Grounded? Sustainability and Business Travel

January 11, 2013
  • Andrew Matthews

    Former Manager, BSR

  • Ryan Schuchard

    Former Associate Director, Climate Change, BSR

Andrew Matthews, Associate, and Ryan Schuchard, Climate and Energy Manager, BSR

Business travel is a major corporate sustainability impact area and the value chain (Scope 3) category most often reported to the Carbon Disclosure Project. As one of the fastest-growing areas of emissions, air travel alone accounts for up to 5-9 percent of global climate impacts. Given that business travel is a material area for most businesses, why has there been little progress in reducing these emissions?

The challenge of addressing business travel is threefold:

  • First, as a core business activity, business travel is often off limits to sustainability initiatives. While sustainability is seen as important, companies are wary about initiatives that may interrupt or distract from activities that generate revenue.
  • Second, although there is an opportunity to drive cost savings through business travel initiatives by reducing unnecessary travel, traveling more intelligently, and utilizing videoconferencing and other alternatives, there is little guidance available for developing an integrated approach that works for business operations.
  • Finally, data about business travel impacts are controlled by different stakeholders—including airlines, data vendors, and purchasers—with commercial interests that can stand in the way of transparency. This lack of open collaboration hampers meaningful dialogue on areas for improvement.

Despite these challenges, there are clear needs to address business travel impacts. First, all industries account for and report on these impacts, but there are few if any norms or generally accepted approaches. Second, many leaders have already implemented forward-looking, sustainable travel strategies that remain hidden inside companies. For example, some companies place internal carbon caps or taxes on business travel to ensure that only the most strategic travel takes place. And third, business travel impacts are complicated and fundamentally hard to measure and apportion to individual companies. There is a need for an agreed-upon, valid measurement methodology.

Based on the industry needs we have identified, BSR is exploring the potential to form a new business travel collaboration led by major travel buyers, airlines, and other travel partners and thought leaders. Together, these groups can work together to promote intelligent, ambitious travel carbon commitments that are informed by industry best practices. This collaboration could identify and share internal policies and procedures that drive both operational effectiveness and climate sustainability. And finally, such an initiative can and should identify key areas of value chain innovation and collaboration potential, including measurement approaches and support for advanced fuel technologies.

We will launch a group in early 2013 and will hold an informational webinar in January. If you are interested in learning more, please email Andrew Matthews at

Let’s talk about how BSR can help you to transform your business and achieve your sustainability goals.

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