According to the Climate Group, a 40 per cent decline in international business travel over the next two to three years would be hugely beneficial to the environment – and save billions of dollars in travel costs. Jenny Southan reports
A survey of 100 of the world’s leading private sector sustainability professionals by nonprofit organisation the Climate Group has revealed that 89 per cent of respondents think their company’s overseas travel in the next two to three years will be “significantly reduced” compared to pre-pandemic levels.
In fact, 79 per cent of professionals think that it will be cut by at least one third.
A “cautious” estimate based on the Climate Group’s analysis indicates a potential average decline in international business trips of up to 40 per cent.
It says that if this were a trend repeated across all businesses, the reduced international flights alone could cut 28 million tons of CO2 a year.
(This is a conservative estimate as it doesn’t take into account that business passengers often take up a relatively greater space in a plane by opting for larger premium or business class seats.)
The Climate Group says that the people it surveyed come from some of the most influential multinationals taking action to reduce energy and transport emissions, and are largely considered to be leaders and trendsetters in global business, including major financial institutions, retail groups and tech giants.
On top of the environmental benefits, it could also save businesses billions of dollars in overall travel costs – to the tune of over US$500 billion – if this trend were to be reflected globally across both international and domestic business travel.
The findings come at a time when countries, particularly across Europe, begin to reopen borders in a bid to kickstart the travel and tourism economy. Yet only one in ten professionals say their company will undertake the same amount of international travel as before, and even fewer (1 per cent) think their travel will increase in the long-term.
Mike Peirce, director of corporate partnerships at the Climate Group, says: “Despite the challenges presented by Covid, we know from our partners in business and government that they don’t want to return to ‘business as usual’ – we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rebuild a greener, fairer future and they want to grab it.
“Businesses have seen there are many digital solutions available to them that allow for remote working to be effective and collaborative, while cutting costs and emissions from travel – something we all thought was in the hard-to-do box before the pandemic.
“It makes sense that they carry this mentality forward after travel restrictions have lifted.”
Vince Digneo, sustainability strategist at Adobe, adds: “We have a unique opportunity to put climate action at the forefront of recovery efforts.
“Adobe has committed to upping the ambition of our science-based targets to align to a better than 1.5 degree celsius future, which includes reducing our business travel emissions by 30 per cent by 2025.
“By reducing our energy consumption, powering our business with renewable energy, and enabling digital solutions that help our customers work remotely and operate their own businesses sustainably, we’re committed to helping pave the way for a zero-carbon economy.”
Todd Paglia, executive director at Stand.earth, says: “The Covid-19 crisis has taught the business world that much of the travel they spend vast amounts of money on is unnecessary – and we already know business travel for some companies is their primary climate impact.
“It is time for major brands to reel in this fiscally irresponsible and climate damaging practice with major, permanent reductions in air travel.”
Overall, almost all respondents (99 per cent) believe their company will permanently alter some business practices as a result of the virus outbreak. As well as a reduction in international business travel, other long-term changes include:
- Sustaining remote working options (86 per cent)
- Reducing real estate footprint of offices (34 per cent)
- Rolling out more energy saving measures in buildings to save money (22 per cent)
Some aspects of business operations, however, have not changed. The majority of respondents (97 per cent) say their long-term sustainability strategy has not been impacted, while 80 per cent say their company has been able to maintain their current climate actions during the crisis.
Encouragingly, 96 per cent believe climate action is just as, if not more, important now compared to pre Covid-19.
While some international conferences and events have been postponed or cancelled due to travel restrictions, others are taking place as scheduled through virtual means, including this year’s Climate Week NYC (21-27 September) run by The Climate Group.
The decision was made to ensure delegates and speakers can join irrespective of travel restrictions with all events being hosted on a digital platform.
Through these initiatives, more than 350 multinationals across every major sector are committed to climate action.
Together, they represent over US$5.5 trillion in combined revenue, with operations in more than 140 markets and more than 16 million employees worldwide – almost double the workforce of Beijing.