How to reduce your carbon flight footprint
Richard Tarboton, Director of Strategic Services, at Carbon Credentials, energy performance and carbon management experts, shares his tips on how businesses and leaders can lower their air travel emissions, with a smarter, low-carbon business travel policy.
Over the next decade flights will become the biggest contributor to the carbon footprint of many businesses, as buildings are increasingly supplied by renewable energy and vehicles move to electric. Flights are now the highest carbon purchase that an individual makes and air travel accounts for over 70% of a company’s total carbon footprint in some sectors.
By introducing a smarter travel policy that reassesses ways of working, European business chiefs can balance business growth and client demand for face-to-face interaction against an urgent need to reduce travel emissions. Benefits will be reaped on their bottom line, employee wellbeing and company reputation improved, and a rising demand for low carbon flights will accelerate advances in aviation technology.
A smarter travel policy
A smarter travel policy must optimise the frequency of travel required with senior management leading by example. Assess ways to reduce unnecessary business travel – for example, can you combine several meetings into one trip? Can you replace the meeting with video conferencing or an alternative form of low carbon travel? Consider, if possible, caps on the number of flights per year.
Fundamental to the successful adoption of any smart travel policy though, will be a change in the mindset of employees and overseas clients who have come to expect conversations in person.
To shift mindsets, talk about the reduction in business travel in a holistic way, for example, not just the positives to the environment but the financial, safety and wellbeing benefits of less travel. Discuss your new policy with clients before implementing to ensure they’re on board without any surprises. They may follow suit! Capture feedback and internal insights to show the impact of this change to the business and client experience.
Efficient air travel
Where flying is the only option, impose a booking criteria within your internal corporate travel policy for staff to choose the lowest carbon flights possible as not all flights are equal in their carbon emissions, with some now 40% lower than average. Factors affecting their efficiency include aircraft design, fuel burn, load factor, flight haul and passenger class.
Information on the carbon emissions of different flights is still difficult to obtain when booking flights and this is something that we are talking with airlines about to allow customers to choose lowest carbon flights. Some sites such as Skyscanner are recommending the lowest carbon flights for each route.
Where possible, choose a two-engine versus a four-engine plane and staff should book lower carbon seats. Businesses can make substantial reductions in flight emissions through encouraging their employees to take economy rather than business class or first-class flights. For example, for an average long-haul flight, business class emits 434 gCO2e/passenger kilometre and first class emits 599 gCO2e/passenger kilometre versus 150 gCO2e/passenger kilometres on economy – so four times greater emissions for first class vs economy according to recent DEFRA guidelines.
Some progress has been made in sustainable aviation fuel, hybrid and fully electric planes. Cape Air flies electric passenger flights from Boston to Cape Cod, and new aircraft are being designed that are three to five times more efficient in their weight, design and engine technology. London Heathrow airport also recently announced plans to award the first airline to land electric planes at Heathrow, free landing fees for a year.
But there is still some way to go before electric and hybrid flights are commonplace on long and even short haul flights. This isn’t helped by the lack of data transparency on carbon emission levels on flights, which we’re currently trying to tackle by working on a concept to provide accurate carbon flight data at a route level so individuals and businesses can make better informed choices when booking flights.
However, the more businesses and individuals that take an active role in using low carbon travel and value low carbon flights, the greater the demand on the aviation industry to advance airline technology at a faster pace – action we need if Europe is to be net zero by 2050.