Links to the breadcrumb trail

The cessation of air travel during the pandemic reduced emissions, saved companies billions of dollars, and benefited employees

Author of the article:

Reuters

Emma Batha, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Companies should consider cutting their business trips to help the world meet the climate goals, says a think tank. Photo by Getty Images / iStockphoto

Article content

LONDON – The unprecedented cessation of air travel during the COVID-19 pandemic reduced planet warming emissions, saved businesses billions of dollars in tickets and benefited employees who can lose weeks of their lives on airplanes.

advertising

This ad hasn’t loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

As global travel increases following the introduction of vaccines, some companies are re-evaluating how much their employees really need to fly – and the answer is nowhere near as much as they thought.

The World Resources Institute, an environmental think tank, said the move to virtual working last year should prompt companies to cut back on business travel to help the world meet ambitious climate goals.

Aviation is a major contributor to climate change, with the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions it causes account for 2.5 percent of total global CO2 emissions and will triple between 2015 and 2050.

“If air traffic were a country in 2018, it would be the sixth largest (CO2) emitter in the world,” said WRI behavioral scientist Mindy Hernandez.

advertising

This ad hasn’t loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

“Decarbonising the sector is not easy. We will not renew our way out of this situation. It is up to us to change our behavior. “

Kathy Alsegaf, sustainability director at global consultancy Deloitte, said there had been a “seismic shift” in her company.

pn-pullquote text = “If air traffic were a country in 2018, it would be the sixth largest (CO2) emitter in the world” source = “Mindy Hernandez, WRI behavioral researcher” /]

“Before the pandemic, there was a deep belief that reducing travel would have a huge impact on our business,” she said in a discussion on the future of business travel hosted by Washington, DC-based WRI.

“The big experiment (last year) … put a stake in the heart of this idea.”

advertising

This ad hasn’t loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

The pandemic has shown that virtual meetings can replace a lot of travel and are often more inclusive, panelists said.

For example, women with young children, people with disabilities, and delegates from small businesses and developing countries may be less able to travel to meetings.

Technical tools

While virtual conferencing cannot replace personal relationship building, innovators are developing new tools to help users participate in real-life discussions.

Platforms like Gather, SpatialChat, and Teamflow allow users to move their avatars around rooms to network, and some even allow users to fade conversations on or off as they get closer to or farther away from a group.

Hernandez said reducing air travel has saved companies money and increased employee wellbeing. Amazon alone estimates it saved $ 1 billion in travel expenses during the pandemic.

advertising

This ad hasn’t loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

Studies have linked frequent business travel to strokes, heart attacks, deep vein thrombosis, and poor diet and sleep.

Hernandez said wealthy countries are responsible for cutting flights as they are responsible for more than 90 percent of flight emissions, adding that studies estimate that eight out of ten people in the world have never sat on a plane.

Studies have linked frequent business travel to strokes, heart attacks, deep vein thrombosis, and poor diet and sleep. Studies have linked frequent business travel to strokes, heart attacks, deep vein thrombosis, and poor diet and sleep. Photo by Brent Lewin / Bloomberg Files

To see if the pandemic changed people’s attitudes toward business travel, WRI surveyed its own employees, a quarter of whom spent an average of a whopping 26.5 working days on the plane in 2019.

Conferences and workshops were the most common reason for business flights. However, most employees said the pandemic had shown them that virtual meetings were more doable and effective than they thought.

advertising

This ad hasn’t loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

Virtual formats often worked well for conferences, lectures, and project management, but were seen as less suitable for fundraising, relationship building, and data collection.

Frequent flyer taxes

It is important to make non-flying normal in order to change behavior, said Hernandez.

Prior to COVID-19, less than a third of WRI employees thought their boss would support a reduction in work travel, compared to almost two thirds now.

Panellists said senior executives should lead by example by making a public commitment to reducing their air traffic, discussing with staff how to reduce their air traffic, and investing some of the savings in the best communication technology possible.

Other suggestions included making sure all corporate trips are booked on the same platform so they can be tracked and setting carbon budgets for projects.

advertising

This ad hasn’t loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Article content

But Magdalena Heuwieser, co-founder of Stay Grounded, a global network promoting alternatives to aviation, said relying on companies to change their behavior was not the solution.

She called for stricter regulation and higher taxation of air traffic, the abolition of frequent flyer programs by companies and levies on frequent flyers.

  1. Factory owners faced a personnel crisis long before the COVID-19 outbreak.  But it's harder now as workers are given a plethora of other options to choose from.

    “I want to live my life”: Money isn’t everything in work Great re-evaluation

  2. When preparing to work in hybrid environments, we need to be conscious, set basic rules and focus on people and culture.

    The Workish Guide to Hybrid Work: Commitment and empathy will be key in the work environment with the combined platter

  3. A lone worker in a coffee shop in Mastercard's new New York office designed for hybrid work.

    The hybrid labor revolution is already changing economies

  4. While waiting in line, you may encounter longer flight delays and new documentation requirements.

    Business travel is back, but prepare for delays, restrictions, and rusty fellow travelers

Deloitte’s Alsegaf agreed that airline miles were viewed as a popular benefit and suggested that companies consider incentives for frequent “virtual” travel.

Heuwieser also criticized carbon offsetting, where airlines and passengers pay to offset their emissions by, for example, contributing to tree-planting projects, saying this detracts from the need to reduce flying.

“In the global south, offsetting is often viewed as a neo-colonial climate measure and a modern indulgence trade,” she said, referring to the medieval practice of paying a fine in order to be acquitted of sins.

© Thomson Reuters 2021

Share this article on your social network

advertising

This ad hasn’t loaded yet, but your article continues below.

By clicking the registration button, you agree to receive the above newsletter from Postmedia Network Inc. You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the unsubscribe link at the bottom of our emails. Postmedia Network Inc. | 365 Bloor Street East, Toronto, Ontario, M4W 3L4 | 416-383-2300

Comments

Postmedia advocates a lively but civil discussion forum and encourages all readers to share their thoughts on our articles. Comments can take up to an hour to be moderated before they appear on the site. We ask that you keep your comments relevant and respectful. We turned email notifications on – you will now receive an email when you’ve received a reply to your comment, there’s an update on a comment thread you’re following, or when a user follows a comment. Visit our Community guidelines for more information and details on customizing your E-mail the settings.