May 28, 2024

Countdown to COP26

Ian Sinderson, CEO of ATPI, outlines how travel managers can keep sustainability on track as the COP26 summit approaches

With the United Nations climate change conference due to take place in Glasgow this autumn, governments are scrambling to demonstrate their commitment to meeting the goals set out by the Paris Climate Agreement and the UN Framework Convention. Policy makers, however, shouldn’t be the only ones preparing for the summit. The agreements reached at its conclusion are likely to have enormous relevance for industry, the travel sector included.

The pressure will certainly be on to demonstrate earnest intent to meet the goals set out at COP26. As in any aspect of business, it pays to be ahead of the curve. While we don’t know for certain what the targets from the two-week conference will be, it is clear that enhanced efforts to tackle sustainability will be high on the agenda.The President of COP26, Alok Sharma, has urged businesses, as well as governments, to commit to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 at the latest by signing up to the Race To Zero campaign.

Businesses are likely to be expected to face stricter monitoring of their carbon footprint in the very near future. Furthermore, there is a burgeoning consensus from institutions such as the IMF for a standardised, universal approach to carbon-pricing – effectively a carbon tax. Planning now to take the initiative on corporate sustainability policies, rather than being on the backfoot, will save businesses both time and money.

Make a commitment

The first step should be to hold yourself and your business accountable, and make a formal, public commitment to making a change. Many businesses are signatories to or have pledged to meet the targets of initiatives such as the United Nations Global Compact and the Sustainable Development Goals. Investor and consumer expectation to take a stance on these issues is growing, and there is greater scrutiny on the efforts and plans of businesses to do their bit. Doing nothing could risk significant reputational damage.

Culture adoption

Ingrain your climate change commitments within your business’s culture. You need to encourage buy-in from your workforce by giving them the chance to understand what you’re doing, what this will mean for them day-to-day, and why this will benefit the company, as well as empowering them to influence this process as key stakeholders. Encourage your people to participate in pledges to adopt new sustainable habits and explore ways they can contribute to the new goals in all areas of their work. Meaningful change will be achieved over time through persistence and cumulative action.

Internal accountability

Outline what policies and frameworks you have in place to stay on track and meet your goals, and to constantly review progress. Look at what monitoring systems you need to implement in order to analyse where your emissions are coming from, and work closely with your TMC on how to measure travel’s contribution to these figures. If you don’t already have one, establish an Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) team dedicated to ensuring that your practices are up to scratch and ahead of regulatory developments. And, importantly, ensure that your internal goals are aligned to your public commitments so your good work can be celebrated amongst stakeholders, investors and customers.

External accountability and validation

It’s one thing to mark your own work, but it’s also invaluable to get someone who knows what they’re doing to make sure that you’re not missing anything. Organisations such as the ISO conduct audits of businesses’ operations and provide certification for those that meet the required standards. Another option is to apply to become a certified B-Corp. The highly regarded B Corporation certification highlights where you are in your sustainability – and entire CSR – journey and gives you clear instructions as to what you need to do to achieve certification.

Participate in a carbon-offsetting programme

Firstly, it is important to invest in ways of reducing your carbon footprint before considering offsetting options. Carbon offsetting is the process whereby your business buys ‘carbon credits’ to remove the same amount of carbon from the atmosphere as your business has emitted over a given period of time. This is becoming a popular option with organisations for whom net-zero is currently infeasible. A good TMC partner will be able to recommend credible partners to ensure that your credits are invested effectively. A word of warning though, it is an area in which greater regulation is expected to prevent organisations from effectively buying their way out of their environmental obligations.

Supply-chain audit

Evaluating the partners that you do business with, and their partners, is also a crucial consideration. Your supply chain is something that will come under increased scrutiny in the future, and ensuring all parties are adhering to sustainability best practices is key. For most businesses that begin to take sustainability seriously, the supply chain is where there is significant room for improvement. Set benchmarks for your suppliers and track their performance. Ensure that your TMC works with you to recommend the businesses which have the highest credentials in this area and which are aligned to your values with regards to improvement.

In addition, it is important to ensure that the responsibility for carbon-offsetting is not simply a cost that gets passed along the supply chain. Several companies assume that certain scope emissions are the concern of others and responsibility is passed between parties. For example, is the trip to a client the responsibility of the corporate to offset or the client who asked them to travel? It is easy for a significant amount of travel carbon footprint to be disregarded by both parties and fall in between the cracks.

In the lead up to COP26, Alok Sharma revealed that the world’s largest companies have almost $1 trillion of assets at risk from climate impacts and the potential to gain double that by embracing the green economy. And the rewards go far beyond the bottom line. The travel industry is continually innovating, from engineering ingenuity to create more fuel-efficient transport options, to the development of inventive policies and business practices that put sustainability first. For the businesses which decide to lead the way in sustainability, it is an exciting future. will be held in Glasgow October 31 to November 12 2021