The future of business travel: Sustainably getting from A to B
These past few years have impacted just about every corner of business. Overnight, we saw offices close their doors for what would be two years and all business travel ground to a halt.
Fast forward to today and it’s just about business as usual — the office doors are back open, no more “Looks like you’re on mute!” remarks on Zoom, and the flights to HQ are booked. But as we book those flights and that train to a conference, it's time businesses start thinking about putting sustainability first.
The state of business travel
In 2020, while we were working from our kitchen tables, total aviation emissions dropped by approximately 75%. Not only shining a light on the critical role business travel plays in climate change, but also proving that not everything should return to ‘business as usual.’
For most companies, travel is the leading source of their emissions. Despite the pandemic temporarily hitting the pause button, business travel is set to return as normal as we opt for in-person meetings instead of Zoom chats and international conferences instead of webinars.
According to the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), worldwide business travel spend is expected to surge this year. By the end of 2024, spending is expected to hit $1.4 trillion, the same amount we saw in 2019, and a year sooner than previously forecast.
“Business as unusual”
One company working to educate and help businesses travel with the planet in mind is Goodwings, a Copenhagen-based hotel booking site that removes the CO₂ from every trip. We caught up with Christian Møller-Holst, Goodwings’ CEO and founder, to learn more about what it means to travel Net Zero and how companies can get from A to B more sustainably.
So, what does Goodwings do? Well, it works just like any other hotel booking site but instead uses climate action as a driving force.
“Goodwings exists because we found that most companies spend almost all their revenue on advertising, so we decided to do “business as unusual” you could say. We allocate our revenue to removing carbon from the atmosphere by calculating the total carbon footprint. Once calculated, we invest in verified reforestation projects so you’re travelling completely Net Zero.”
What does it mean to travel sustainably?
Over the past few years, global climate change reports are looking more and more worrying (to put it plainly). It’s becoming even more imperative to act now. But it’s a big task, so what does it mean to actually travel sustainably?
“To travel truly sustainably means that you don’t emit any carbon, so you’re not destroying the planet as you travel,” Christian says. “The problem here is that this mentality is not becoming mainstream in the next 20 years. This is because we don’t have fully-developed technologies, like sustainable aviation fuel — it’s very early stage and costly. Realistically, we will continue to emit carbon with our travels in the next 20 years.”
“The planet can’t wait another 20 years. So, to travel sustainably today means to offset your emissions. This can be done with direct air capture as we’ve seen in Iceland, which is again, super costly. We should invest in verified, nature-based carbon removal projects by calculating your emissions and then removing the same amount that you emitted with trees,” Christian adds.
As business travel returns, we’re seeing more and more people extend their trips instead of taking multiple, shorter trips throughout the year. Adding to this, people are opting to extend their business trips with leisure too, proving to be financially beneficial and better for the planet, since they’re likely to take fewer trips throughout the year.
European legislation making businesses rethink travel
Travelling sustainably, for both business and leisure, falls onto the shoulders of everyone. “We’re emitting more and more CO₂ (40 - 45 billion tons to be exact), we’re cutting down trees, we’re losing biodiversity and insects — it’s everyone’s responsibility to put sustainability first,” Christian adds.
And we’re starting to see more European governments take action by introducing mandatory climate reporting for businesses.
Just last month, the UK launched its climate reporting scheme for Limited Liability Partnerships (LLPs) and large companies. This new regulation means they have to disclose their climate-related financial information — and it’s estimated that these new reporting rules will soon apply to small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs). Companies that fail to comply will face a minimum fine of £2,500 and a maximum of £50,000.
And it isn’t just the UK introducing these kinds of climate regulations. Countries such as Italy and Sweden also require companies (above 200 employees) to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions.
“Legislations for all will come, and they’ll come fast. So, companies better get ahead and learn how to calculate their emissions,” Christian says.
What does the future hold for sustainable business travel?
Ultimately, the future of business travel hangs onto the reality of regulations and greenhouse gas reporting requirements. But as the first half of 2022 has proven, travel is here to stay — but it needs to be reimagined, and green.
“In 30 years, I’m quite certain we will have turned global aviation truly sustainable,” Christian says. “This means that you’ll be able to fly short to mid-long distances without emitting carbon, we’ll likely have hybrid aeroplanes that use electricity and hydrogen, and you’ll be able to stay in hotels that are 100% net zero. Basically, I see us doing business in harmony with nature.”
The time for positive climate action is now.
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