The PIE spoke to a community of higher education professionals who had avoided the flight chaos by taking part in a movement to find more environmentally sustainable ways to travel to international education industry events.
The EAIE conference had a strong theme of environmentally sustainability this year including entirely meat free catering for over 6,000 delegates, litter-picking sessions on the beach and a closing plenary from photographer Jimmy Nelson who spoke of the bond between Indigenous people and the natural world.
EAIE president Michelle Stewart also chose to recognise CANIE: Climate Action Network for International Educators with the annual President’s Award. Climate action is a pressing issue for the sector and the EAIE is a signatory to the CANIE Accord, a set of principles and commitments that guide higher education institutions to reduce their carbon emissions, support advocacy, and foster climate literacy.
Guus Goorts, a higher education marketing specialist from The Netherlands who was attending the conference, decided to travel to Barcelona from his home in Breda by train rather than flying after hearing about the ‘travel with CANIE’ movement being supported by EAIE.
He replaced his two-hour flight with a 24-hour journey including four trains, a transfer in Antwerp and a sleeper train from Paris to reduce his carbon footprint. He has been documenting his journey on his blog and generating support via social media.
“I’m not going to take the plane if at all possible”
“It’s just a very small contribution, but by doing the right thing it can inspire others, and that’s something that can snowball very fast and it seems a lot of people feel the same way,” Goorts told The PIE.
“I thought, I’m obviously going to have to travel here [to EAIE] and it occurred to me that I’m not going to take the plane if at all possible. Small changes can add up to something more substantial. Every time you take this kind of small action, you shift the balance. You make people think.”
Guus was not alone in his endeavor. Scott Blair, director of accreditation and quality assurance for the American International Accreditation Association of Schools and Colleges, also made the journey from Paris to Barcelona by train, and found many other delegates on the same route.
“We began to walk through the train and had a sign up saying we were going to EAIE and this was the ‘travel with CANIE’ initiative. We were just asking everyone, who’s going to the conference? And it was amazing. People were very spontaneous. They raised their hands right away and we told them we’re going to do a group photo on the platform when we get off the train in Barcelona,” recalled Blair.
Setting an example is important to the movement, rather than just talking about climate action, he continued, saying “if we as Europeans can’t get to our conferences in Italy, Spain, Finland or Glasgow with the dense network of trains we have here [on the continent], across relatively small distances, relatively wealthy areas, how can we expect Americans or the Chinese or the Russians or anyone else to travel sustainably?
“This is our social responsibility and it’s the right thing to do”
“This is our social responsibility and it’s the right thing to do. And as we found out, it’s actually quite refreshing. We were collecting business cards and setting up meetings just by virtue of the fact that we found other people [on the train]. We watched the countryside go by and it was relaxing. It was really one of the more productive days for me, having this opportunity on the train.”
Rail travel is widely accepted as one of the most energy efficient forms of transport. Taking the train instead of flying even short distances can cut CO2 emissions by 90% per passenger and is up to five times more carbon efficient than driving. CANIE has been helping delegates calculate their carbon footprint.
“French electricity is largely generated by nuclear power,” explained Blair. “So the more time you spend on the French train compared to, say, a German train, the carbon footprint is significantly different.”
The initiative was celebrated as a great success and mooted as becoming a permanent and incentivised feature of future conferences to encourage more environmentally-friendly travel.
Marianne Mensah, from the Climate Innovation Education Lab in France, explained a key component to behavioural change is building a community to find like-minded people who can share their passion for climate action.
“CANIE created a website where we could share our itinerary, so that we could consider meeting, networking and transforming the experience of nine hours of train into an enjoyable, efficient, productive experience,” she said.
“I would like to thank the EAIE president, Michelle Stuart for supporting climate action and really advocating for climate action within the international education sector. She and her team have been amazing at making changes in a comprehensive way, and I think it can be a source of inspiration for all of us international educators.”