Comment: Industry must widen the debate about carbon reduction

Overseas travel represents less of an individual’s carbon footprint than driving a diesel or petrol car, argues Steve Endacott

Comment: Industry must widen the debate about carbon reduction

Overseas travel represents less of an individual’s carbon footprint than driving a diesel or petrol car, argues Steve Endacott.

Too much time is spent  navel-gazing in the debate around sustainability in travel, especially now awareness of the dangers of global warming and the need for climate action have grown exponentially among consumers.

I don’t mean to be rude or dismissive of those who speak on the issue, but flagging newer aircraft or direct flights as ‘greener’ options and talking about less-regular towel changes in hotels is not going to pass as credible climate action.

The fundamental issue for most travel is that a flight burns fuel, emitting CO2, and will be seen as polluting and contributing to global warming. It’s important we own this truth.

Although we need to focus on every possible aircraft efficiency, such as less-polluting biofuels, it is unlikely flights will ever be carbon-neutral.

The international travel sector needs to widen the debate and highlight ways that individuals and businesses can reduce their carbon footprints other than by reducing travel.

Travel, in the sense of overseas leisure and business trips, represents about 12% of an average individual’s carbon footprint each year, whereas driving a petrol or diesel car accounts for 29% of emissions.

Many people are put off moving to electrical vehicles (EVs) because they are on average 25% more expensive than internal combustion engine equivalents. They are also anxious about their range given an inadequate national charging network.

Take up incentives

Both issues, however, are solvable. The government has introduced tax breaks worth 32%-42% off the cost of a personal EV lease through salary sacrifice schemes, where employers lease cars and deduct costs from staff members’ salaries before tax. Employers have an incentive to do this in the form of National Insurance savings and these schemes make EVs effectively 20% cheaper to lease than combustion equivalents, even before the 66% reduction in fuel bills.

Range anxiety is mainly a myth. Since 95% of charging is done at home, the average 200-mile range of an EV is more than enough to cope with the daily commute. But employers must ensure office charging is prioritised for staff living where home charging is not possible, while infrequent longer journeys may need to be made by train.

A further 41% of personal emissions come from home space and water heating, but this is a more complex topic, as the government has yet to devise an incentive programme to encourage people to abandon gas water heaters. However, the recent increase in gas prices is likely to do the job for them and many people are already looking at alternatives such as ground source heat pumps and electric boilers.

Widen the debate

As an industry, we need to widen the emissions debate and show that customers can continue to travel ‘guilt-free’ if they move to reduce 60% of their emissions by moving to an EV and sorting out domestic emissions, which are both far higher elements of their carbon footprints.

Overseas travel is proven to benefit mental health and boost cultural understanding and tolerance. We should not lose sight of these virtues, and offset them against the emissions damage travel undeniably causes, but only if we encourage alternative reductions and lead by example as employers.

If you are a travel business that has not looked at implementing an EV salary sacrifice scheme to create a ‘green fleet’ of employees who take an EV as a perk of employment rather than a business necessity, then you should.

EVs are set to become a key recruitment and staff retention tool, and moving 50% of staff to a green‑fleet EV will, on average, move a business 62% closer to becoming carbon neutral.

The industry needs to widen the debate and preach the benefits of continuing to travel. We need to make sure – beyond flights – that we have done everything possible to move both our own businesses and destination partners towards carbon neutrality.

The future is green, but travellers need to be educated about alternatives to simply travelling less.