Travel 3rd October 2019 - 5 min read

The climate crisis and business travel

By Joni Lindes

Just over a week ago, 16 year old Swedish climate activist, Greta Thunberg, called out world leaders at the United Nations for their inertia over the climate crisis – claiming they have “betrayed” young people.

The speech made an impact. The Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi told delegates that “the time for talking is over” while French President Emmanuel Macron announced that France will not make trade deals with countries not signed up to their landmark Paris climate agreement.

While there are still some countries dragging their feet on reform, many corporate companies are doing their part to lower carbon emissions. This includes small initiatives like turning off office lights at night, cycle-to-work schemes, going paperless and, of course, cutting down on the carbon emissions produced as a result of business travel.

In a Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) survey, according to GBTA Vice President of Research Joseph Bates, over half of the corporates said they were now paying more attention to their green business travel efforts.

Everyday, business travel is moving closer and closer to the centre of the climate change debate. Although travel’s carbon emissions lag behind other culprits like cars, power stations and factories, the amount of travel, particularly air travel, is growing exponentially every year. Corporate companies can recycle, turn their lights off and use energy saving light bulbs but all that falls to pieces the second we jump on a plane.

Over four billion passengers flew last year alone. IATA forecasts that this will increase to 7.8 billion by 2036, which means that there will be more passengers getting on planes every year than there are people alive in the world today.

Business travel itself is increasing rapidly. Global corporate travel spend is expected to reach $1,7 trillion by 2023.

If we are expected to be travelling more and more, how do we limit the environmental impact of business travel?

There are four main steps you can take to limit your company’s “travel” carbon footprint.

1. Do not travel if you don’t have to

The most obvious and most effective option is not to travel in the first place.

“The greenest business trip is the one you don’t take,” said Joel Makower, founder and executive editor of GreenBiz Group Inc., a media company focusing on the business of sustainability. Digital conferencing technology such as Skype, Zoom and Lync makes it easy to work with teams from afar without the added hassle of a business trip. While this technology can limit the number of trips a company takes, there is still no substitute for face-to-face interaction, a meal and a handshake. For this, we need other ways to cut down the carbon footprint.

2. Only book environmentally friendly hotels

Third party groups like Green Seal and many others currently audit hotels so they become “green certified”. “Green” hotels typically have recycling programmes, high-efficiency LED lights and ask guests to reuse towels in order to save water. Some even use solar power panels.

Companies can lessen their environmental impact by stipulating that these certified hotels become “preferred” in the travel programme. The only challenge is that there are no standard benchmarks stating what constitutes a “green” hotel. Some hotels are only certified as “green” according to their own internal assessments so corporates should do some research on how this certification is obtained before prioritising the property.

3. Use electric cars for ground transport

A gasoline car emmits 37 metric tons more C02 than an electric car over the course of its lifetime. Although this is difficult to have control over when using taxi services, having a policy which encourages renting out electric cars can have a small but significant effect on reducing carbon emissions.

4. Track your company’s travel carbon footprint

Companies are well-versed in tracking their business travel according to the money leaving the bank account, however, as climate change becomes more of an emergency, tracking the environmental impact of a programme is becoming more necessary.

Since October 2013, the Companies Act 2006 (Strategic Report and Directors’ Report) Regulations 2013, has required all UK quoted companies to report on their greenhouse gas emissions as part of their annual Directors’ Report.

Incentive programmes like the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme are already underway to reward companies who can prove they have low carbon emissions.

Luckily, there is technology that will assist corporate companies in C02 reporting for their business travel. The ICAO Carbon Emissions Calculator is being used by various TMCs, such as FCM Travel Solutions, to calculate emissions on flights booked through the agency. Unfortunately this does not include any bookings made off-channel.

We have been doing our part to track the carbon footprint in business travel with our new Carbon Footprint Report. Based on Air activity, it measures C02 per passenger kilometre (kgCO2e) according to the UK Government’s Greenhouse Gas Conversion Factors for Company Reporting.

5. Hold travel suppliers accountable

It is not only about the travellers. We can make changes in the way we travel but we are nibbling at the edge of a major problem if airlines, ground and rail providers continue to invest heavily in coal energy.

The major change comes when travel suppliers reinvent common practice – making their services more environmentally friendly for travellers to use. The development of electric cars and new engines for trains and planes can make a huge difference in decreasing C02 emissions. Unlike electric cars, electric-powered plane engines are still a while away from becoming a reality.

In travel, there is very little in terms of “green” standards – making it challenging to compare one supplier to another. Some independent boards do assess environmental impact, however there is a lack of a set standard agreed on by all on what constitutes “environmentally friendly”.

That doesn’t mean there is no change. Some airlines have been making changes, most notably using lower-carbon fuels to meet tightening government legislation. British Airways specifically has committed to cutting its nett CO2 emissions by 50% by 2050 through its partnership with renewable energy company Velocys.

There is still room for improvement. Buyers need to create a market which favours environmentally friendly suppliers. This competition will push suppliers to innovate and change. As technology develops and more “green” incentive programmes are introduced, tracking our carbon emissions may be just as important as tracking our travel spend.

If you would like to know more about our Carbon Footprint Report and our other no-leakage travel spend analyses, schedule a demo with our travel data experts.

Joni Lindes
By Joni Lindes
5 min read

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