Transportation is responsible for 29% of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., and business travel—including local and long-distance trips—accounts for 20% of domestic travel. According to Reuters, “Flights account for about 90% of business travel emissions. That makes it the lowest-hanging fruit for companies setting reductions targets.”
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But corporate travel and its associated emissions include more than just air travel. And if your company requires a ton of business travel—then business travel emissions could make up a larger portion of your carbon footprint and have a bigger environmental impact than you realize.
Why should you track your business travel emissions?
While air travel providers are heavy emitters, taking an Uber or Lyft still produces emissions, even if it’s just for a cross-town client meeting. So you have to take everything into account.
Tracking your business travel—both the type and mileage—means you can calculate the associated emissions. Once you have a baseline measurement of your CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) emissions, you can create a mitigation strategy tied to actual figures rather than a finger to the wind guess. If your company already tracks business trips, it’s pretty easy to calculate your emissions (more on that below).
Before you track, though, it’s important to note that you should track business travel and commuting separately. The no-frills way to put it: Business travel is non-commuting travel for business-related activities—like off-site meetings and events—via commercial airplanes, trains, taxis, rental cars, buses, shuttles, rail, and personal vehicles.
Another important distinction here is that the travel happens in vehicles your company doesn’t own or operate—so company-owned jets or truck fleets don’t count here (these are technically scope 1 emissions because your business owns the vehicle).
What emissions scope is business travel?
Business travel emissions are scope 3. But what does that mean, and why should you care about emissions scopes? Emissions scopes help you break down and understand your emitting behaviors, and once you understand what causes most of your emissions, you can create a strategy to make changes.
Categorizing business travel emissions as scope 3 indirect emissions means the emissions are outside your direct control. Commercial air travel emissions are categorized differently from those from a company-owned jet. Why? Because as a passenger on a commercial flight, you have limited control over many things—routes, aviation fuel type, and engine maintenance, to name a few.
Check out our emissions scopes explainer below to understand the difference between scopes 1, 2, and 3.
How to use our business travel carbon footprint calculator:
1. Find out the total number of employees at your company.
2. Find out the total company miles traveled on flights (domestic and international), car, and rail for the month you’re tracking. It’s info you can usually ask from your company’s travel managers. If you don’t yet track mileage, we can help you by providing some close averages based on average trips per employee.
3. Sign in to your Sustain.Life account. Navigate to the business travel emissions calculator and enter the data you gathered.
4. That’s it, Sustain.Life automatically calculates your carbon footprint in metric tons (MT) of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). If you’ve calculated and recorded your business travel emissions based on estimates, you can always come back and add actual miles traveled as you collect that data.
If curbing your business travel seems like a tough sell, think about it this way: Recent studies identified a 68% decline in jet fuel demand during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, contributing to a 10% reduction in U.S. GHG emissions compared to 2019. This single largest drop in emissions in the post-World War II era.
In addition to climate impact, studies show that U.S.-based company travel budgets declined by 90% or more during the beginning of the pandemic, demonstrating the case for virtual meetings and functions. It also means there’s a path that could help us all put a dent in the 1.5°C warming target.
After you start measuring and understanding your business travel carbon dioxide emissions, it’s time to think about carbon reduction strategies. Could your company reduce business travel emissions by replacing face-to-face meetings with virtual meetings, offering incentives for traveling less, or creating more stringent travel policies? What about prioritizing low-carbon modes of transportation (e.g., rail travel) or other sustainable business travel options instead of short-haul, round trip flights? Or do you want to utilize carbon offsets for the travel co2 emissions you can’t mitigate?
And if you need more ideas and help getting your sustainability program off the ground, Sustain. Life’s Full Sustainability Platform includes over 100 step-by-step guides to help reduce your company’s emissions.