Arcadis: “Towards net zero, the best thing we can really do is to travel less”

Travelling is one of the biggest sources of emissions for the global consultancy Arcadis. However, their business grew during the pandemic lockdown, when all flights stopped and teleworking was the norm. According to Jill Smit, their Global Sustainability Manager, this proved that travelling is not always really necessary. We spoke with her to learn from Arcadis’s ‘Virtual First’ approach and how its implementation is keeping them on track towards their net zero target.

What was Arcadis’s recipe to achieving the top category in the 2023 Travel Smart Ranking?

At Arcadis we are aware of the contribution of corporate flights on the climate. Consultancies tend to fly a lot, and we are mindful of our share of responsibility. The pandemic was an eye opener as we understood that business travel changed forever: we flew less and yet our business grew. It was the opportune moment to establish a -50% flying reduction target by 2025. To achieve this target, we put forward our “virtual first” approach, which has now become our default rule both internally and externally. 

Our approach to purposeful travel is also applied with clients by jointly agreeing on the amount of travel necessary to do projects together. These agreements have a positive multiplying effect on both companies’ climate footprint, and are helping us to reduce emissions and stay on track with our current target. Establishing an ambitious air travel reduction target, as well as reporting specifically on our air travel emissions reductions, has been key in getting Arcadis into the A category and it is now among the few companies that respect the golden standard of the Travel Smart ranking.

To work towards a sustainable business future, we encourage a 'virtual first' approach and purposeful travel that considers both environmental and social impacts. By adopting this new mindset, we can prioritize sustainability and create a better future for our business and the world we live in.
Jill Smit
Global Sustainability Manager – Travel & Workplace

Consulting is among the sectors with the best scores in the ranking. What differentiates you from other sectors in reducing your business travel-related emissions?

Travel is one of the biggest sources of emissions in our sector because meetings with clients is a core part of our day to day. However, we learned during the pandemic that most of our meetings could just become online calls. Unlike other businesses, flying less can actually be more efficient for consultancies: not only do we save money and time, but we are improving our employees’ work-life balance. 

What challenges does Arcadis find and how do you try to overcome them?

Arcadis has been growing in recent years and has expanded its international presence. This often translates into an increase in flights too. However, we did not think that the growth in the number of employees should necessarily mean a boom in our corporate flying. 

We give teams tools to assess the need to travel, so that employees ask themselves: does it really make sense to spend 6-hours travelling for a 1-hour meeting? Is this an internal meeting that can be done online? And if the answer is no, how many people should go to this external meeting or event? 

In short, this sustained growth means that our target for the time being can only be per employee. An absolute target can be set when the conditions are different.

As a global company, flying is an important share of Arcadis’ travelling emissions, how are you tackling your long-haul flying footprint?

In the first place, by improving our air travel emission reporting and awareness raising – e.g. every employee quarterly receives an email with an emissions summary of all trips. In the second place, by establishing stricter travel policies regarding flights, as well as promoting our “virtual first” approach for global operations. As a consequence, our approach to purposeful travel comes first, to ensure that our colleagues only travel when it really makes sense. 

What are the benefits for the business, for employees?

There are environmental, social, and economic benefits – and all three sides of this triangle are important for driving change. Cutting air travel costs, cutting employee time spent travelling and cutting emissions: these are all part of a healthy balance that help people understand and support the changes in our travel approach.

Employees are a key piece of this approach, so we have also developed incentives to reduce flights. For instance, if the worker prioritises the train over the plane and therefore the trip exceeds a specific number of hours, we offer an extra day off. 

However, there are many regions where a shift to rail is not always possible. In these cases, we encourage organising all the meetings in a specific region in the same period of time. Moreover, some of our “slow travel” advocates are also combining work with personal travel to reduce flying.

Arcadis is part of the Anders Reizen coalition and their workgroup on Anders Vliegen in the Netherlands. How being part of that coalition of companies contributed to your efforts to reduce business travelling regionally?

In the Anders Vliegen (“Fly Differently”) workgroup, corporates are stimulating each other to implement ambitious travel policies and share best practices. Arcadis also contributed to the development of the International Business Travel Guide, which is a product of the Anders Reizen coalition. Lowering Arcadis’s carbon footprint is an important part of the company’s new corporate strategy. Through the Anders Vliegen coalition, we specifically target the impact of flying, by committing to tackle air traffic emissions and enable acceleration of cleaner flying. This regional commitment is aligned with our global ambition and, in turn, in line with the Travel Smart approach. 

What would you say to a company who is hesitating on setting a reduction goal?

For many global companies, one of the biggest challenges is not knowing where to begin to address this issue. Questions such as where to improve sustainability reporting breakdowns, or decide on the baseline year, may be holding these companies back. My advice is, it doesn’t have to be perfect: you can look at what kind of travel you do as a business, and the easiest way to get data, for example starting first with air travel, and spend data, and use the methodological version that fits best. Don’t strive for perfection to begin – just begin.

What are the next steps for Arcadis in terms of business travel reduction?

We are currently tracking and reporting our annual emissions and we are happy to confirm that we are on the right track to our 2025 target. We want to use this experience and avoid a return to historical levels of travel and reduce in the long term towards not only our 2025 target, but also towards our net zero target.

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