U Travelers Can Use Green Travel Fund to Stay Environmentally Friendly

Solar+panels+sit+above+the+Marriott+Library+at+the+University+of+Utah.

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Solar panels sit above the Marriott Library at the University of Utah.

Those who travel on behalf of the U, such as on a business trip or for a football game, can help reduce emissions with the Green Travel Fund.

When people travel for the U, they receive a reimbursement check for their expenses. The new program allows participants to donate any portion of that money to energy efficiency and renewable energy projects to counter the increased carbon footprint caused by travel.

In 2014, students and employees traveled more than a combined 17 million miles by air and car on university-related trips (though the majority of the U’s gas emissions come from non-renewable energy sources on campus, with travel constituting less than five percent of the U’s carbon footprint).

Donations in the program go to the Sustainable Campus Initiative’s revolving loan fund, which contributes to large scale sustainability projects on campus and within the community. The donations could potentially be used to replace heating systems with more energy efficient models or to install solar panels, but specific projects have yet to be decided upon.

“It goes back into the campus renewable energy projects, so it’s kind of a great full circle,” said Sarah Lappé, Office of Sustainability outreach coordinator.

The idea for the fund was outlined in the U’s 2010 Climate Action Plan, but efforts to implement it did not start until two years ago. In order to make the program a reality, offices and departments from across campus coordinated, including Travel Services, Tax Services & Payroll and Accounting and the Office of Development.

“I think everybody worked hard to figure out how to make it possible,” said Stephanie Dolmat-Connell, Office of Sustainability senior research analyst.

Other universities offered similar programs prior to the U’s unveiling of the Green Travel Fund, as did some major airlines, such as Delta, which offers a carbon offset option. Those behind the U’s program were inspired to create a local version of these programs that would impact this community, specifically.

The overall goal of the program is “to make our campus a greener place and … give [people] a way to offset their travel in a way that makes sense to them,” Dolmat-Connell said.

The program has gained traction since it went public at the end of October. Faculty and staff from the Sustainability Office were among the first to get involved when they donated to the fund after attending a conference in Minneapolis.

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@sarahnlegg