Decarbonizing the academic sector: Lessons from an international research project
Reyes-García, Victoria; Graf, Lorena; Junqueira, André B; Madrid, Cristina
OPEN ACCESS at Journal of Cleaner Production (2022), 368, 133174 Research activities generate considerable carbon emissions. Some universities and research centers have implemented voluntary measures to […]
OPEN ACCESS at Journal of Cleaner Production (2022), 368, 133174
Research activities generate considerable carbon emissions. Some universities and research centers have implemented voluntary measures to reduce academia’s carbon footprint. To contribute to the debate on pathways to decarbonize the academic sector, this work calculates the carbon emissions of an international research project in relation to 1) research-related travel, 2) researchers’ non-business travel derived from the international nature of the team, 3) researchers’ commuting, and 4) project’s digital footprint. The work then simulates the project’s carbon potential reduction under two scenarios and discusses emissions reduction alternatives and their potential side-effects. The project examined emitted an estimate of 161 tons CO2-eq, which could have been largely reduced to 92 tons CO2-eq (or 53% of the emissions) by applying a standard set of measures already proposed by scholars aiming to decarbonize research (“Reduced emissions scenario”) or to 4 tons CO2-eq (or 2.4% of the estimated emissions) by applying more strict measures aiming to reach carbon neutrality (“Net-zero emissions scenario”). Most emissions reductions come from reducing travel. While the measures proposed could indeed save a substantial amount of emissions, they might have also impacted project’s academic outputs, economic costs, and researcher’s work-life balance. Although collateral impacts of decarbonizing measures are yet little understood, they are likely not negligible and should be considered in a decision-oriented context to discern acceptable from unacceptable rules. The article discusses reliance on individual or voluntary action as the major bottlenecks that hamper the application of measures to decarbonize the academic sector and calls for the development of normative standards of scientific research practice that encourage, value or even impose the reduction of carbon emissions.