Voluntary Commitment: Climate-Friendly Business Trips
– An Overnight Miracle
by Julian D. Rolfes, Evelyn Medawar and Jakob Schweizer
On September 18, 2019, the circulation of a voluntary commitment regarding climate-friendly business trips started. Its story, however, goes back to May 2019, to the first workshop on “Sustainability in the Max Planck Society” in Magdeburg (Offspring article covering this workshop and more). At the end of this workshop, an Interim Steering Committee (ISC) was elected with the task to set up a proper and legitimate network structure for the prospective Max Planck Sustainability Network. This was where the voluntary commitment started. The ISC is a bunch of politically well informed, if not actively involved people, with a relation to the MPS and with a heart for Mother Earth. They understand the bigger picture making them a fertile soil to sow the seeds of great friendship.
Evelyn, Jakob and I, are a group that also spends time with each other privately whenever possible. Bridging the distance between Essen, Magdeburg, Berlin and Leipzig, we use a Telegram group to organize ourselves as meetings in person are limited by the geographic distances between us. In this group, we share environment-related information like the Humboldt University’s voluntary commitment for sustainable business travels that got us excited. Without long hesitation, we shared it with the network and initiated the discussion that quickly led to the decision to set up our own voluntary commitment for the MPS. Using the HU's voluntary commitment as a basis, we set up the MPS version in minutes. After proof-reading by the ISC, we distributed it to the Sustainability Network, PhDnet and Postdocnet. Our voluntary commitment proved to be very successful: Not even a week later, we had 200 signatures! Today, on December 18, we count 436 signatures.
To us, these numbers are immense! We did not even dare to dream about such a resonance, and we hope that the numbers will keep on growing. The response is already a strong message to the members of the MPS to cover the additional costs that typically come with taking the train instead of the plane. The time where money was the only limiting factor is over - and we think it’s time for the MPS to recognize this. We all should recognize our environmental responsibility, and especially as scientists, we should acknowledge that there is no sound reasoning not to – only our ego and our habituation to affordable luxury are holding us back to make the right decisions. I think we should go even further and make the commitment to refrain from short-haul flights an MPS-wide rule; there are a several German universities who set a good example already (https://climatewednesday.org/selbstverpflichtung/ & https://academicflyingblog.wordpress.com/). To tackle this issue, there are working groups within the Sustainability Network who refine different proposals on CO2 compensation (to make train rides more sexy and economically interesting) within the MPS and a reformation of the Bundesreisekostengesetz on a federal level.
Currently, having at least one email a day in my inbox from a person who is willing to stay on ground is a huge motivation driver and a nurturing feeling of solidarity to continue working on sustainability within the MPS – and I hope that the inflow of signatures is not going to stop soon. Let all these mindful people continue to bring awareness to the topic of ‘ecological responsibility in business travels’ at their workplaces and may we all – as well as the MPS as a whole – continue the discussion. The Sustainability Network will send a catalogue of proposed measures including the list of signatures for the voluntary commitment to the President of the MPS. I am extremely looking forward to the moment when the network’s proposals and the voluntary commitment arrives at their desk, featuring all the engagement and motivation behind a huge group of scientists caring about sustainability.
If you would like to get involved with the Sustainability Network, look out for your local Sustainability group (if there is none, form one) and sign up to the network’s mailing list at: https://listserv.gwdg.de/mailman/listinfo/sustainability – you can also share your story regarding climate-friendly business trips on social media with us via ‘#SciFlyLess’.