How Can a Business Traveler Make a Difference?

Business traveler view inside a full airplane

For the third installment of our three-part series, we focus on the shopper. Specifically, the business traveler or a leisure traveler shopping for the “least offending” carbon emissions option, which could save twenty, thirty, or even forty percent if selected instead of an older, less efficient planes.


There has been visible progress on many Corporate Travel websites showing emissions data and carbon offset partnerships, but there is still no identifiable emissions measurement standard. As a result, each shopping Site today uses its own calculations to estimate the traveler’s emissions, resulting in a lack of accuracy and reliability that causes travelers to guess as to why there isn’t more transparency.


A handful of travel booking sites provide travelers with “lead” estimates of their carbon footprint. Google Flights recently took commendable strides to supply insight and clarity at the flight level. To date, none show emissions data on a Next Generation Storefront shelf and cabin level to encourage travelers to make the right choice. Some offer links for travelers to learn more about the company’s emission measurements and carbon offset partnerships. Other websites aggregate company’s emissions but do not present a “per flight” breakdown and only show an estimate on the payment page AFTER selection, instead of supplying flight and branded fare level alternatives during shopping. While any amount of data is preferred to no data, inaccurate estimates and inconsistent interpretation is less than ideal.


From a traveler’s perspective, only a small handful of business websites take into consideration specific flights, plane age or equipment type, taxi time, flight time, seasonality, or even flight origins and destinations. Most do not. There are so many factors to consider when measuring travel emissions and travelers need basic guidance.


Beyond online booking, shoppers can use estimation calculators and online tools that try to make estimation as simple as possible. Extremely precise services inexplicably dumb down their calculators, making them almost useless to an individual traveler.


ICAO, which has many detailed programs and carbon emissions estimation services, offers a very simple carbon emissions calculator online that only asks for a departure and arrival airport to calculate the emissions of the trip. There is no input for equipment type or other important variables.


Cool Effect is a carbon offset platform that takes travelers’ estimated flight time and calculates an average emission for three different flight-length categories: a six hour or shorter flight, medium and long-haul flights. The tool’s primary purpose is to offer enough information to sell carbon offsets and is better suited for aggregated corporate transactions and not individual purchase decisions.


TravelPerk offers companies a management program where clients are charged a fixed amount per ton of CO₂ emissions for each business trip as a carbon offset. The program also includes carbon emissions tracking for the entire company with quarterly reports. Although this sounds ideal, travelers do not receive help from learning about which flights push their own footprint towards a more sustainable future.


It is worth celebrating that the travel industry finally has websites and programs that educate travelers about sustainability or help promote the immediate purchase of an offset or both. Our concern is that, in the rush to sell offsets without a defined standard, a clear focus on encouraging shopping behavior has been missed.


The Vacationer took a survey in April asking Americans, “Do you intend to make more sustainable (eco-friendly) decisions when planning travel?” The report came back with 27% indicating yes, regardless of convenience; 48% said yes, but only if it does not inconvenience me; and 25% said no. The survey results suggest that if travelers are presented with easy-to-understand options with convenient choices, then it is highly likely they will choose sustainable travel.


Travel shoppers face a landscape that is ready for a new standard or at least greater consistency. As I tell co-workers and clients: Imagine trying to calculate your calorie intake per Starbucks birthday cake cake-pop if everywhere you look offers a different definition of how to estimate calories. This is exactly what is happening with measuring carbon emissions; every platform is using different methods to calculate travelers’ carbon footprint.


ITS would like to see greater accuracy across the industry. Full sets of features and capabilities including sort, filters, and cabin or brand detailed displays, actionable reporting, and finally, the opportunity to buy a carbon offset. Oh yea, a standard or two would be appreciated. At least something that can be shared and used across as many online booking tools, calculators, or estimators as possible. Affecting demand generation in a positive way to “below average” emissions options is more effective if it can be replicated.


If we do this as an industry, our shoppers will one day thank us.


Better yet, they will make better and more informed choices and will not give a second thought as to where the data comes from or how it is presented because it will, by then, be common, consistent, reliable, and dependable.

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