Corporate travel

Business travel is one of the biggest drivers of aviation demand. But the pandemic saw the number of corporate flights reduce dramatically, putting into question the need to fly so frequently for work.

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What is the impact of corporate travel on aviation emissions? 

Global air travel is the most climate-intensive form of transport. And this is only set to rise. Between 2005 and 2019, aviation traffic in Europe grew 67%, causing its emissions to grow at a time when they need to be falling- and emissions are projected to grow by a further 38% by 2050.  

Business travel represents approximately 30% of all air travel in Europe. Yet business travelers only make up only some 12% of passengers. This is due to the fact that corporate flyers are typically frequent flyers. In fact, frequent flyers – less than 1% of the world’s population – account for more than 50% of aviation emissions. 

The growth of the aviation sector, and in particular that of corporate travel, is not compatible with the needs of the planet. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has called for rapid, deep cuts in emissions – with the next three years being crucial. Reducing long-haul aviation provides the greatest potential to avoid emissions within the sector.

In the current context of the urgency of reducing oil dependency, one of the most feasible ways to do so is to maintain lower levels of flying experienced during the pandemic. Of the 64.4 Mtoe reduction in total EU oil consumption in 2020 compared to 2019, 37% was due to the drop in international aviation, despite only representing 6.3% of transport oil consumption. 

Reducing business flights, and using high-speed trains or digital technologies instead, can make a huge difference.

Can we maintain low levels of corporate flying experienced during the pandemic? 

The pandemic saw the number of flights fall dramatically and we learned about how we could live and work in better ways. With considerably less flying, companies continued to deliver on projects and maintain connections with customers and other business partners.

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.

Less business flying can have a significant impact on reducing aviation emissions. If we reduce corporate travel in Europe by 50%, it would cut emissions by 32.6 MtCO2 by 2030, which is the same as taking 16 million polluting cars off the road. Smarter flying is something we can all do. 

What are companies doing to reduce business travel?

Transport & Environment has launched a campaign on corporate flying called ‘Travel Smart’, aiming at  reducing air corporate travel emissions by -50% or more of pre-Covid levels by 2025 or sooner. The ‘Travel Smart’ ranking, launched as part of the campaign, grades companies across the world on their commitments to reduce corporate travel. The ranking also looks at efforts by businesses to report on their air travel emissions. 

The latest ranking reveals that many companies are not yet stepping up to reduce their business travel levels.

85% of global companies are failing to set ambitious targets to reduce corporate travel emissions, reveals the second edition of a ranking on business travel by The Travel Smart Campaign.

Only 50 companies out of 322 have set targets to reduce business travel emissions. Of the companies who have targets, only four companies receive the “gold standard”, i.e. report air travel emissions and commit to reducing them by 50% or more, by 2025 or sooner. These are Novo Nordisk (Pharmaceuticals, Denmark), Swiss Re (Finance, Switzerland), Fidelity International (Finance, United Kingdom) and ABN Amro (Finance, Netherlands).

What is the Travel Smart campaign?

‘Travel Smart’ is a global campaign led by Transport & Environment and within a coalition of partners across Europe, North America and Asia. The Travel Smart campaign helps businesses reduce their corporate travel emissions. We inspire companies and their employees to introduce a new business culture of purposeful and effective corporate travel. The Travel Smart campaign accompanies businesses in their public commitment to an absolute target of maintaining reductions in flying of 50% of 2019 levels or below, by 2025 or sooner. Visit the campaign’s website to find out more.

Can business flying ever be green? 

For the critical decade until 2030, the best way to reduce aviation emissions is to fly less. As of yet, green technologies are not available at scale to have an impact on reducing emissions. The timeline for the scale-up of sustainable fuels and zero-emissions aircraft is currently post-2030. In time, these technologies will contribute to reducing aviation emissions. 

Offsetting emissions is ineffective and a fake climate solution. It will never be enough to tackle emissions of the world’s fastest polluting transport sector. Airlines and businesses should stop using it as an excuse to postpone climate action.

Although business travelers make up some 12% of passengers, they contribute up to 75% of revenues on certain flights. These revenues can be used to accelerate the transition to sustainable flying, by investing them in clean technology innovation and scale-up.