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Corporate Travel's Impact on Carbon Emissions

November 16, 2022
Locomote team
Nick Sutherland
November 16, 2022
Locomote blog posts

Every year, the condition of the Earth worsens. The greenhouse gases trapped in our atmosphere contribute to a dangerous rise in temperatures around the world, with the record getting higher every consecutive year.

Climate change brings extreme weather events that can cause tremendous environmental and socioeconomic impacts — sweltering heatwaves occur in areas built for mild temperatures and extremely heavy downpours fall on areas adapted to dry spells, resulting in millions of deaths and displacements.

Among the many industries that have contributed to the state of the world today is the transportation industry. 

The global pandemic may have put a dent in the frequency of travel around the world, but now that most are trying to return to the pre-pandemic “normal,” it’s worth reconsidering how you handle corporate travel.

In this blog, we’ll go through some important things to keep in mind for environmentally-responsible finance managers looking to understand the impact of their company’s travel policies.

Carbon Emissions in General

Carbon emissions are created mainly by:

  • The burning of fossil fuels
  • The burning of natural gas during oil extraction
  • The consumption of solid, liquid, and gas fuels
  • The manufacture of cement

These activities release carbon dioxide (CO2) gas into the atmosphere. CO2 is an odourless, colourless, and non-poisonous gas formed by the combustion of carbon and naturally through the respiration of living things. 

When the gas gets trapped in the atmosphere around Earth, it causes Earth to warm up more from the heat of the sun. This is known as the greenhouse effect.

If you want to understand more about greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, read up about them on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s website.

How Carbon Emissions Are Calculated

Because carbon emissions can happen from and be offset by a wide range of activities, there are several different calculations used to measure their impact. 

For example, if you’re looking to calculate the amount of CO2 released per gallon of gasoline consumed, you can convert it to either grams or metric tons using the conversion: 

  • 1 gallon of gasoline = 8,887 grams of CO2 = 8.887 × 10-3 metric tons CO2

For diesel, the conversion is:

  • 1 gallon of diesel = 10,180 grams of CO2 = 10.180 × 10-3 metric tons CO2

If you’re interested in doing some small-scale calculations, try computing the CO2 emissions produced by driving your car to work. 

The Impact of Transportation on Climate Change

Out of all the contributors to greenhouse gases and climate change, transportation is actually the biggest. 

In the U.S., transportation contributed 27% of GHG emissions in 2020, while electric power contributed 25%, industry 24%, commercial and residential 13%, and agriculture 11%. 

Within the transportation sector, light-duty vehicles contributed 57% of emissions, medium and heavy-duty trucks 26%, aircraft 8%, others 5%, rail 2%, and ships and boats 2%.

Our ability to cross great distances in relatively little time has, of course, done wonders for progress. We have great big cities kept alive by great big supply lines, and the world feels much smaller from the connections we’ve built. 

However, as a direct result of the fuels we burn through transportation, we’re harming the world we live in. 

Business and convenience aren’t an excuse for destroying the planet — with how long GHGs stay in the atmosphere, even completely eliminating emissions today will leave us dealing with the consequences for decades, if not centuries.

Travelling responsibly should be on the itinerary of any company that understands the severity of carbon emissions. 

While an airline ticket here and there might not make a significant difference in the overall situation, it doesn’t hurt to make small changes to help instead of harm.

How Much Does an Airline Ticket Contribute to Carbon Emissions?

Even if aircraft contribute much fewer emissions than cars or trucks, they still account for millions of tons of CO2 released into the atmosphere every year.

If you’re interested in taking a closer look at your company’s sanctioned business trips, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) offers a tool for calculating carbon emissions for any flight. Check it out here.

What Can We Do About It?

Whether you’re a CFO, a finance manager, or a procurement manager, it’s up to you to find the best solution for the company’s requirements. If you don’t yet have a focus on sustainable travel, here are some tips you can start with:

  • Invest in carbon offsets: Carbon offsets are “credits” you purchase from organisations that finance green energy or carbon storage (e.g. land restoration, tree-planting) projects. It essentially offsets the emissions a trip produces by removing them elsewhere.
  • Opt for electric vehicles: Electric cars have a smaller carbon impact than typical cars, so opt for electric whenever you’re using a car booking service. 
  • Utilise ride-sharing apps or public transport: Not only are these options cheaper, but they also decrease carbon emissions by splitting them among a greater number of people per vehicle. 
  • Take the train: Air travel is generally the first choice for corporate travel, but if the destination and schedule allow for it, consider booking a train ride instead. Trains have a lower amount of emissions per passenger. 
  • Organise company events in “sustainable” destinations: If you’re in charge of planning an offsite event, consider choosing carbon-neutral cities or cities with eco-friendly urban planning.
  • Encourage company travellers to go green: Using digital documents to use up less paper, taking care to keep hotel linens clean and lessen the need for washing, avoiding plastic waste, eating at local businesses that source ingredients nearby, and more are small ways that your travellers can reduce their carbon footprint while travelling. Consider creating incentives for carbon-conscious travellers.

Every step you take to reduce corporate travel’s impact on carbon emissions does help, no matter how small. Start making a difference today!