Business flights struggle in a net-zero world

If any of Swiss Re’s 14,000 employees worldwide want to fly somewhere to work this year, they’ll need to have a good reason.

To do its part to fight climate change, the company has decided that by 2022 its air travel should produce half as much greenhouse gas emissions as it did in 2018.

This objective has been added to the factors used to allocate company bonuses. The internal carbon price means that employees who book a return flight from London to New York will be charged about $200 to their business unit’s cost center if they travel in economy, or about $600 for business class.

Everyone’s emissions are monitored, and frequent flyers need to be vigilant. “If an employee travels like crazy, we find out,” Reto Schnarwiler, Swiss Re Group Sustainability Leader, told me. Also, there may be “discussions with that person”.

At other big companies, flying to work has also become trickier. At Danish drugmaker Novo Nordisk, employees working on a program to help children with diabetes in poor countries are already feeling the impact of the company’s new target to halve emissions from air travel by 2025.

The team was scheduled to meet in Bangladesh this year, but everyone went to Zurich. “The number of long-haul flights to and from Bangladesh does not warrant an internal group meeting,” explains Katrine DiBona, head of sustainability at Novo Nordisk, some of whom are already in Zurich.

Meanwhile, the Big Four accounting firm Ernst & Young Nudge Theory – The idea that small design changes can change behavior – into its internal travel booking system to motivate employees to travel greener.

“For example, if they booked a flight back on the same day, we started pushing them to turn the meeting into a team [online] Steve Varley, EY vice-chairman for global sustainability, said. Or take the train instead.

I called some public companies and found all this ranking This month, green transportation campaigners analyzed the air travel plans of 230 U.S. and European companies.

Most people I’ve told about progress in corporate climate action rolled their eyes and muttered, “cut costs.” They are absolutely right to do so. Some companies may be taking action to meet stricter net-zero targets. But the pandemic is an epic lesson in how much business can be accomplished through Zoom, and CFOs around the world are taking notice.

The question is, why aren’t more companies following Swiss Re, Novo Nordisk and Ernst & Young?

These three companies are one of only eight companies to receive the highest A grades in the Green Group Rankings. That means they have taken steps, for example, to set a specific target to drastically cut travel emissions in the near future rather than the distant future, and have been reporting their emissions for at least a year.

That doesn’t seem too onerous, especially considering that many of the low-scoring companies have ambitious plans to cut overall emissions. Microsoft, along with Exxon and BP, received the lowest D rating, even though the software company invested in green jet fuel and put a $100 carbon price on business travel as part of its bid to become carbon negative by 2030 Emissions are part of an ambitious effort.No specific emission reduction targets business travel.

This may change.Air only account It accounts for about 2% of global carbon dioxide emissions. But that share could rise if pre-pandemic growth trends resume, which will be a problem if we still lack large electric aircraft, cost-competitive green jet fuel or other technologies that make flying climate-friendly.

The campaigner’s air travel ranking isn’t designed to ban commercial flights outright, or penalize employees whose jobs require frequent flying.

The point is, it makes sense for companies to stick to the greener travel habits they’ve developed during the pandemic. Some companies are showing that this is possible. More people can do the same thing.

pilita.clark@ft.com

@pilitaclark



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