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Green Campus team leader: After Covid-19, researchers will travel less by airplane

What have we learned? — University employees will be travelling far less by airplane in the post-Covid-19 future, says team leader at the University of Copenhagen sustainability initiative Green Campus.

University Post: How has the coronavirus-shutdown affected energy consumption at the University of Copenhagen?

Tomas Refslund Poulsen: »Compared to the same time last year, electricity and heat consumption has dropped 17-18 per cent. That means, the university has saved about DKK 4 million kroner on utilities (the University of Copenhagen spends DKK 180 million kroner annually on heating and electricity). Some will say that the decrease should have been greater, but a large part of the university’s energy consumption is due to ventilation systems and lab equipment, and a lot of that is still up and running.«

What have we learned

The next person to say, nothing is so bad that it isn’t good for anything, should really just zip it!

Still, we are posing the question: What has working at home for months taught us? About teaching? About the environment? About life online?

»Obviously, travel has been influenced by the shutdown. Last year in April, the University of Copenhagen racked up six million kilometres worth of traveling. That is 2,800 trips by airplane which accounts for about 1,000 tons of CO2. We do not have the exact figures yet, but I assume the number of business trips in April is close to zero.«

»On a normal day before the coronavirus hit, 125,000 print-outs were made at the university. That figure has dropped by 95 percent. Paper consumption does not show up much in the overall CO2-reduction calculations, but this figure does illustrate the massive changes to daily life the shutdown has caused.«

Are employees and students simply making up for the difference in energy consumption by working at home?

»Some of that energy consumption will obviously be moved around when we are all working from home on our computers. But it is a relatively small part of what we are saving. We make our own coffee at home instead of buying it in the cafeteria, but it is not a case of simply making up for the difference at home.«

Has Covid-19 made it easier for the University of Copenhagen to reach its climate goals?

»This year’s figures are only interesting as long as we maintain the reduction in consumption. It does not make sense to celebrate reductions that are solely a result of this extreme situation.«

Has the crisis taught you anything that can help in making the university sustainable?

»I am an optimist. There is definitely a lot of potential here, if we can keep conducting meetings virtually.«

»There will always be a need for employees on-site at the university, and we cannot eliminate business travel either, but I believe that digital tools can replace at least 20-30 percent of the business trips—maybe even more. Some departments are already working on restricting business travel to a bare minimum.«

»Previously, holding meetings in a virtual space presented a lot of problems, but now we have all been forced to take on those issues and learn from the experience.«

Translated by Theis Duelund

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