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Swarthmore Adopts Air Travel Carbon Fee in Emissions Reduction Effort

Elizabeth Drake

"As we work toward carbon neutrality, air travel is a large source of emissions that we need to address,” says Director of Sustainability Elizabeth Drake.

As Swarthmore College works toward achieving carbon neutrality by 2035, it is critical to address the climate impact of air travel while continuing to support the College’s academic, research, professional development, and operational needs that further our mission. 

With that in mind, based on the College’s Carbon Charge Working Group’s recommendation, Swarthmore adopted an Air Travel Carbon Fee on all air travel paid for by the College, effective July 1. The fee is $11 per flight itinerary, meaning that one round-trip ticket will incur a fee of $11, regardless of how many individual flights are taken within that itinerary. In order to align with the College’s budgeting cycle, each department’s Air Travel Carbon Fee is based on departmental flights purchased the previous calendar year. For instance, charges this fiscal year will be based on air travel that occured between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2021. Given the reduced travel last year due to the pandemic, we expect this approach will have the added benefit of allowing for an iterative implementation of the fee.

"As we work toward carbon neutrality, air travel is a large source of emissions that we need to address,” says Director of Sustainability Elizabeth Drake. “This exciting new addition to our Carbon Charge Program will provide a funding source for emissions reduction efforts and carbon offsets for air travel, while also encouraging our community to consider climate impact when making travel plans."

The Air Travel Carbon Fee is based on research by the Office of Sustainability, done in coordination with President’s Sustainability Research Fellows Alana Ballagh ’22 and Olivia Stoetzer ’23, that included a review of best practices at other institutions. The program, which builds upon the existing Carbon Charge Program, is designed to both influence travel behavior and fund initiatives to reduce Scope 3 emissions on campus. For more information, visit the Office of Sustainability website

Swarthmore is proud to support members of the campus community who are participating in off-campus study and official travel opportunities this academic year, while demonstrating continued leadership on carbon pricing in higher education. Individuals and departments looking for additional ways to reduce the environmental impact of travel are encouraged to review the Sustainable Travel Guidelines, a new resource on the Office of Sustainability website.

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