Guest Post: The data is available to measure and reduce travel’s carbon footprint

Guest Post: The data is available to measure and reduce travel’s carbon footprint

Hugo Kimber, founder of Carbon Responsible, says leisure travel must catch up in efforts to inform consumers to make intelligent choices

At a recent Travolution breakfast marking a year on from the first UK COVID-19 lockdown, the panel was asked about sustainability in consumer decision making.

In answer, the representative of a leading consumer-facing holiday site noted that it would be helpful to have the right data in the right place to help inform consumers.

The ‘right data’ has been in place for over a decade for carbon emissions to inform consumer choice on product impact, the problem is it is not yet widespread in its deployment.

Using our advanced databases we ran a trial for flight search customers, which ranked airlines and routes by carbon efficiency .

The result was that over 50% of consumers opted to buy the cheapest and most carbon efficient choice over the cheapest available for a given route, paying an average of a 19% premium to do so.

This was an early indicator of what was possible if data was presented to consumers in an intelligible format to help drive reduced impact.

It was quite separate from the idea that offering an offset option to travellers, enabled a decision to be made without any relationship to the efficiency of the provider.

Offset still seems to dominate travel industry approaches for consumer impact and corporate impact and was underpinned by a concern among many industry participants that delivering impact analysis would reduce demand.

The reality is that thoughtful consumption is now embedded in consumer behaviour. People want to go on holiday, but appreciate being helped to make the best decision for the planet while they do it.

The last 12 months have seen huge amounts of intent to ‘build back better’ which is positive, albeit a challenge for a sector that is so badly impacted from the pandemic and the resulting existential threats to many companies.

Transforming intent into real action that supports reduced impact, will need more than commitments to an idea.

Commitments to action will require the travel industry to mirror other sectors and disclose their impact and reduction achievements.

Although carbon emissions are not the only indicator, they do have reliable measurement standards that show the way for additional impact assessment of water, trip cost spent in destination, and alignment with sustainable development Goals.

The requirement is for a concerted effort to adopt such an approach using globally and nationally accepted frameworks and measurement standards.

What is less required are more initiatives in an environment where awareness is no longer the primary obstacle to positive action.

Corporate travel, meetings and events have understood this requirement and taken action over a number of years to support clients with impact measurement and options to reduce emissions from ongoing activity.

This is done using data feeds that companies can then embed and use to support personal traveller choices, especially in companies where reducing carbon emissions is a priority.

It is far less common in the leisure travel sector, which has in general been slower to adopt solutions other industries and the corporate travel sector have embraced for some time.

It is true that corporate demand and priorities are helping drive this in business related travel, but the sector has been responding to this over a number of years.

Measurement and reduction of impact are the two key challenges to address, both to help inform consumers and support intelligent choices and actions.

This goes beyond offering offsets as a primary solution to the problems of climate risk and actively engaging consumers around the options available to reduce trip impacts.

This can be as simple as standardising multi-modal impact analysis for short haul trips, to help support low carbon choices or optimal route selection to reduce emissions as just announced by Google Maps.

Our work over the last decade has demonstrated that consumers respond positively to impact measurement and how that impact relates to their choices.

Established metrics and standards exist to achieve this, so the remaining obstacle is prioritising and delivering action.

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