Sustainability and Air Travel, Part 2: Four Steps to Creating a More Sustainable Program

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Julien Etchanchu, Managing Consultant, Advito

By Julien Etchanchu,  Managing Consultant

In our previous blog post, Sustainability and Air Travel Part 1: What is Driving this Trend? We examined the different factors behind the uptick in sustainability initiatives, and what airlines are currently doing to improve sustainability. Now we will take a look at what this means on the program level. How can travel managers ensure that they’re doing their part and creating a more sustainable travel program? We offer a four-step approach to help make a change:

1. Fly Less

Businesses will never be able to eliminate 100% of travel. However, not all trips are necessary. Use Sustainable Collaboration to assess your air travel program and understand where non-essential travel could be eliminated.

This will help you cut out unnecessary flights, replacing them where appropriate with virtual collaboration tools. With improved technology, it’s now possible – and normal – for people to meet and work together via video. And it keeps travel costs under control, too. Fly less can also mean traveling more, but with sustainable options like the train. Agreements exist between airlines and train companies (e.g. Air France and Lufthansa with SNCF and Deutsche Bahn) to offer Rail & Fly tickets. On shorter trips, flights can often be avoided. KLM even recommends not to fly short distances on its own website.

2. Fly Better

When planning your travel program, optimize your routes. The golden rule is that a direct flight will always be more fuel efficient than an indirect flight. However, significant differences also exist between two indirect flights. Simply changing your stopover point could make a significant difference to CO2 emissions. For example, if you fly from Munich to Tokyo via Dubai with Emirates, that uses 7.8 tons of CO2. If you fly via Helsinki with Finnair, the total is 5.7 tons. That’s a 2.1-ton difference, which is approximately one individual’s climate budget per year.

It’s also worth thinking about the total cost of travel, including the environmental impact. While this is an idea that still needs to be fully developed, we could imagine a new indicator to be displayed within the Online Booking Tool (OBT), mixing the “classical” price with the environmental cost, resulting in a new total cost of travel. For that, a price must be given to one ton of carbon. This is not easy to calculate, as this price varies considerably, from 20-25€ in the US to around 120€ in Sweden. But in all cases, this must be high enough to be efficient. Currently, compensations proposed by airlines (we found no exceptions) are all below 10€ / ton, which seems far too low to have any considerable effect (some scientists have even suggested prices of up to 200€).

3. Fly More Sustainable Airlines

Nearly every airline is currently implementing some type of “green initiative,” yet some of them are much more advanced than others. Based on five criteria (fleet efficiency being the most important), Advito has created a ranking for the 30 biggest airlines in the world, from the most to the least sustainable. Currently, best-in-class are the European carriers, while Gulf and Chinese carriers are lagging behind. US carriers still have a relatively old fleet (between 12 and 15 years old for the Big Three) but are partially compensated by investments in new aircrafts and successful initiatives, e.g. the use of biofuel.

Advito can help you identify those via our airline sustainability ranking tool which measures five key sustainability criteria, the most important of which is fleet efficiency.

4. Use Carbon Offsetting

Carbon offsetting is a bit of a buzzword for companies going green. But don’t think of this as a magic bullet that lets you travel at will. There are issues with offsetting, including:

  • It’s uncertain. There’s no guarantee the offsetting firm or the tree you plant will still be around in 20 years
  • Airlines tend to underestimate travelers’ CO2 emissions in their calculations, leading to insufficient compensations (on top of a low carbon price as previously mentioned).
  • Several climate scientists have argued that offsetting is worse than doing nothing, because it may result in delaying necessary structural changes

So, when thinking about sustainability, offsetting isn’t the top priority. Follow the other three steps before adding offsetting to the mix.

Many airlines have already taken significant steps to be more sustainable, and it’s time for business travel programs to get on board. Leveraging Traveler Engagement campaigns to shift share towards more sustainable partners or encourage more environmentally friendly behavior while traveling can make a significant impact on achieving organizational sustainability initiatives. Travelers increasingly care about this issue and will likely be active stakeholders in their organization’s efforts to become more environmentally friendly. Travel managers can and should lead the way in driving sustainability initiatives, because this is a trend that is here to stay.

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