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First emitted, then compensated

Forest versus air travel: with its carbon dioxide compensation project, Vienna University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences is demonstrating what sustainability can look like for institutions in practice.

For Vienna University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences, the issue of sustainability is a constant companion – both scientifically, and in its teaching. “For us, though, it’s not enough for a university just to research and teach sustainability,” Martin Gerzabek, Rector of the University, explains. “As an institution, we believe we should also be doing something ourselves.” And that’s why the university is striving to demonstrate just how sustainability can be lived in practice in a wide range of different fields. One of its flagship projects is a programme of CO2 compensation.

Other institutions, companies and organisations wishing to contribute to sustainability will be well aware of the problem we had when we started out. “As scientists, we are also encouraged to work internationally,” Gerzabek says. “That means we can’t avoid travelling, especially given the fact that we have a very strong relationship with developing countries.” Simply no longer travelling is not an option, therefore. So what do you do?

“We set ourselves the goal of compensating for the carbon dioxide produced by our travel through sustainability projects we set up ourselves,” Rector Gerzabek explains. “We’re currently involved in projects in the North Gondar region, where we’re carrying out reforestation to compensate for the carbon dioxide.” The CO2 emitted during the flight is to be linked to the newly-planted forest in Gondar, in Ethiopia.

Since it first started, the CO2 compensation project has also been made accessible to other organisations and private individuals. Air travellers can calculate the costs of compensating for their flight on a website specially set-up by the University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences, then transfer the amount to fund the reforestation project. A flight from Vienna to London and back generates compensation costs of around 14 euros, for example.

“We’ve also had this confirmed to us by an external advisory board, which continues to advise us today. The interesting thing has been that other institutions have sprung up around the activities of the advisory board.” The Austria Development Agency (ADA) and printer Gugler were already participating in the project at the time of the presentation. Since then, Gerzabek says, “Danone has also joined them. We’re also talking to other major companies about how they can compensate for their travel activities via our portal.”

The University Rector is particularly proud of the level of transparency achieved by the compensation programme. “Every penny of the projects can be accounted for,” he explains. “The CO2 compensation is all documented, together with all the formulae and assumptions, on the website.”

The synergy effects that have resulted from the project have also been essential. “We’re working on projects going beyond this in the field of development cooperation,” Martin Gerzabek explains. “On the one hand we’re compensating for the CO2 we use, but on the other we’re also doing something at local level, to further our social mission in the form of developmental cooperation – in an understandable way, because we manage these projects ourselves.”