between now and 2030 and 2050. The analysis then explores key areas and sectors where leaders, businesses and citizens can take rapid action to deliver these emissions reductions. It remains true that governments and businesses must focus on decarbonising electricity and implementing policy to drive down emissions, but individuals and communities also hold the potential to make significant reductions. 

The latest report by the IPCC states that shifting consumption patterns, for example towards cleaner forms of transport or more plant-based foods, could cut global greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 40-70% by 2050. The campaign is inspired by high-profile behaviour change campaigns including grassroots project, The JUMP, and The UN Campaign for Individual Action, ‘Act Now’. It’s been developed with the University’s staff and students, with an awareness of significance to our wider community who may engage through seeing content online. 

Who’s behind the campaign? 

The campaign is led by the University’s Sustainability Department, sponsored by Philip Taylor, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research and supported by the wider University and the Students’ Union. 

To find out more and set yourself a challenge visit Be the Change University webpage. You can also join the Be the Change community group on Yammer. 

How students are helping local organisations go green

Climate Action Bristol (CAB) is an innovative project placing University of Bristol student volunteers with local organisations to develop and implement Climate Action Plans.  

The volunteers help assess the sustainability of an organisation with the aid of the University’s bespoke on-line tool, supporting organisations to explore their impacts and therefore set out a wide range of actions, from energy use through to advocacy, to take climate action. The project, led by Bristol Hub and the University Sustainability Department, began in October 2021. The initial phase focused on developing action plans, before moving on to delivery.  

So far, students have partnered with a range of Bristol-based organisations including Boomsatsuma, Unique Voice, St Peters Hospice, Voscur, Acta Theatre, South Gloucestershire and Stroud College, Beyond the Bean, Watershed and Wecil.  

The first cohort of Climate Action Bristol volunteers are now coming to the end of their projects and recently reflected on their learnings and achievements through a showcase event, organised by BristolHub.  

Izzey Bowker is a student volunteer working closely with creative education center, Boomsatsuma. Izzey and teammates Madleen Grohganz and Daniel Walsh found conducting a travel survey to be the best starting point.  “We wanted to find out what improvements could be made to make it more sustainable to get between their numerous locations,” Izzey explained. “We uncovered students are unable to access student discounts on bus tickets and are put off cycling by a lack of facilities, which are things that Boomsatsuma can now address.” 

When trying to reduce an organisation’s emissions, the energy efficiency of the building is often paramount. Shivali Agrawal, along with teammates Poppy Pearce and Christabel Hamer, worked with local independent cinema and social enterprise, Watershed, to explore the potential costs of the changes required to make the building more energy efficient.  

“We looked at things like the windows and insultation, and assessed the impact and costs, to include the infnormation in an application for a Green Business Grant through West of England Combined Authority” Shivali shared. 

Some students discovered that developing a greener pathway is often not so straightforward due to financial or property constrictions.  “Unique Voice has the challenge of being situated in a rented office, with little control over things like lighting and heating,” Alice Brion, student volunteer, highlighted. “Our recommendations focused on creating learning opportunities for staff, publishing their climate action plans and building their local network to share best practice.” 

Working with independent living charity, Wecil, Hannah Munro discovered the importance of making sustainability inclusive.  “Our focus was on engagement. We brought employees on the journey, as well as looking at community engagement through workshops and publishing of the sustainability report. We also reviewed and expanded their ‘Green Team’ objectives, making its statement and goals inclusive for everyone.” 

Oliver Jones, Director at Acta Community Theatre, said the process of working with students enabled the Theatre to work more strategically.  “We weren’t sure at first what we wanted the students to focus on, other than improving what we do doing around the environment to support with funding applications. After the student’s audit, we developed a plan that includes short term and long-term actions around electricity, water, heating consumption and our website content. Dan, Syndy and Gillian each focused on distinct aspects of the plan, depending on their areas of interest, which worked really well.”  

Martin Wiles, Head of Sustainability at University of Bristol reflected on the showcase event, explaining that sustainability is not an easy path to follow.  “Learning to work around the obstacles you uncover is really valuable. Challenges will arise whether it’s a big, small or rich organisation. It’s not an easy path to follow, but it is essential to meet the City’s 2030 net zero carbon target.” 

 

If you are a student interested in working with a local organisation to help develop its Climate Action Plan register your interest for 2022/23 volunteering here.  

If you’re a local business looking for support with writing a Carbon/Climate Action Plan, please email Sorcha Young at manager@bristolhub.org. 

