University air travel and greenhouse gas mitigation: an analysis of higher education climate policies

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Schmidt, A. (2022). University air travel and greenhouse gas mitigation: an analysis of higher education climate policies. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 23(6), 1426-1442.


Numerous higher education institutions have created policies that aim to reduce their carbon footprints. Most policies focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions related to energy production and consumption. One area that has received less attention has been greenhouse gas emissions from university air travel. The purpose of this paper is to understand how US higher education institutions address university air travel emissions.


The present research used qualitative document analysis to examine the climate policies of 44 doctoral institutions. The analysis sought to establish themes across a range of climate policy documents from the sampled institutions. Intercoder consensus, peer review and member checking were used to increase the reliability and validity of the analysis.


Five major themes emerged from the documents: no consideration of air travel, lack of quality data for accurate consideration, recommendations to offset air travel emissions, support for videoconferencing and other suggestions for mitigation. These themes are discussed in detail, as are practical suggestions and implications stemming from this and related research.

Research limitations/implications

The research is based on a sample of US doctoral institutions and their public documents. It is therefore limited in its generalizability.

Practical implications

Institutions need to create a culture in which individual behavior changes toward lower travel are supported. Though problematic, institutions in the USA need to strive to implement suggested offset programs. Given the ubiquity of virtual presence, institutions need to further support videoconferencing.

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Anthony Schmidt
Data Scientist

My research interests include data science and education. I focus on statistics, research methods, data visualization, and machine learning.