Tech giants Microsoft, IBM and Google failing to keep up with industry leaders in cutting corporate travel emissions

maart 12, 2024
Some of the world's biggest flyers - that include US companies like Coca-Cola, Apple, The Walt Disney Company, Netflix and Amazon - are yet to set targets to reduce corporate flights.

Top flyers not making credible plans to reduce corporate flying

Twenty-five multinationals responsible for 36% of business travel emissions have no plans to cut their polluting corporate flights[1], despite repeatedly promoting their green credentials to the public and shareholders. Analysis from the third edition of the Travel Smart ranking shows that if just these top 25 flyers cut their business flying in half, it would achieve a third of the emissions reductions needed by 2025 from the 328 companies in the ranking[2]. The 5.9 Mt of CO2 saved would be equivalent to the emissions produced by 3 million cars in a year.

The analysis shows a stark discrepancy between companies in the same industry – with ambitious companies setting flight emissions reduction targets, and laggard companies refusing to do so year after year. Among the top flyers without targets are US tech companies IBM, Microsoft and Google. On the other hand, peers Oracle, Adobe and Salesforce are much more ambitious, with plans to reduce what is often regarded as ‘the low hanging fruit’ of a company’s climate footprint. Salesforce, for instance, not only plans to halve its business travel emissions intensity by 2030, but will also make a portion of its top executives’ bonus payments contingent on the company meeting interim targets towards that goal.

“The Travel Smart Ranking isn’t just a ranking, it’s a call to action. We urge all companies to set targets for reducing business travel emissions that will accelerate near-term progress towards net zero goals. This critical step will help ensure that across companies and industries, leaders are adopting solutions and policies that enhance sustainable, purposeful travel.” – Adam Braun, CEO  & Co-Founder of Clarasight

By not setting targets, these top flyers risk quickly rebounding to pre-COVID levels of flying.  A tracker of companies’ emissions published last year showed that companies that don’t set targets like Johnson & Johnson and Merck have already bounced back close to their 2019 levels of corporate travel, at only -28% and -17% respectively in 2022.  This is in stark contrast with Pfizer, which has set a target and kept its 2022 emissions -78% below 2019 levels.

Other top flyers in the ranking with no credible plans to cut down travel emissions include Cisco and Apple. These global companies consider themselves progressive and pioneering businesses with Apple boasting about wanting to bring its entire carbon footprint to net zero by 2030. However, they fail to tackle air travel emissions. To highlight the worst offenders, the Travel Smart campaign has launched fake airlines, such as Siemens Airlines, IBM Business Airlines and Johnson & Johnson Airlines, drawing attention to their higher share of responsibility when it comes to reducing corporate flights. For instance, Johnson & Johnson’s business travel emissions in 2019 of over 460,000 t of CO2 were equivalent to the carbon footprint of close to three daily flights for a whole year from London to New York.

“US flyers have an outsized responsibility to cut down their flying. They must urgently set targets or risk losing out to competitors. There are no excuses for not taking action. Peers in their sector have set ambitious targets, so what is stopping laggards like IBM and Johnson & Johnson from doing the same? Our research shows a difference between companies committed to sustainability and others that are, at best, paying lip service to their climate responsibilities”, Denise Auclair, corporate travel manager at Transport & Environment explains.

Lack of targets: companies misaligned with own green pledges

Of the 328 companies evaluated in the ranking, only 57 companies have set targets to reduce business travel emissions, including 15 US companies. Many companies are on record saying they will reduce emissions in line with the Paris Agreement. Yet, only seven additional companies have adopted targets since last year. This is a worrying sign that a majority of companies aren’t acting fast enough or demonstrating genuine commitment to reduce air travel emissions.

For a third year in a row, JP Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs in the finance sector failed to set a target and act on it, receiving a low grade in the ranking. At the bottom of the list, you can also find Walt Disney and Netflix in the entertainment sector, GE in the manufacturing sector and Amazon and Walmart in the retail sector.

Of the 68 American companies in the ranking, only two have been awarded the top A category (Pfizer and Oracle) and just 13 got a B grade. These leading companies show that businesses can make innovative changes and set ambitious targets by adopting new ways of working, replacing air travel with alternative modes of transport or through more virtual collaboration. On the other hand, the majority of US companies are not progressing fast enough, with 48 companies scoring a C and six receiving a D.

Note to editors:

The Travel Smart Ranking ranks 328 US, European and Indian companies according to 11 indicators, relating to air travel emissions, reduction targets and reporting. Companies are given an A, B, C or D grade. In this year’s edition of the ranking, 16 companies qualified for an A grade, 40 a B, whilst the overwhelming majority received a C (230) and 42 companies saw a D grade next to their name.  44 companies report the full climate impact of their travel (this includes non-CO2 emissions) – up from 40 last year. This is the third edition of the ranking.

This ranking covers corporate flying, which is key to reducing emissions and to the future of sustainable aviation. Broader aspects of a company’s business model should also be addressed for it to be considered a leader in sustainability.

[1] The 25 companies mentioned are the top flyers in 2019 from the selection of 328 companies in the Travel Smart Ranking (full list here). They are responsible for 36% of emissions from the companies in the ranking.

[2] The Travel Smart campaign asks companies to set targets of at least 50% reduction, by 2025 or sooner. The goal has been established based upon the rigorous analysis in Transport & Environment’s Roadmap to climate neutral aviation showing that a 50% reduction in overall business travel is needed during this decade, in order to keep aviation within a 1.5°C-compatible pathway.

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