 

Thanks to the following volunteer teams: 

Watershed 

  • Shivali Agrawal 
  • Poppy Pearce 
  • Christabel Hamer 

BoomSatsuma 

  • Izzie Bowker 
  • Madleen Grohganz 
  • Daniel Walsh 

South Gloucestershire and Stroud College 

  • Mitchell Norey 
  • Zara Shilakis 
  • Eliza Joynson 

Acta Theatre 

  • Dan Green 
  • Gillian Capen
  • Syndy Liew 

WECIL 

  • Hannah Munro 
  • Holly MacDonald 
  • Tayyab Jawed 

Unique Voice 

  • Alice Brion 
  • George Mayenga 

Voscur 

  • Ahra Nam 
  • Oliwia Kuden 
  • Miles Fenner 

St Peters Hospice 

  • Holly Ward 
  • Micol Greta Giannelli 
  • Rowan Browning 

Beyond the Bean 

  • Amy Cotterell 
  • Stephen Pearson 

Sustainability achievements in 2021

As a University, we’re committed to becoming net-zero carbon by 2030. We’re on a challenging but exciting journey to transform our estate into a beacon of environmental sustainability. 

While we still have a long way to go, it’s important to celebrate the wins along the way and keep everyone up-to-date with the progress being made. Here are just some of our sustainability achievements from the past 12 months: 

1.Upgraded our Energy Management System 

To help us understand and improve energy usage around the campus, we upgraded our Building Energy Management System. These smart control systems help us understand the impact of environmental conditions on different buildings and see where we’re overconsuming, particularly in laboratories and our larger halls of residence.  

2. Helped over 100 staff to buy a new bike  

We launched a new Cycle to Work Scheme in April, offering a wider range of bikes including e-bikes. The increased scheme limit of £2,500 can be used at Halfords, Tredz, and participating independent bike shops, helping even more staff buy a bike to travel to work sustainably.  

3. Secured investment for an electric fleet 

In May, the University allocated a £235,000 investment for new electric vehicles and e-cargo bikes for campus transport operations and electric pool bikes for staff business travel. Once in place, this new electric fleet will improve efficiency and environmental performance in transport operations, helping us align with Bristol’s planned Clean Air Zone, as well as our net-zero target.  

4. Became a Fairtrade University 

The University became a Fairtrade University in June, recognising the work done to embed ethical and sustainable practices in our curriculum, procurement, research and campaigns.    

5. Donated 12.5 tonnes of food to local charities 

In June the University also won a three-star Zero Waste award representing several years of hard work from the University’s catering and sustainability teams. In the last 12 months we donated 12.5 tonnes of food from across the University and Students Union to local charities through the Trussell Trust and FareShare South West, supporting those living in food poverty and reducing methane caused by food waste. 

6. Became the first university in the world to gain 100% Green Lab Certification 

All of the University’s 990 laboratories gained at least a bronze certification in the Laboratory Efficiency Assessment Framework (LEAF). Hundreds of staff within the STEM community were involved in implementing actions to improve energy efficiency, waste management, sustainable procurement and research quality.   

7. Recycled 14 tonnes of student items through the Bristol Big Give 

Our end-of-term re-use scheme in student accommodation, The Bristol Big Give, reused over 14 tonnes of materials and generated up to £24,000 for local charities, diverting countless unwanted items from landfill and supporting the circular economy.  

8. Installed 80 new recycling facilities 

Over the Summer we partnered with Reworked UK to install over 80 internal recycling facilities for even more single use plastic items including crisp packets, confectionary wrappers, single use non-hazardous PPE such as face masks and Lateral Flow Test kits.  

9. Saved nearly £0.5m through Sustainable Science & Green Labs initiatives 

STEM Laboratories at the University of Bristol account for 40% of our energy and waste budget as well as 32% of our annual water bill, but only occupy 6% of our space. The Sustainable Science & Green Labs initiative in 2020/21 helped make savings of nearly half a million pounds, through energy, water, waste, behaviour change and procurement projects. 

10. Joined IEMA as corporate members  

We’ve taken out corporate membership and gone through a rigorous process to become an Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA) approved training centre so we can deliver sustainability skills for managers courses for staff. In addition, 45 students benefitted from free membership for the month of November, giving them access to events, learning resources and networking opportunities.  

11. Reused nearly 8 tonnes of furniture  

We collected and reused furniture from around the campus, with 80% repurposed within the University and the rest going to local schools, and charities such as SOFA Project. This saved the University £43,800 on buying new furniture and 13 tonnes of carbon it would’ve taken to manufacture new items. 

12. Introduced Climate Action Plans 

Each school and Division have been asked to write a plan and to nominate a contact for the University Sustainability team to work with in writing the plans. To date, about 70% of departments have nominated a coordinator, with 50% starting a plan and 25% moving onto implementing actions. We’re currently recruiting a CAP Officer to support with the rollout in the new year.  

On the heels of COP26, engagement and conversation around the topic of sustainability is at an all-time high. Now more than ever we need to work together to build momentum and continue creating change across the University.  

On a smaller scale, you can start to make a positive impact today by joining the 1,800 staff and students taking part in Be the Change. Register here to complete carbon saving activities and start earning points to be in with a chance of winning one of many £10 vouchers up for grabs each month.