With 2050 emission goals looming, travel management companies can be part of the strategy to drive sustainable decisions
by: Keith Loria
Net Zero Emissions by 2050 is a pathway for the global energy sector to curtail CO2 so the net effect is zero emissions in less than three decades. To keep global warming to no more than 1.5°C, as called for in the Paris Agreement, emissions need to be reduced by 45 percent by 2030 and reach net zero by mid-century.
And 2050 is looming large for those corporations and governments which have set net-zero carbon goals. To reach net zero emissions by 2050, clean energy investment worldwide will need to reach around $4 trillion annually by 2030 – more than triple today’s numbers, according to the International Energy Agency.
The World Travel and Tourism Council estimates the travel industry generates between 8 percent and 11 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions – the majority of which comes from transportation. The travel industry is therefore an important sector working to reach the net-zero goal, and many companies have set a path for a new sustainable strategy and reducing their carbon footprint.
In response to the climate crisis, travel companies are committed to identifying and helping mitigate climate-related risks for employees, customers and the planet. Through collaboration and partnership, there is a concerted focus towards adopting more sustainable global practices, and recognition that the entire industry must work together to make a meaningful impact.
That includes investing in more fuel-efficient aircraft, increasing the use of alternative fuels such as sustainable aviation fuels, adding more electric vehicle options in car rental fleets, implementing sustainable infrastructure and operations across hotel properties, minimizing food wastage and single-use plastics at corporate meetings and events, and offering carbon offsetting programs.
“Travel brings social, economic and cultural benefits to the world. However, we acknowledge that the sector significantly contributes to carbon emissions worldwide,” says Richard Thompson, global head of ESG and employee experience for CWT. “Even as a travel management company, with emissions on the whole smaller than some of our transport-focused travel industry peers, we recognize that we have a role to play by reducing our impact and helping our customers travel sustainably.”
Chris Weedon, vice president, global sales and services for GlobalStar Travel Management, admits there are so many options and so much to do, that it can be overwhelming to know where to start. “Our partners across the network are already working with our clients to advise and support multiple ESG initiatives,” he says. “As a business, we have recently partnered with Trees4Travel. As a result, we can not only experience and use their great carbon management technology ourselves, but we can also contribute to something equally as positive through their reforestation programs.”
Making a Difference Corporate Travel Management is about to launch its Climate (net) Positive Program, according to John Nicholls, CTM’s global head of ESG and sustainability. The program includes specific carbon neutral and net-zero objectives and targets concerning carbon emissions, energy and waste to reach a net negative carbon footprint by 2030.
“It’s not enough for us to simply reduce harm; we want to go beyond that and create a positive change for the planet,” Nicholls says. “One exciting aspect of our Climate (net) Positive Program is our focus on initiatives that continually support our clients in reducing their corporate travel-related emissions. We can’t reveal all the details just yet, but we’re working hard to make a significant impact and move toward a net negative carbon footprint.”
Christopher Truss, international development and sustainability director for Reed and Mackay, notes the company’s philosophy, approach and commitment to sustainability are aligned. With that in mind, Reed and Mackay has committed to the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi), which commits to achieving a 50 percent reduction in carbon by 2030 and to be net-zero by 2050. Additionally, it has signed the Net Zero Carbon Events pledge, which outlines very clear targets for the events industry specifically.
“Given events are a huge aspect of our business, it is essential we commit to initiatives such as this in order to have positive impact and remain competitive,” Truss says. “Overall, we want to ensure we are doing all we can to keep sustainability at the core of every touchpoint within the Reed and Mackay ecosystem.”
Additionally, Reed and Mackay is the lone TMC to have a partnership with Neste, the world’s leading sustainable aviation fuel producer, which enables the company to provide a tangible solution for clients seeking to source sustainable aviation options.
Advito has partnered with travel technology platform Tripkicks to develop a solution that provides accurate air emissions calculations at the point of sale in SAP’s online booking tool Concur Travel. With the solution enabled, travelers can see the most sustainable flights in the air search results. Future features will include emissions figures on hotel and rail search results.
“Managed travel programs have a great opportunity to educate employees about sustainability and how the small decisions that one makes can actually make a big impact,” says Jeff Berk, CEO of Tripkicks. “Regardless of the percent of overall emissions that business travel makes up for a company, it is highly visible and relatable, which makes it one of the more tangible areas for people.”
For example, it may be hard for the average person to conceptualize the CO2 emissions resulting from the electricity used by their office building, but easy to picture emissions resulting from two jet engines on an airplane ready for takeoff. “Business travel has a target on its back, but it can also be an area where a little focus can have a big impact both on emissions output – helping a company achieve its goals – and on embracing company values,” Berk says.
