Future of business travel up in the air: overseas trips could be cut by at least a third

Reading time: 4 minutes
19 July 2020
  • Majority of sustainability professionals (89%) think their company’s overseas travel in the next two to three years will be significantly reduced compared to pre COVID-19 levels.
  • A cautious estimate based on the Climate Group’s analysis indicates a potential average decline in international business trips of up to 40%.
  • If this were a trend repeated across all businesses, the reduced international flights alone could cut 28 million tons of CO₂ a year[1].

Sunday 19 July 2020, London: The future of business travel could be up in the air as the majority of business professionals (89%) think that even once restrictions start to lift, their company’s overseas travel in the next few years will be significantly reduced compared to pre COVID-19 levels. In fact, 79% think that it will be cut by at least one third.  

This is according to new data released today by international non-profit, the Climate Group, which surveyed 100 of the world’s leading private sector sustainability professionals to assess the impact of COVID-19. These professionals come from some of the most influential multinationals taking action to reduce energy and transport emissions, and are largely considered to be leaders and trendsetters in global business, including major financial institutions, retail groups and tech giants.

Based on the Climate Group’s analysis of respondents, a cautious assessment could indicate a potential average decline in international business trips of up to 40%. If this were to be a general trend repeated across businesses worldwide, the reduced flights alone could cut 28 million tons of CO₂ a year. This is a conservative estimate as it doesn’t take into account that business passengers often take up a relatively greater space in a plane by opting for larger premium or business class seats.

On top of the environmental impact, it could also save businesses billions of dollars in overall travel costs – to the tune of over $500 billion[2] if this trend were to be reflected globally across both international and domestic business travel.

The findings come at a time when countries, particularly across Europe, begin to reopen borders in a bid to kickstart the travel and tourism economy. Yet only one in ten (10%) professionals say their company will undertake the same amount of international travel as before, and even fewer (1%) think their travel will increase in the long-term.

Mike Peirce, Director of Corporate Partnerships at the Climate Group, said: “Despite the challenges presented by COVID, we know from our partners in business and government that they don’t want to return to ‘business as usual’ – we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rebuild a greener, fairer future and they want to grab it. Businesses have seen there are many digital solutions available to them that allow for remote working to be effective and collaborative, while cutting costs and emissions from travel - something we all thought was in the hard-to-do box before the pandemic. It makes sense that they carry this mentality forward after travel restrictions have lifted.”

Vince Digneo, Sustainability Strategist at Adobe, added: “We have a unique opportunity to put climate action at the forefront of recovery efforts. Adobe has committed to upping the ambition of our science-based targets to align to a better than 1.5° Celsius future, which includes reducing our business travel emissions by 30% by 2025. By reducing our energy consumption, powering our business with renewable energy, and enabling digital solutions that help our customers work remotely and operate their own businesses sustainably, we’re committed to helping pave the way for a zero-carbon economy.”

Gilles Vermot Desroches, Senior Vice President Sustainability at Schneider Electric, commented: “During these unprecedented times, Schneider Electric reiterates its commitments for a more resilient and frugal world. The COVID crisis, beyond its massive health and social impacts, has showed that the use of digital is crucial. In just a few days, we've gone to 80% teleworking for our eligible positions. Our shareholders meeting became digital too, as well as most of our customer and partner events. And we will continue.

“We also reaffirm our ambition to be a role model in the fight against climate change, by delivering services and solutions that allow our customers to reduce more CO₂ emissions than those induced by our activity and by seriously decarbonising ourselves. At Schneider our commitment to be carbon positive is fully aligned with our strategy and purpose.”

Overall, almost all respondents (99%) believe their company will permanently alter some business practices as a result of the virus outbreak. As well as a reduction in international business travel, other long-term changes include: 

  • Sustaining remote working options (86%)
  • Reducing real estate footprint of offices (34%)
  • Rolling out more energy saving measures in buildings to save money (22%)

Some aspects of business operations, however, have not changed. The majority of respondents (97%) say their long-term sustainability strategy has not been impacted, while 80% say their company has been able to maintain their current climate actions during the crisis. Encouragingly, 96% believe climate action is just as, if not more, important now compared to pre COVID-19.

While some international conferences and events have been postponed or cancelled due to travel restrictions, others are taking place as scheduled through virtual means, including this year’s Climate Week NYC (21-27 September) run by The Climate Group. The decision was made to ensure delegates and speakers can join irrespective of travel restrictions with all events being hosted on a digital platform. 

Respondents of the survey come from businesses that are part of The Climate Group’s corporate initiatives on renewable electricity (RE100), energy productivity (EP100) and electric vehicles (EV100). Through these initiatives, more than 350 multinationals across every major sector are committed to climate action. Together, they represent over US$5.5 trillion in combined revenue, with operations in more than 140 markets and more than 16 million employees worldwide – almost double the workforce of Beijing.

– ENDS –

Notes to Editor

[1] According to IATA figures, global aircraft CO2 emissions in 2018 amounted to 915MtCO2. Of this number, international flights account for around 600MtCO2. Business travellers account for approximately 12% of airlines' passengers. So, if 12% of passengers are flying for business, they collectively emit about 60MtCO2 globally on international flights. A 40% reduction would be equivalent to a saving of 28.8MtCO2. This is a conservative estimate of the impact, as it doesn’t take into account that business passengers often take up a relatively greater space in a plane by opting for larger premium or business class seats.

[2] According to the GBTA BTI Outlook, global business travel spending reached $1.33 trillion in 2017 – this includes expenditure on the likes of air and ground transportation as well as hotel accommodation for both international and domestic trips. Assuming a 40% reduction in international business travel equates to a 40% reduction in associated spending, this would save a total of $532 billion.

Methodology

The Climate Group surveyed 100 business professionals from multinational companies that are part of the organization’s corporate leadership initiatives (RE100, EP100, EV100) about the impact of COVID-19 on their business. The survey was conducted between 18 May 2020 – 15 June 2020. Data tables are available on request.

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