EGU General Assembly 2023
© Author(s) 2023. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Impact of the COVID19 crisis on changes in business travel and the associated carbon footprint. Case study of a French scientific research institute.

Christophe Peugeot1, Grolleau Dany2, Play Caroline3, Sultan Benjamin4, Hernandez Valeria5, Janicot Serge6, and Tramblay Yves7
Christophe Peugeot et al.
  • 1HSM (IRD, Univ. Montpellier, CNRS, IMT-Mines Alès), Montpellier, France (
  • 2DDUNI (IRD), Bondy, France
  • 3MQSSE (IRD), Marseille, France
  • 4Espace-Dev (IRD, Univ. Montpellier, Univ. La Réunion, Univ. Nouvelle Calédonie), Montpellier, France
  • 5CESSMA (IRD, Univ. Paris, INALCO), Paris, France
  • 6LOCEAN (IRD, Sorbonne Univ., CNRS, MNHM), Paris, France
  • 7HSM (IRD, Univ. Montpellier, CNRS, IMT-Mines Alès), Montpellier, France (

The French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development (IRD) is a multidisciplinary academic organisation working in partnership with countries in the Mediterranean and intertropical zone. Through sustainability science, IRD is committed to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Because of its missions, the IRD has a particular footprint linked to the activities of its agents (2100 employees in 2020) and partners, who travel between France and the rest of the world.

The COVID19 health crisis has forced changes in work habits. This study aims to analyze the impact of these changes on carbon emissions. All business trips of IRD employees and partners in the period 2017-2022 were collected in an anonymized database (aboout 67,000 entries), which describes trips, mode of transportation, reasons for travel, and traveler status.

The annual number of trips dropped sharply during the health crisis, from an average of 14,000/year in 2017-2019 to less than 6,000 in 2022 (-60%). Associated carbon emissions dropped by 70%. Starting in 2021, the number of trips increased to about 90% of pre-covid levels in 2022. However, while the share of air travel in total travel has decreased slightly in 2022 compared to 2017-2019, the share of car travel has increased sharply over the past three years, at the expense of train travel, which remains less used than before COVID. On a finer scale, the share of each mode of transport (and therefore the associated footprint) differs markedly according to the regions in which the research teams work, depending on the type of activity and the modes of transport available (e.g. rail travel mainly in Europe, field campaigns mainly by car).

The analysis highlights that the few trips authorized in 2020 and 2021 were primarily for overseas field activities or mobilities, to and from France. These activities, which cannot be replaced by videoconferencing and which constitute the core of IRD's activity, have been prioritized. The widespread use of videoconferencing has reduced the need for travel, especially for meetings and conferences. This is likely accompanied by an increase in virtual meetings, the associated footprint of which is not assessed here.

Traveling less, using videoconferencing when possible, or pooling several objectives for a single trip are trends that seem to emerge from our analysis. It is interesting to note that they are consistent with the actions proposed by research teams engaged in footprint reduction strategies, as highlighted for example by the serious game "Ma Terre en 180'" or the national survey of the Labo1point5 group.

Our analysis, with only one year without travel restrictions (2022), must be consolidated over a longer period (at least 3 years) to assess the sustainability of practice changes and their impact on IRD's carbon footprint. These results will serve as guidelines to define the necessary actions to reduce the environmental footprint of IRD research activities.

How to cite: Peugeot, C., Dany, G., Caroline, P., Benjamin, S., Valeria, H., Serge, J., and Yves, T.: Impact of the COVID19 crisis on changes in business travel and the associated carbon footprint. Case study of a French scientific research institute., EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-16734,, 2023.