Business Frequent Flyers Are Failing to Lower Their Carbon Footprint

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(Bloomberg) — Most of the world’s largest companies are failing to set ambitious targets to reduce their employees’ emissions from flying, according to a new report from Brussels-based nonprofit Transport & Environment. Just 17% of 328 global companies analyzed by T&E have credible plans to reduce corporate flying emissions.

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The remaining 271 companies are not taking the weight of their climate impact seriously, the report notes.

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“We want to say to the companies that haven’t set targets: There aren’t any excuses,” said Denise Auclair, corporate travel campaign manager at T&E. “Some companies realized early on that the pandemic was providing an opportunity to do things in a new way, and really got a handle on their flying emissions.”

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Flying is the most emissions-intensive form of travel, and is notoriously difficult to decarbonize: There are currently no economically viable zero- or low-carbon options. Carbon dioxide emissions from air travel plummeted during the coronavirus pandemic, but recovered to 85% of their pre-pandemic levels in 2022, according to the International Energy Agency. That year, aviation accounted for 2% of emissions globally.

To reduce that footprint, airlines are experimenting with sustainable aviation fuels, but SAF is still scarce and therefore expensive. Traveling by train is essential for more immediately cutting the carbon footprint of business travel, the T&E report says. Even though emissions tied to trips along common business routes can be up to 97% lower by train than plane, just 28 companies examined by T&E have policies to shift air travel to rail. The report also cites combining trips and holding virtual meetings as effective ways to lower the carbon footprint of corporate travel.

Among all the companies examined by T&E, which ranked them based on CO2 emissions from air travel and emissions-reductions targets, the 25 companies with the highest emissions from air travel were responsible for a third of those emissions across the whole list.

The report did not factor in companies’ purchase of carbon offsets, which are not considered a reliable, credible approach to lowering travel emissions, Auclair said. “Some of these offsets may not have the carbon removal effect over time — there might be double counting, fraudulent issues, investing in something that is linked in the end to deforestation,” she said. “There are too many risks we find, especially to a company’s credibility, with offsetting.”

Only five companies on T&E’s list both disclose their emissions from air travel and have committed to halving those emissions by 2025 or sooner. The report calls this the “gold standard,” which includes Swiss Re, Zurich Insurance Group, Fidelity International, ABN Amro and Novo Nordisk. Companies that reported high emissions from travel and longer-term goals to reduce them include consultant McKinsey & Co and pharmaceuticals Pfizer Inc. and Roche.

Florence Long, a spokeswoman at UK-based non-profit Aviation Environment Federation, said laggard companies need to step up.

“Years after the corporate world learned to connect and collaborate with fewer flights, many companies are yet to lift a finger to act on the climate footprint of their business flying,” she said. “It is imperative that companies set tangible goals and binding commitments to achieve lower levels of business flying.”

More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com

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