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Business travel emissions drop as many firms fly less -survey

Published 12/17/2023, 06:11 PM
Updated 12/18/2023, 05:55 AM
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Members of the public wait in the arrivals hall at Terminal 5 of Heathrow Airport in London, Britain, December 5, 2023. REUTERS/Alishia Abodunde/File Photo

By Joanna Plucinska

LONDON (Reuters) -Almost half of 217 global firms cut their business travel carbon emissions by at least 50% between 2019 and 2022, analysis published on Monday found, as corporate air travel returned at a much slower pace since the pandemic than leisure flights.

Despite a global rebound, business travel has been slow to return to 2019 levels, with many corporate clients turning to video conferencing or rail trips rather than flying.

Global business travel firms say this trend could hit corporate relationships.

Environmentalists say it represents an important step in minimizing overall emissions.

Advocacy group Transport and Environment has said that a 50% reduction in business travel from pre-COVID levels is needed this decade to cap global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Major companies such as tech firm SAP, accounting firm PwC and Lloyd's Banking Group all reduced their corporate air travel emissions by more than 75% compared with 2019, the Travel Smart Emissions Tracker analysis concluded.

"The way forward is collaboration with more online meetings, more travel by train and less by plane," Denise Auclair, Travel Smart campaign manager, said in a statement.

In an effort to cut costs and emissions, some businesses have chosen not to return to the same levels of business travel as before the emergence of COVID-19.

But whether business travel carbon emissions will stay lower is unclear. A joint survey by American Express (NYSE:AXP) Global Business Travel (Amex GBT) and the Harvard Business Review released in September said 84% of businesses believe in-person trips still bring "tangible business value".

The Travel Smart study found 21 of the companies it surveyed exceeded their levels of flying compared with 2019, with L3Harris, Boston Scientific (NYSE:BSX) and Marriott International (NASDAQ:MAR) increasing their carbon emissions by more than 69% compared with 2019.

L3Harris and Marriott International did not respond to requests for comment.

Boston Scientific said it would reach out to the Travel Smart Campaign to update their data, which it said were not accurate.

"It reflects the company's Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) disclosure for business travel prior to Boston Scientific receiving approval of its net-zero, science-based scopes 1, 2 and 3 targets," a spokesperson told Reuters.

Airlines say the corporate travel decline could harm their business and economic growth, but robust post-pandemic consumer demand for flying has tempered those concerns.

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Members of the public wait in the arrivals hall at Terminal 5 of Heathrow Airport in London, Britain, December 5, 2023. REUTERS/Alishia Abodunde/File Photo

Business trips generated as much as half of passenger revenue at U.S. airlines before the pandemic, industry group Airlines for America estimated. This helped airlines sell high-margin premium seats and fill weekday flights.

In Europe, airlines like Air France have shifted their strategies, with others trying to make up for the business drop by selling more premium trips to leisure travellers.

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