John Harvey of the Globalyse and Harvey & Heywood consultancies offers a game plan for taking advantage of a promising development in corporate travel sustainability.
Up until the start of the global pandemic early last year, sustainable business travel was largely a matter of personal opinion. Many people were talking about it, but few companies were truly addressing it. Now it is something that your company must deal with. We have jumped past any personal views on climate change.
A growing number of companies around the world, both publicly traded and private, must disclose information about their greenhouse gas emissions. For many organizations, business travel is the largest source of Scope 3 emissions.
They also are expected to look at how their suppliers and partners are managing their emissions. Consequently, your clients and partners will be looking at how your company manages the environmental cost of its travel program.
The challenge is that in recent years corporate travel became easy and relatively cheap. By 2019, significantly more travel took place than was needed. Everyone knows that now. There were too many trips, and too much time and money spent traveling. This was good for travel companies, but not so good for the organizations paying for the traveling, the well-being of the people doing the traveling and the environmental cost of it all. As the world recovers from the pandemic, do we adopt a new approach?
During the pandemic, I completed a consulting assignment on the merger of two international tech companies with a combined 1,000 employees spread across at least 10 countries. The parties successfully completed the entire transaction — from offer to close and integration — without a single face-to-face meeting, something that would have been thought impossible just a year ago.
We all recognize now that there are real alternatives for many trips. Virtual meetings work. They are not right for every situation, but offer an efficient, effective and proven way of doing business in many scenarios. Like it or not, there will be less demand for corporate travel as companies look to save money and time, and reduce their impact on the environment. Effective virtual alternatives and trip consolidation will result in smaller travel programs.
But what of the important travel that needs to take place, the essential trips and the face-to-face meetings necessary to make things happen? How do you travel responsibly under the intensifying spotlight of environmental reporting?
How your company addresses corporate travel is now a strategic issue. Clients, suppliers, current and prospective employees, investors and media will judge your company on how it responds to the climate crisis.
Simply buying low-cost offsets and claiming a travel program is “carbon neutral” will be a short-lived strategy. Long-term promises and commitments to “net zero” make for good marketing but need to be backed up. What tangible action will you take today? What evidence will you have of real reductions in travel emissions?
In late 2019, I researched a wide range of carbon calculators, many used by travel companies. I tested them on a single city pair, London to New York, and I was shocked to find hundreds of different results. I thought there must be a better way to reduce emissions (aside from not flying), rather than trying to make sense of the calculations and purchasing offsets.
I discovered sustainable aviation fuel and Neste, the world’s largest producer. I have been banging on about SAF ever since.
It is made from raw materials such as used cooking oils, waste animal fats and various forms of biomass. It can reduce GHG emissions by 80 percent over the life cycle. Currently less than 300,000 tons of SAF are produced annually worldwide, but market leaders such as Neste are scaling up existing production capability while other energy companies plan and develop new plants.
The problem is that the traditional buyer of jet fuel, the airline, finds it difficult to work out how to recover the cost of SAF, when it is priced at three to five times more than fossil jet fuel, without losing out to competitors. Many are creating solutions and engaging corporate clients in SAF programs, but it has been a terribly slow process.
Much of the promotion around SAF has been from energy companies attempting to raise interest in and investment for developing new production plants. But SAF already is real and available today.
As an alternative to enrolling in an airline’s corporate SAF buying program, or joining a purchasing consortia, here’s how traveling organizations can buy their own sustainable aviation fuel right now:
1. Match the fossil jet fuel that is powering your flights today with SAF. For example, on a London-New York flight on a Boeing 777 with 300 passengers that used 52,500 liters of traditional jet fuel, that’s 175 liters per person. Add up the figures for all your employees’ flights to determine how much SAF to purchase to account for companywide air travel.
2. Make a direct purchase of SAF and reduce your fuel emissions by 80 percent. Current producers include Fulcrum Bioenergy, Neste, Total, World Energy and others.
3. Place the SAF with an airline of your choice. For example, Neste can now deliver SAF directly into the fuel infrastructure at Amsterdam Schiphol, and is testing at London Heathrow.
Imagine your company makes a volume purchase of say 100,000 liters of SAF and then determines how it is used. If your travelers have completed 20 London-New York roundtrips on British Airways, at 175 liters per traveler per leg, that’s 7,000 liters of fossil jet fuel in total. You then make arrangements to allocate the equivalent amount of SAF with BA. A client may choose to provide 7,000 liters of SAF at full price or pay the premium versus fossil jet fuel. These and other details can be worked out between the client, fuel producer and airline.
Your travelers might be on flights using traditional jet fuel, but the SAF you purchased is placed on flights operated by the same airline. The associated emissions reduction is directly attributed to you.
More importantly, SAF gives you freedom to travel and your travelers the freedom to do business.
• The Climate-Equity Connection
• Climate Activism On Corporate Travel Reaches New Heights
• Buyers, Intermediaries To ‘Hold Hotels Accountable’ For Environmental Protection
• Op Ed: Clayton Nelson On A New President, New Rules And A Fresh Mandate For Sustainable Travel
• Op Ed: Paul Tilstone On Balancing Business Growth And Environmental Awareness
• Thousands Of Green-Minded Companies Turn To Internal Carbon Pricing; A Few Include Business Travel