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Sustainable business travel: good for the environment and good for business

Sustainability is a growing consideration for businesses around the world, with many organisations setting aggressive carbon-reduction goals across their operations.

In 2019, humans produced more than 43 billion tonnes of CO2*. The global aviation industry was responsible for around 2% of those emissions*. When comparing the CO2 emission contributions across different forms of transport, road transport accounts for 74% of CO2 emissions compared to 12% from aviation*.

Businesses understand the critical role of face-to-face contact in driving business performance and growth, and are seeking new ways to incorporate sustainability into their business travel programs to support their overall climate-neutrality goals.

Today, businesses have the ability to understand their travel program’s carbon impact and maintain travel activity in an environmentally responsible way through streamlined carbon reporting and access to trusted and accountable carbon-offset programs. There is also a growing commitment across the travel supply chain to define and deliver on sustainability goals for the benefit of the environment.


South Pole Interview


The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has defined three sustainability objectives for the air transport industry which, they believe, can be achieved through the widespread adoption of improved technologies, low carbon fuels, more efficient aircraft operations, and infrastructure improvements:

  • An average improvement in fuel efficiency of 1.5% per year from 2009 to 2020
  • A cap on net aviation CO2 emissions from 2020 (carbon-neutral growth)
  • A reduction in net aviation CO2 emissions of 50% by 2050, relative to 2005 levels
Learn about IATA’s climate change goals here


In addition to air transport sustainability initiatives, other travel suppliers such as hotels and car rental companies are also actively adopting new technologies and processes to reduce their carbon impact.

South Pole Interview

CTM sat down with Leah Wieczorek, Business Development Manager – Asia at South Pole, a leading project developer and provider of global climate solutions, to discuss ways that businesses and business travellers can drive sustainability in their travel programs and travel behaviour for the better of the environment, their people and their business.


Q. What are the key steps a business should undertake to understand their carbon footprint and establish an effective carbon credit program.

A. The first step in understanding your organisation’s emissions is to measure its carbon footprint. Our experienced team of greenhouse gas accountants help companies measure and track their main sources of direct and indirect emissions. From there, you can identify target areas for future emissions reductions. Organisations can compensate for emissions from necessary business activities, such as work travel, by purchasing carbon credits. At South Pole, we have our five-step Climate Journey, which helps organisations measure, understand and take action to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, including selecting a portfolio of carbon projects that aligns with company values.


Q. What are the general benefits for businesses that choose to offset their carbon footprint?

These days, more and more businesses are being asked by stakeholders “What are you doing to take action and address climate change?” This is coming from their shareholders, the investment community and customers. Minimising impact on the climate is no longer a nice-to-have, but a business imperative. Understanding and addressing your organisation’s carbon footprint is one concrete and measurable way to help lower global emissions, contribute to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and strengthen your business brand and reputation. On the flipside, not acting to address climate change is increasingly becoming a reputational risk for a company.


South Pole Interview


Q. What are the most common ways that businesses choose to offset their carbon footprint? And what are the benefits of choosing a carbon project with environmental and social co-benefits?

A. Great question. South Pole clients can choose to offset their remaining emissions by choosing carbon credits from a variety of projects — solar, wind, biomass, cookstoves, reforestation and forest protection, and so on — and from a variety of geographies, depending on their business location, values and preferences. For example, an Australian company can choose to offset emissions with carbon credits from projects located in Australia and the greater Asia-Pacific region. Another example is our client Signify — they support a portfolio of carbon projects aligning with their ‘Brighter lives, better world’ vision.

Carbon credits have a dual purpose. The robust monitoring, verification and reporting process that our projects go through ensures the emission reduction is real, measurable, permanent, additional, independently verified and unique. This is done by selecting carbon projects that meet international best-practice standards. A company can use these carbon credits to offset their emissions, indirectly supporting these great climate-friendly projects globally.

Secondly, the environmental and social co-benefits that carbon projects create alongside emission reductions are an investment multiplier and a great benefit to communities. By one estimate, for every carbon credit (1 tCO2e) purchased from a forestry project, an additional US$242 is created through forest ecosystem services and jobs in agroforestry farming. South Pole’s clients invest in a range of carbon projects that create a broad spectrum of additional benefits, including protecting and re-generation of forests, improving lives and livelihoods, generating new forms of renewable energy and converting agricultural waste into bioenergy. South Pole is proud that these projects are part of the CTM Climate+ Program.


South Pole Interview


Q. How do carbon-credits work?

A. Each carbon credit represents the equivalent of one metric tonne of carbon dioxide (tCO2e) being either avoided or removed from the atmosphere. High-quality carbon credits adhere to a strict set of standards. You can check this by ensuring the projects you invest in are registered with a third-party, internationally recognised verification standard, such as the Gold Standard, Verra’s Verified Carbon Standard (VCS), or standards verified by the UNFCCC. As well as certifying the legitimacy of a project and its emissions reductions, these standards also help highlight different project co-benefits contributing towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals.


