The Product Superhero
Travel is necessary for almost any business, of any size. Countless Zoom, Teams, or Chime meetings (ok, maybe only Amazon uses Chime) cannot replace a good, well-timed in-person meeting, sales pitch, customer catch-up, or simple visit. COVID taught us many things about our work-selves. With our newly discovered preference for virtual or hybrid offices, shorter or no-commutes, and discovery of new online collaboration tools, it reminded us that we need to spend REAL time together, face-to-face.
Business travel is back – maybe not 100%, but it’s slowly returning. Who is traveling? Associations and industry groups rely on events and large meetings to survive and are roaring back. Small businesses eager for the next sale, and industries needing site visits to "see and experience" product or inspect quality are already on the road and in the air. This travel requires fuel that generates emissions (unless you have a long-range EV (Electric Vehicle) parked in your garage).
If you feel like you were away and suddenly revived in a new world, you’re not alone. While we all swapped out backgrounds to find the right look for video meetings, the sustainability universe celebrated the work-from-home impact on the environment. Many of us did, too – the air was a little cleaner, easier to breathe, with fewer ozone alert days. But now that we’re hitting the road (and air) again, what can we do to keep it that way?
ITS took a simple approach to help our business travel clients with this concern. It isn’t a revolutionary step but we’re actively doing something that will have impact. In a nutshell - we decided to influence demand.
How does that work?
Several of our clients, like Edgewell Personal Care, have sustainability goals, statements, and values that guide their decisions. From their 2030 plan, Edgewell states: "We envision a world where the joy of caring for yourself is balanced with caring for our shared planet and society." Edgewell needs to travel, but they care, and they understand that our planet is a shared and limited resource.
Many other organizations plan to create this "balance" by buying offsets. This is an interesting topic and there are many options available - scrubbers that pull carbon out of the air, planting trees or committing to green space development, replacing wood stoves in homes in remote regions of the Amazon with natural gas, etc. You name it, someone has thought of it. And someone else probably sells it, either as a non-profit non-governmental organization (NGO) or as a for-profit venture.
Our approach occurs before this final, offset step. Why? Thinking about offsets inevitably starts a long debate about how to measure the carbon produced as accurately as possible. Should larger first-class seats bear more burden for a flight’s carbon output? What if a traveler is small(er) than average and they use a lightweight carryon? How can you measure the onboard fuel calculated during the weight and balance process per flight? What if everyone on your flight each checked three bags and the plane was maxed out with fuel? The more precise you want to be, the more questions you will raise. This will delay the completion and implementation of your solution.
ITS decided to use our decades of travel experience to estimate, as accurately as possible, what the carbon emissions COULD BE per passenger, per branded fare shelf (yes, that is a Next Generation Storefront (NGS) intentional term), per flight without waiting for the historically exact emissions your flight generated. We’ve taken a stab at estimating load factor prior to departure date by time of day, seasonality, seats per plane, age of the aircraft, time from door close to door open…basically anything we can get our hands on to "forecast" flight carbon emissions with one single goal – to offer a way to compare options, flight-to-flight.
Consider carbon emissions pre-travel.
This approach has an interesting impact. While we aren’t dwelling on the final number (although, if we can take a second to brag, we think ours is much more exact than the vast majority of what we’ve seen in the industry), we’re offering a way to help travelers choose the flight(s) that SHOULD generate less emissions than the alternatives. What’s important to us is important to the traveler, is important to our client organizations’ goals, and is important to the planet. Since travel isn’t "going away," fellow travelers can use their dollars spent on business travel to encourage retiring of older planes, or inversely, reward carriers that invest in a newer fleet.
Business travelers of all ages can feel better that the flight they selected was 30% lower than the "average" estimated emissions for their route. Airlines can justify looking at new engine and aircraft models that are more efficient because they can generate higher demand. Companies can see precise estimates of what they produced, and they can also see that their employees are choosing flights that produced, on average, 30% fewer emissions than other options in the market.
While the travel industry debates the details of the calculation and standards, and carbon offset providers use less exact, but more impactful estimators without travel industry collaboration, ITS believes there is something we can all do. When you shop for your next flight, instead of just looking at price, departure time, or whether your upgrade request will go through, check to see if your booking engine shows a carbon emissions estimate. If it does, compare, contrast, consider, and choose wisely.
After all, we can all do our part to influence demand for sustainability - the future of our shared planet depends on it.