Business flights are struggling in the world of net zero

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The Swiss Re insurance group has 14,000 employees scattered around the world and if any of them want to fly somewhere for work this year, they will have to have a good reason.

To do its part to fight climate change, the company has decided that in 2022 its greenhouse gas emissions from air travel should be half of what they were in 2018.

This objective has been added to the corporate bonus allocation factors. An internal carbon price means that employees booking a return flight from London to New York will be charged around $200 on their business unit’s cost center if flying economy class, or around $600 for a seat. in business class.

Everyone’s broadcasts are monitored and very frequent travelers should be on their guard. “If an employee was traveling like crazy, we would notice,” Reto Schnarwiler, sustainability manager at Swiss Re, told me. Plus, there would likely be “a discussion with that person.”

Flying for work is also getting trickier at other large companies. At Novo Nordisk, the Danish drugmaker, staff who run a program to help children with diabetes in poorer countries have felt the impact of the company’s new target to halve its air travel emissions by 2025.

The team had planned to meet in Bangladesh this year, but everyone traveled to Zurich. “The number of long-haul flights to Bangladesh and back did not warrant an internal group meeting,” says Katrine DiBona, sustainability manager at Novo Nordisk, explaining that some people were already in Zurich.

Big Four accounting firm EY, meanwhile, has incorporated nudge theory — the idea that small design changes can alter behavior — into its internal travel booking systems to incentivize staff to take trips. more ecological.

“For example, if they book a flight that comes back the same day, we start pushing them to turn the meeting into Teams [online] meeting rather than a physical meeting,” says Steve Varley, EY Global Vice President for Sustainability. Or take the train instead.

I discovered all of this by calling some of the companies listed in a ranking published this month by green transport activists who analyzed the air transport plans of 230 American and European companies.

Most people I’ve spoken to about these developments in corporate climate action have rolled their eyes and muttered “cutting costs.” They are right to do so. Some companies can act to achieve increasingly demanding net zero goals. But the pandemic has been an epic lesson in how much business can be done on Zoom, and CFOs around the world have taken notice.

The question is, why aren’t more companies copying Swiss Re, Novo Nordisk and EY?

These three companies are among the eight companies to achieve the highest A rating in the green group ranking. This meant that they had taken steps to, for example, set a specific target to reduce emissions from travel quickly, not in the distant future, and that they had been reporting the size of their emissions for at least a year. .

That doesn’t seem too onerous, especially since many companies that have performed poorly have ambitious plans to reduce their total emissions. Microsoft earned the lowest D rating, alongside ExxonMobil and BP, even though the software company is investing in green jet fuel and applying a $100 carbon price to business travel as part of of its ambitious efforts to become carbon negative by 2030. has no specific target to reduce emissions from business travel.

This may change. Aviation only accounts for around 2% of global CO₂ emissions. But that share could increase if pre-pandemic growth trends resume and it will be a problem if we still lack large electric planes, competitively priced green aviation fuel or other technologies to make flying climate-friendly.

The activists’ air travel rankings are not intended to ban business flights altogether or punish employees whose jobs require them to fly frequently.

The point is, it makes sense for companies to stick to the greener travel habits they’ve picked up during the pandemic. A few companies show that it is possible to do so. Many others could do the same.

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@pilitaclark

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