Weedon characterizes the travel industry’s impact on the carbon footprint as moving in the right direction. “It requires a considered course of action, a balanced approach and practical steps to achieve sustainable objectives,” he says.
For instance, GlobalStar has always been a remote-only business, with all of the central team home-based. Therefore, its decarbonization goals are those its team members share with their families and each other. “We regularly help design and implement carbon offsetting, travel avoidance and travel alternatives,” Weedon says. “Our recent partner conference saw GlobalStar add 396 trees to a reforestation program in Haiti while also removing 64,984kg of CO2e through United Nation CER renewable energy projects.”
CWT’s approach has two key areas of activity: Reducing the emissions of operations, and providing offerings for its clients beyond the boundaries of CWT, to help them travel while keeping sustainability front of mind. The goal is to develop a robust carbon reduction plan that touches all parts of the company.
“We voluntarily measure, report on, and reduce our operational emissions, we create a proactive and environmentally-responsible culture, and we support our clients in implementing environmentally responsible solutions to tackle climate-related issues,” Thompson says. “We reinforced the commitment to significantly reduce our footprint by signing the Science Based Targets Call to Action Standard Commitment Letter in June 2021. Defining SBTs puts us on the right path to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.”
Booking Travel It’s up to both travelers and TMCs to think sustainability when booking travel. “We hear quite often from travel managers that their travelers want to do the right thing when it comes to sustainability, but often lack the knowledge or information when going about the booking process,” Berk says. “We help bring this visibility to travelers by showcasing more eco-friendly flights and lodging choices, or engaging travelers around other programs and commitments that their company is embracing, like SAF commitments or carbon taxes.”
CWT has included CO2 emission information at the point-of-booking for flights, hotels, car and rail, which helps travelers make more informed purchase decisions. “Sustainability has catapulted to the top of the agenda and is appearing in every RFP we receive today,” Thompson notes. “When we polled our customers, two in three said sustainability goals had become more important for their organization since the pandemic. Our clients are looking to us, as their business travel and meetings partner, for support in reducing the carbon footprint of their travel and meetings programs.”
The company has also enhanced its CO2 reporting capabilities with new carbon emission summary dashboards, providing a simple, all-in-one view of a company’s emissions using either DEFRA or Thrust Carbon methodology.
“Accurate and comprehensive data and reporting around sustainability is hugely important so that clients can understand what their carbon footprint is today and how they can reduce it going forward,” Thompson explains. “We help deliver goal tracking and predictive analytics modelling to our clients around their travel volumes and carbon footprint. This gives them a better understanding of their current travel-related carbon footprint, so they can venture into more advanced levels of sustainability management.”
Nicholls notes that when booking travel, it's worth considering rail; this mode of transportation typically has lower carbon emissions than air travel. However, if air travel is the only option, he recommends booking direct flights to minimize fuel consumption. “When selecting hotels, prioritize sustainability and look for those that offer eco-friendly options, like opting out of housekeeping to preserve electricity and water usage,” Nicholls advises. “Consider public transport or carpooling to lessen your travel impact and also make use of technology tools to guide your sustainable travel choices to assign carbon budgets and track emissions for each segment of your travel.”
Travelers have greater access to information than ever before, Truss says, which can help them make informed decisions about their travel needs and providers. So, assessing how to minimize their environmental impact before booking is a natural starting point. “Furthermore, travel managers and companies looking to increase their sustainability efforts can look to partner with a TMC offering reporting, consultancy and compensation to further enhance their choices and ability to measure their performance against ESG targets,” he says.
Growth Possibilities Growth and reduced emissions are not mutually exclusive. The challenge for travel companies is continuing to grow while reducing emissions. Weedon maintains that meeting that challenge means exploring new sources of information about travel’s impact. “The appetite to travel hasn’t diminished despite the social step-change towards net-zero achievements,” he says. “Thankfully, there is a lot of help available. The ESG industry has developed, and there now exists a number of excellent organizations with practical ambitions and tools to help us all achieve net zero. These include SBTi, ecovadis, GRI standards, the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the UN Global Compact. In addition, IATAs’ Net-Zero Resolution is a much-welcomed addition to our industry.”
At Reed and Mackay, the strategy is to maintain a strong growth momentum by winning more clients. “We’ll do that by continuing to deliver the best service and technology offering, and by providing our clients with intelligent, informed advice and industry-leading tools. This in turn allows us to help our clients make the best decisions for their business,” Truss says.
For Thompson at CWT, the trick is striking the right balance. “There’s no denying that business travel and meetings play an irreplaceable role in relationship-building and collaboration, but we have to accept that meaningful progress towards a collective net zero across the industry will mean that people will travel less and take fewer business trips,” Thompson says. “Even with travelers taking fewer business trips on average, we believe we can continue to grow our business. We believe in unlocking a new world of human connection.”