Q. What shifts in carbon offset program adoption have you seen by businesses and individuals over the past 5-10 years, and why? How does this vary around the world and by industry segment?

A. There has been consistent growth in the carbon market for the past five years, and demand remains high in 2020. Since the Paris Climate Agreement was signed in 2016 — an historic milestone for global climate action — corporate and government buyers of carbon credits have become more sophisticated and interested in understanding the projects and communities they are investing in. As described above, we see clients being very specific in the types of credits that they wish to buy. This is a welcome change that allows the positive impacts of carbon projects to be more widely communicated.

Despite the global economic impact of COVID-19, we are still seeing tremendous progress in climate action through major corporate net zero announcements and industry working groups such as the ‘Transform to Net Zero’ alliance founded by A P. Moller – Maersk, Danone, Mercedes-Benz AG, Microsoft, Natura & Co, NIKE, Starbucks, Unilever, Wipro and the Environmental Defense Fund. Carbon markets remain strong, despite economic downturn — and that’s a big change from the carbon market crash that followed the 2007 global financial crisis.


Sout Pole Interview


Q. How does South Pole source and report on the global sustainability programs it supports?

A. South Pole is a signatory to the UN Global Compact and we provide a Sustainability Report annually to them. In addition, we publish an annual carbon emissions accounting report and we disclose which carbon projects we support. Our global carbon reporting is based on South Pole’s climate neutral label criteria which aligns with international best-practice reporting standard PAS 2060, developed in 2014 by the British Standards Institution (BSi). The underlying greenhouse gas (GHG) accounting must follow recognised international standards such as the GHG Protocol and ISO 14064-1.

In addition to this, South Pole is a certified B Corporation in Australia and the United States, as well as a certified carbon neutral organisation in Australia under the Federal Government’s Climate Active Standard.


Q. Can you explain the difference between a business’s direct and indirect emissions? And how significant is business travel as a contributing source of indirect emissions compared to other indirect sources?

A. Direct emissions are emissions from sources that are owned or controlled by the reporting entity (business). These include things like company vehicles and energy/heat generation at company facilities. Indirect emissions are emissions that are a consequence of the activities of the reporting entity, but occur at sources owned or controlled by another entity. Business travel — particularly flights — are often the largest single source of indirect emissions for office-based businesses (often making up 80% or more). Globally, aviation accounts for around 2% of annual emissions.


Q. What sort of climate neutrality goals are airlines setting, who are the best performers and why, and what impact is this having on the environment?

A. In late 2019 and early 2020, we saw major airlines leading the corporate climate action movement, with announcements from Qantas, British Airways, Air New Zealand, Etihad and Delta to name a few. Their commitments ranged from announcing carbon neutrality with 100% carbon offset flights, incentivising carbon offset flights via loyalty programs, and billion dollar carbon strategies. South Pole is supportive of all aviation climate action, and we work with several airlines to meet the soon-to-be mandatory industry carbon reduction targets under the CORSIA framework.

Find out more about Airbus’ work on zero-emission flights here Find out more about Boeing’s environmental principles here


South Pole Interview


Q. What sort of travel behaviour can travellers adopt to minimise their carbon footprint when it comes to flying?

A. The best way to minimise your carbon footprint in the air is to fly economy class! First and Business class seats on international flights have almost twice the carbon footprint of Economy travel. This is due to the much larger area these passengers are afforded and the extra weight associated with their seating and luggage allowance — as well as other features associated with first and business first or business class travel. Champagne anyone?


Q. What role do hotels play in carbon creation, and what choices can travellers make to reduce their carbon impact through their choice of hotel?

A. Hotels are large consumers of energy through lighting, heating and cooling, catering and linen washing facilities. The restaurants in hotels also have a carbon footprint in the supply of food and drinks. Hotels also create a lot of waste through the high turnover of guests and the need to have fully stocked, clean rooms.

South Pole has partnerships with Hilton and EarthCheck to work on clean and green conferencing and accommodation solutions. When booking accommodation, ask your hotel provider if they source renewable energy and have responsible consumption policies in place for the consumables used at their hotel.

During your stay, you can reduce emissions by:

  • only using the lights in the areas of the room you are in and turning all lights off when you leave your room,
  • switching off that TV that often turns itself on to greet you
  • setting your heating/cooling to a mid-temperature that is comfortable (not the extreme hot or cold options)
  • avoiding using the single-use disposable consumables available to you by bringing your own toiletries.


About South Pole:

South Pole is a leading project developer and provider of global climate solutions, with over 350 experts in 18 global offices. South Pole helps companies, capital markets, and the public sector reduce their impact on the climate while mitigating risk and creating value. South Pole is a science-based company and its expertise covers project finance, data collection, and climate risk analysis, as well as the development of environmental commodities, such as carbon and renewable energy credits.

To date, South Pole has mobilised climate finance for over 700 projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions in areas such as renewable energy, energy efficiency and sustainable land use. For more information, visit or follow the company on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.




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