How We Can Reduce 90% of Our CO2 Output / New IMPEL Travel Policy

31 Jul, 2023

A Travel Story

It is 21:10 when my train leaves Stockholm Central Station bound for home after a successful General Assembly in Stockholm.And this is just the first of 8 I'll be taking over the next few days. Let me introduce myself, my name is Marinus Jordaan, and I am the new expert team leader of Industry and Air and I live and work in Rotterdam in the Netherlands. 

I am catapulted through the idyllic green forests of central and southern Sweden at almost 200 km/h on my way across the south of the country.Lots of trees, lakes and every now and then a typically colored red house or farm complete with Swedish flag.The pigment, a waste product from a copper mine, was used as early as the 9th century.It turned out to be a very good wood preservative.Once upon a time a luxury product, but now that the less well-off can also afford it, the wealthy are painting their houses a different color.

I get into a discussion with my neighbor, a young lady from the Southern part of Sweden who is happy that she has finally found an affordable apartment in Stockholm.Always nice to have spontaneous conversations on the road. 

After Copenhagen, it goes less quickly, and I also have to switch trains more often.Because of my new travel companions, two solo train travelers in my seat of four, the discussion is about sailing, a great hobby of mine. The lady traveler and her not-now-present boyfriend sailed from Kiel across the Baltic Sea to Denmark in a 5-metre mini-boat.The friend sounds a bit overconfident.He is now going on his own to Stockholm.Coincidentally, both of my solo travel mates come from Berlin.She tells she will pick up the car with the trailer in Kiel and drive the combination to Berlin tonight.The male traveler is doing a course in cabin boat sailing and turns out to be a bus driver, amongst other things.He carefully offers to ride along because driving at night with fatigue is not a great experience for him.

And so, it goes on with casual longer or shorter conversations.All in all, I arrive tired and late after 14 hours of trains at my intermediate destination Hamburg.With a dose of good luck because I made a transfer which was scheduled for only 1 minute due to a delay! The last time I went by train to Marseille in the TGV, that went much faster. 

New IMPEL Travel Policy

Why do I take you with me on this journey and tell you all this? As you know IMPEL has the policy that you are strongly recommended to use the train if your destination can be reached within 7 hours of train travel. We work to protect the environment and reducing our own CO2 emissions where possible should be the norm. And research has indicated that emission from train travel is up to 90% less CO2 emissions. That said, seeing each other physically is also necessary to make our network really work. As a Board member, I think I should practice what we ask of you. So that is why I travel more often by train if reasonably possible. 

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

My experiences till now: the booking is clumsier. You ‘’loose’’ time traveling but because of the long stretches, you can use them to prepare for your meeting, watch a movie, read a book or write an article about train travel as I do now. Train travel is more expensive but IMPEL gives us a higher budget limit to cover the increased cost. In my experience the fewer connections the better. Till about 9-10 hours it is okay, after that you feel the tiredness come in. With flying that is also my experience after every flight, also short ones.

But arrangements are changing. More and more connections are with a sleeper train. You have to sleep anyway so using this, you could extend this acceptable time travel time to 18 hours. 

A View and Tips on This Topic From Someone Else

I have spoken to Simon Bingham the current UK National Coordinator who lives and works in Scotland about his experiences as he has been increasingly using the train and other forms of travel to reduce flights and flying.  I have shared some of his experiences and learning in below:

I love travelling, meeting friends, new people and seeing new places and hopefully making a difference in the work I do.  I think travel is in my blood, however, I increasingly see the impacts of my own actions both personal and in my job.  In my role as International Development Manager for the SEPA, I am always going to have to travel and at times fly. I have found ways of reducing my impact but there are always consequences and trade-offs.

"I feel physical presence is important to establish and maintain good networks and is almost essential for some capacity building projects, however, the level at which you do this can be fine-tuned.  The are some projects or meetings where physical presence is less important and regardless of whether there is a virtual connection, I am much more choosey about what meetings I will travel to or even attend. “Is there a good reason to be in the room?” is my starting point even before I look at lower carbon travel options.

Living at the margins of Europe (7 hours train travel to the major flight hubs of London and the North Sea separating us from mainland Europe) make travel harder.  There are a reduced number of direct flights, or they are not on days when you want to travel and the train connection to Europe starts 7+hours train journey from home.

My norm for several years when travelling to Western Europe is to travel by train (a minimum of 10 hours) but I have taken a return train trip as far as Berlin (20 hours+ each way including stopover in London).  I have also used the overnight ferries across the North Sea on multiple occasions. There is clearly a consequence on home and private life, and I am lucky that my family understand and support my actions, but clearly this won’t work for everyone.  The impact on work is less than you would think as you are easily able to work on the train.

In general, I find train travel now less hassle than flying and in recent years have had fewer cancellations and delays than with flights.  I have learned that ideally having meetings from Tuesday lunchtime to Thursday lunchtime facilitates train travel and reduces impact on the weekends. Having meetings in central/western Europe also increase the number of people that can travel by train or in a direct flight.

The biggest impact from CO2 is during the take-off phase.  Taking multiple flights is therefore something I avoid if possible and anyhow I am increasingly getting annoyed by hanging around in noisy, crowded, expensive airports! I look for alternatives to reduce flights when I do need to fly but can’t do so directly. In December 2022 I had capacity building workshops in Malta on one week and the General Assembly the following week in Prague.  There were no direct flights and to get to each venue and home would have taken 4 flights (total 8 to attend the two meetings) and taken at least one day of the weekend.  Instead, I got the train to London, flew to Malta (workshops), flew to Vienna on Saturday then train to Prague (G.A.). I then flew to London and took the train home.  This reduced my flights from 8 to 3, was cheaper, reduced overall travel time, had a considerably lower carbon footprint and gave me a Sunday to explore Prague! "

As always, there are more solutions to this CO2 reducing problem. In the secretariat they are examining if we can monitor our travel related CO2 emissions and see how we can reduce in total.  

I will keep on trying to go by train or in a combination. So, if I gain new insights, I will keep you posted!

Click here to read the tips for planning your train trip:

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