Tech giants Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft don’t have credible plans to reduce corporate flying emissions

mars 15, 2023
Biggest US companies rely too heavily on early-stage technology to reduce their business travel emissions 

American tech firms do not present realistic plans to reduce business flying emissions, relying too heavily on early-stage technologies rather than reduction targets, reveals a ranking on sustainable travel policies by the Travel Smart Campaign. 

Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft all receive low grades in the Travel Smart ranking. None of these companies have set targets to reduce business flying emissions. Microsoft has set a carbon price on business travel emissions ($100 per metric tonne of CO2 equivalent), to better support the purchase of sustainable aviation fuel. But a reduction target is essential to ensure immediate cuts in travel emissions. Microsoft gets a C grade in the ranking. 

Meta (parent company of Facebook) does not set a target to reduce its business travel emissions, the research finds. Instead it claims to reduce its corporate travel emissions by having purchased 700,000 gallons of sustainable aviation fuel in 2021. But using alternative fuels is no substitute for a reduction target as there are not yet sufficient amounts of them available for businesses to use, and this scale-up is only foreseen for post-2030. 

Google highlights its commitment to work towards climate-friendly travel via its Google Flights tool, and publicly promotes flying less and using alternatives such as train, bus or car on its travel webpage. However the tech giant has no known targets for employees to take any of these steps.  

Denise Auclair, corporate travel campaign manager at T&E said: “Tech giants are claiming sustainability, but are ignoring the immediate solutions. They rely on green tech that is not yet readily available to have a meaningful impact on protecting our planet. Setting a reduction target is, for now, the only meaningful action a company can take to reduce its corporate travel emissions in the short term, where it matters most.”

American companies are among the top emitters included in  the Travel Smart ranking. The study looks at the biggest emitting companies that do not set targets to reduce corporate travel emissions. Of the top 25 emitters without targets, 12 are American companies. The top five among these are Johnson & Johnson, IBM, Microsoft, Alphabet (parent company of Google)and Merck & Co

The analysis shows that setting such targets is possible though, as companies of similar size or sector have done so. Pfizer, for example, has set a -25% target by 2025. Adobe goes further with a -30% goal by 2025. 

The study shows that if 10% of companies – the biggest emitters of the ranking – set 50% reduction targets, this would go half the way towards achieving the global target of -50% in corporate air travel emissions by 2025. Reducing aviation emissions is now more crucial than ever, if we are to stay within 1.5°C of global warming.

For the critical decade until 2030, the best way to reduce aviation emissions is to fly less, as the timing for scale-up of sustainable fuels and zero-emissions aircraft is currently post-2030, and offsetting cannot substitute for reducing emissions. 

The Travel Smart Campaign calls upon companies to set ambitious targets to reduce corporate travel emissions, switch from air to rail travel where possible, and privilege virtual collaboration as a substitute to long-haul flying. 

Denise Auclair concludes: “The biggest emitters have the biggest role to play in reducing their corporate flying emissions. The means to achieve this are more accessible than ever before: rail travel when distances permit it and virtual collaboration to avoid long-haul flights.”

Note to editors: 

Transport & Environment, together with a coalition of global partners, launched the Travel Smart Campaign in 2022 with a yearly edition of a corporate ranking on sustainable business travel practices. The campaign engages with businesses, with the objective that they reduce their corporate travel emissions by 50% or more of pre-Covid levels by 2025 or sooner.​

The Travel Smart Ranking, ranks 322 US, European and Indian companies according to 10 indicators, relating to air travel emissions, reduction targets and reporting. Top global flyers from the 17 countries of the ranking represent a sizable portion of business travel worldwide. The analysis sheds light on the significant efforts certain global businesses have still to make to reduce their corporate travel emissions. Companies are given an A, B, C or D grade. In this year’s edition of the ranking, 11 companies qualified for an A grade, 38 a B, whilst the overwhelming majority received a C (212) and 61 companies saw a D grade next to their name. 

(1) According to 2019 emissions reporting

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