Corporate leadership? Few businesses pledge to reduce their flying

november 9, 2022
This article first appeared in the Airclim newsletter

Whilst corporate leaders pledge to reduce the climate impact of their businesses, too few go the extra mile and tackle the problem of air travel emissions. Before the pandemic, flying for business was second-nature for many white-collar workers. Employers across the world would, with no hesitation whatsoever, send their staff to another country for a few meetings only. This was revealed in a ranking published by the Travel Smart Campaign earlier this year. It ranked 230 US and European companies according to nine indicators, relating to emissions reduction targets, reporting and air travel emissions.

In times of climate crisis, and despite the lessons learnt during the pandemic, too few businesses are reducing corporate travel emissions. The pandemic has offered a oncein-a-lifetime opportunity to lock in reductions in global corporate flying and to introduce a new culture of purposeful and effective travel. In 2020, businesses successfully adapted to a new way of working. The ease with which many employees and customers adjusted to being home and flying less revealed that those long-held ideas of the need to fly for work no longer stand.

Yet, out of the 230 companies, 193 – including Swedish Ericsson – are not acting with sufficient speed and ambition to tackle corporate travel emissions. Only 8 companies, including Zurich Insurance Group, Lloyds Banking and Ernst & Young demonstrate climate leadership with their ambitious corporate travel emissions reduction plans. The likes of Vodafone, Renault & L’Oréal have all made company-wide emissions reductions targets but not gone far enough by committing to reduce corporate air travel emissions by a certain date. This step – which would see businesses privilege digital meetings and rail travel – could help them become climate leaders.

They could make ambitious business travel commitments in line with the reduction they experienced in 2020, helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, in order to limit global warming to 1.5°C. Yet, the ranking shows that businesses like Google, Facebook and Microsoft make no effort of the sort. Why do we need to reduce air travel so urgently? In 2019, business travel accounted for about 15 to 20% of air travel, or about 154 million MtCO2. T&E’s Roadmap to climate neutral aviation showed that a reduction in corporate travel was the single most effective way to reduce aviation emissions in the short term, where it counts most for the climate. The Travel Smart Campaign is a coalition of partners across Europe, North America and Asia aiming at reducing corporate air travel emissions.

It asks companies to reduce business air travel by -50% or more of pre-Covid levels by 2025 or sooner. Reducing corporate air travel by 50%, would mean the same as taking 16 million polluting cars off the road. Although not all business travel by plane can be avoided, virtual meetings are an effective substitute, especially for the highest-polluting global flights. Already 40 leading global companies have announced targets to cut corporate flying by 50%. The path is clear for others to equally step up, fly less and achieve more.

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