Just under half of the world’s biggest companies did not return to 2019 levels of flying last year, a new study of business travel emissions finds. Of 217 companies analysed, 104 kept their air travel emissions to less than 50% between 2019 and 2022. Among those having reduced their flying the most are technology giant SAP (-86%), pharmaceutical company Pfizer (-78%) and consulting group PwC (-76%). This analysis shows the feasibility of a shift towards less flying, more rail travel and the increased use of virtual meetings.
The study finds that 113 of the companies bounced back to over 50% of pre-COVID levels of flying with some of them edging very close to 2019 levels. These include financial giant JP Morgan Chase (-13%) and pharmaceutical companies Merck (-17%) and Johnson & Johnson (-28%). None of these companies have targets to reduce business travel emissions and have been identified by the Travel Smart campaign as some of the world’s biggest flyers. For the 113 companies in this situation, if they had kept their business flying in 2022 to 50% of 2019 levels, the study finds that this could have saved over 1,8 million additional tonnes of CO2.
The analysis shows that 21 businesses even exceeded pre-2019 levels of flying. These companies should step up their climate ambitions and accelerate their plans to reduce business travel emissions, says the Travel Smart campaign which conducted the research. By falling out of step with expectations, the business’s reputation is at risk.
Overall, business travel emissions declined by a total of 51% between 2019 and 2022, when combining the data of 217 of the world’s biggest flyers. The Travel Smart campaign has set a goal of reducing overall business travel emissions by at least 50% by 2025 or sooner. This target is based on Transport & Environment’s aviation roadmap that shows that a 50% reduction in overall business travel is needed during this decade, and sooner rather than later, in order to keep aviation within a 1.5°C-compatible pathway.
Denise Auclair, Travel Smart campaign manager, says: “Overall it’s a positive picture to see so many companies not returning to pre-2019 levels of flying. Lessons from the pandemic have been learnt: the way forward is collaboration with more online meetings, more travel by train and less by plane. But it’s dismaying to see still too many companies returning to excessive flying for business with so little concern for the planet. The start of 2024 is the perfect time for new corporate resolutions to put the old, high-flying days behind us.”
Among the 217 companies analysed in this study, 171 don’t have targets to reduce business travel emissions. Yet, most of these are flying much less than before COVID. The Travel Smart campaign calls upon them to build on the lessons learnt from the pandemic and set a target to reduce business flying emissions. This target should be -50% or more, to be in line with a 1.5°C-compatible pathway.
Governments are revising climate plans for the next few years and are placing greater responsibility on companies to contribute to meeting those goals. The Netherlands has already made a firm start in targeting emissions associated with business travel. As of July2024, businesses in the Netherlands will start to report to the government on progress towards the mandated 50% reduction in their domestic mobility emissions by 2030, from 2016 levels.
“The era of uncontrolled business flying is coming to an end. Governments are taking notice and cracking down on unnecessary flights. This makes sense for the planet but also for the businesses themselves, who can cut costs and prioritise the well-being of their employees”, Denise Auclair concludes.