Sustainable travel- Abbas Sajwani

Time to get serious about sustainability in travel

As we pivot back towards more travel – both for business and leisure – one thing that’s caught my eye in the travel sector is (loud) moves towards more sustainability practices.

If companies are leading the charge to some extent – with Virgin, Google, and IATA announcing major sustainable travel initiatives, consumers are more likely to pay heed and give more attention to their own carbon footprint.

A recent survey conducted in the UK cited COVID as the primary concern for business travel, closely followed by cost.

However, only 11% of employers mention sustainability as a concern when booking business travel.

And powerful resolutions, such as those set by IATA, are not without problems.

As United Airlines’ chief executive Scott Kirby told IATA delegates at the recent October conference for the air transport industry, carbon offset is not enough, from an industry perspective, at least: “Carbon offsets are planting trees.

Noble as that is, if we planted trees on every acre on the planet that could grow trees, it accounts for less than five months of mankind’s emissions.”

And yet, it’s a firmly held point of view that has gained traction during the pandemic, and we must all take action – firstly, to be mindful of how and where we travel, and secondly, to understand the impact of our journey on the planet and its resources.

So how do we calculate our carbon footprint and offset it? Let me take a short moment of your time here to explain my take on this critical, growing phenomenon.

Offset directly with the airline on booking a flight

When booking with many international carriers, you can opt to pay an extra fee on top of the flight cost, which is donated to a carbon offset scheme.

Around a third of international airlines have carbon offset programmes, but how they work varies.

Sadly, even airline CEOs don’t hold much faith in their own schemes, evidenced by recent comments from Wizz Air CEO József Váradi, who described passenger carbon offsetting schemes as “a bit of a joke.”

It could be conscience-salving to pay more to offset your flight, or as Váradi suggests, greenwashing, but I believe it’s a step in the right direction – and good to see a shift in mindset from simply getting on a plane to flying with a conscience.

Our own Emirates airline believes it’s the company’s role, not individuals, to offset emissions.

The airline has invested billions of dollars in one of the world’s newest, most energy-efficient fleets, with an average aircraft age of just six years old, compared to the global average of 14 years.

The airline also has invested in recycling, water efficiency and waste minimisation programmes, along with backing conservation-based tourism developments.

Buy offset credits from a company online

If you are beginning to travel regularly again, whether for business or leisure, you can annualise your impact by buying offset credits from any one of a plethora of online companies.

The catch here is that the terminology can be confusing. Annualising offsets may be seen as merely paying lip service to reducing the impact of corporate travel or avoiding paying proper attention to the amount you or your company is contributing to climate change.

So-called Scope 3 emissions – emissions a company is indirectly responsible for – are the most complex to quantify.

Add in the wording, from carbon neutral to net zero, and I think there’s a need for greater clarity in precisely how emissions are calculated and neutralised.

Look for alternatives

Perhaps easier said than done, but the pandemic has taught us all that regular communication is entirely possible thanks to video conferencing and online business communication solutions.

With this pivot to working from home and remote meetings, more awareness of the necessity of travel has come.

I expect to see less international travel in future, even though nothing beats a face-to-face meeting.

If meeting in person is imperative, consider rail travel, carpooling or switching to an electric vehicle.

It’s increasingly common to see vehicles powered by energy alternatives. The hyperloop plans for a link between Abu Dhabi and Dubai certainly heralds a futuristic solution to emission-free travel.

Directly invest in an energy efficiency scheme

If – maybe having read this – you feel less inclined to use any of the above methods, you can also opt to invest in an energy efficiency scheme, as they directly reduce fossil fuel usage.

Renewable energy projects are a safe option. Renewable energy projects might include wind, solar and hydro sites globally.

Investment in such projects means you are helping to bolster the availability of renewable energy, create employment, reduce fossil fuel reliance and support global growth in this crucial sector.

As everything related to climate change, the responsibility is threefold. Firstly, governments – such as our own forward-thinking executive – must make clear legislation pushing for better, more sustainable travel options.

Secondly, organisations such as airlines, must actively seek to take responsibility to reduce their scope 1,2 and 3 emissions.

Finally, we, as consumers, can take action with our wallets to offset carbon footprint and with our booking choices. In 2021, it’s time we all take individual responsibility for our travel choices!

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