July 17, 2024

Breaking eco barriers

Making your travel sustainable can seem overwhelming but that's no excuse, says Sally Higgs at American Express Global Business Travel as she dispels some of the myths

My mum is a veteran eco-warrior. In the 1980s she taught us how to recycle and about the impact of fast food and fast fashion long before these became buzzwords. She made our clothes, so my sisters and I wore the same outfits, and we were banned from going to the fast-food joints our friends went to. Of course, at the time I just wanted to be like everyone else, but now I feel immensely proud of what my mum instilled into us.

I’ve worked in the travel industry for 21 years and I love it. So I’m taking my sustainable upbringing and merging it with my love of the travel industry and making it my mission to make business travel sustainable.

From the questions I get asked, in my work and at events such as the recent Business Travel Conference, I see that people can feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the challenge. So here I’ll try to address some of the key questions:

What about other sectors such as construction and farming? Aviation only generates 2-3% of CO2 emissions.

Yes, you’re right about aviation, but that impact will grow unless action is taken. Aviation will continue to grow year-on-year and meanwhile other sectors will be reducing their emissions. It’s calculated that without timely action, aviation could consume up to 22% of the global carbon budget by 2050.

All industries are targeted with reducing CO2. They’ll have their equivalents of this magazine for their sectors, giving advice on how to farm more sustainably or how to build more sustainably, so we need to focus on what we can change.

But carbon offsets won’t save the world. There aren’t enough trees to soak up all the carbon.

That’s true, carbon offsets will not solve climate change in isolation but they definitely help. And offsetting is something we can do right now rather than waiting for new technologies and solutions.

In fact, offsets are the only mechanism at the moment where you can compensate for 100% of your emissions, although bear in mind that offsetting is considered a compensation or neutralization mechanism, not a reduction. Reduce what you can, offset what you can’t.

How do we really know if the carbon offsetting is genuine? How do we know where our money actually goes?

Look for independently verified providers. There were some examples of bad players in the offset market back in 2008, who were just out to make money, but since then the industry has progressed. Certifications such as Gold Standard and Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) were developed to ensure offsetting projects are legitimate and accountable.

GBT offers customers offsets on preferred terms from our trusted partners, which include leading non-profit organisations Carbonfund.org Foundation, Carbon Footprint and Tasman Environmental Markets.

What’s the point? The damage is done.

It’s never too late to start reducing your impact on the environment. We still have time to turn things around. Sustainability is top of corporate agendas today and the pandemic period has seen a doubling in the rate at which businesses and governments commit to reach net-zero emissions.

We’re a small company, surely we can’t make a difference?

Everyone can make a difference, and if lots of small organisations make small changes, these grow into large-scale effective solutions.

Start by collecting and reporting CO2 data to set a baseline (most organisations are using 2019). Create a plan to minimise emissions. Easy-to-implement tweaks may include booking green hotels, air-to-rail switches on certain routes or renting electric/hybrid cars. Your TMC can help you.

Engage employees. You may find some eco-warriors in your business who will be happy to support green initiatives. Employee engagement is a great way to raise awareness without being ‘preachy’.

Sally Higgs is Strategic Account Manager, UK Client Management Team, for American Express Global Business Travel.

Sally Higgs at The Business Travel Conference 2021