An airplaine seen  from below extends contrails that take the form of the letters CO2

Climate Action

Mindful of climate change and encouraged by the results of bringing scientific talks and conferences online during the Covid-19 pandemic, the faculty members of The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT have agreed to slash the institute’s future greenhouse gas emissions from air travel at least in half.

The faculty resolution, approved May 5, creates a policy to encourage meeting the goal by limiting annual estimated GHG emissions to a mid-range cut off of 20 Metric Tons per lab per year. This is based on estimates of average, per-lab GHG emissions from two years prior to the Covid-19 pandemic (2018-2019). If any lab or the HQ exceeds the threshhold, it can face disincentives, for instance, incurring a $1,000 carbon “tax” paid within the institute.

To meet the goal, faculty will seek to deliver more of their invited talks online and the Institute will fly in fewer speakers for its events, instead extending the offer for distant speakers to deliver their talks electronically. Institute public events such as symposia will be livestreamed, reducing the need for audience members to travel as well. As an additional step, the Institute will move more job interviews online, another practice that was required by the pandemic but can now remain in place because of its climate benefits.

Estimated faculty air travel emissions for Fiscal 2018 and 2019 (From MIT's Office of Sustainability) are shown below. In the future we will provide regular updates on each lab's air travel related emissions here as well.


A bar chart showing an ascending amount of travel per faculty lab. Heiman traveled the least, Tsai the most
Faculty flying paid with Picower accounts varied widely, but to cut future emissions by about half, faculty agreed that no lab would generate emissions exceeding more than a newly selected level of 20 Metric Tons a year. HQA refers to travel paid through headquarters, covering guest speakers at events. Credit: Jeremy Gregory and Darya Guettler.