Cutting back on flights to reduce carbon emissions

It’s no secret that corporations are the largest offenders when it comes to polluting our planet, although the argument is often framed as a problem on the individual level. We collectively need to step up our game when it comes to doing more for our planet, particularly as companies. Sometimes there’s no better or realistic option than flying, but it’s often assumed to be the default for corporate travel. While we wait for airlines to come up with greener flying methods, companies can do more to send fewer employees into the air and reduce carbon emissions.

Feature image for cutting back on flights to reduce carbon emissions

One three-hour flight is equivalent to about 20% of a car’s yearly greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). Think about how many flights a company’s employees take in a year. When a company has hundreds, possibly thousands of employees all over the globe? That’s a lot of flying.

Carbon accountants

If you’re trying to lessen your company’s carbon footprint, start by finding out where the starting line is for improvement. Businesses like NativeEnergy and the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) are among the many carbon accountants out there. 

Around 2008, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, along with other GHG regulators, announced new rules for multinational companies, leading to a huge boom in GHG accounting software to help corporations like Microsoft, IBM, and Walmart. Ten years later, IBM partnered with Veridium Labs help similar companies track their carbon footprints through blockchain technology.

Where to make changes

We’ve known for decades now that companies, especially the largest ones, need to do something about their contributions to carbon emissions. There are a lot of areas to choose from, including material sourcing, energy usage, food, and transportation.

Most people tend to focus on transportation because it’s one of the biggest parts of running a business. This includes things outside of employee travel — think about product and supply shipment and conference materials. Some businesses source locally to save on shipping and handling costs, and to cut back on the need for planes to ship materials to them.

You can also practice improving organizational skills by planning shipments further in advance, so items can travel by sea as opposed to air. Sea freight is also cheaper when it comes to international goods, so you’re saving money at the same time.

Start with your employees

When it comes to your employees, there are a couple things to consider. One is the reason for the travel. Is it necessary for your full team to go to a conference? Do you need to send three people to one meeting? These are all questions teams and entire companies can start asking. Basically, will the benefit outweigh the cost? 

The other side of the coin is how you decide to travel. A train ride from DC to NYC is an easy change from a flight, and it may even take less time when you consider the logistics of getting to the airport. With all of those variables considered, a train ride booked about two to four weeks out will end up being cheaper than a flight. At TransitScreen, we always have our employees traveling to and from New York take Amtrak to practice what we preach.

The big picture

It is impossible to meet emission goals globally without complete buy-in from corporations. How employees get to the office and travel for work are necessary changes that can also encourage behavioral changes outside of the office.