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[Startup Article] Ecology: the 3rd dimension of business travel

#Bonnes Pratiques #Startup

Laurent La Rocca - Co-founder and CEO, The Treep

Nabila Iken - Head of R&D, The Treep

For a long time, business travellers and their companies only considered the “budget” and “duration” dimensions of their journeys. Flygskam and an effort to achieve the same level of awareness of the climate issue at a corporate level as at a personal level have gradually imposed the idea of assessing a journey according to 3 dimensions. The “carbon footprint” dimension now also appears to be as important as the budget and the duration for many people. But how can you resolve this 3D equation in 2021 when 83% of travel in France still takes place by car1 and no hydrogen powered flights will be available for several years.

Trains or course

More than 80% of French business journeys are domestic or cross-border. So, it is best to start with the essential: decarbonising professional travel by favouring the use of TGV, Eurostar, Thalys and the other regional trains that travel over the 30,000 km of the French railway network. Because the savings in terms of CO2eq can be significant: to carry one person over 1 kilometre, a plane emits an average of 230gCO2eq2, fossil fuel cars 193gCO2eq3, and a TGV for its part emits 1.73gCO2eq. The best rating for the “carbon footprint” dimension is therefore travelling by train.

However, it is not quite that simple. Over large distances, flight times are less than the time spent travelling by train. And for business travellers “time is money”, the arbitration between the “duration” and “carbon footprint” dimension becomes difficult.

Comparing the times door to door

It is often claimed that you can travel faster from A to B by plane than by train. This is not always the case. In fact, when you take into account the time spent getting to airports or stations then checking in and boarding, which are more or less fast depending on the means of transport, a journey from the centre of Paris to the centre of Marseille, for example, takes about 4 hours by plane or by train. These are the total times, “door to door” that should be taken into account for the “duration” dimension, and not just the flight time and main journey time.

The “budget” dimension for its part depends on the volatility of the prices with regard to the yield management policy of the operators of the main means of transport. It therefore depends on the time when the booking is made. The aggressiveness of the low cost flight companies and railway operators greatly influences the decisions of business travellers. But there again, the total budget, door to door, should take into account the greater distances between airports at the starting point and destination, which can considerably increase the overall cost, especially if they are travelled by taxi or a car with driver. These hidden costs are not always included in the mental calculation made by a traveller, who has just a short time to make their booking. An algorithm, like the one offered on its interface by The Treep makes it possible to quickly compare the 3 dimensions to best chose the means of transport.

This new way of looking at the results therefore provides a 3D view of business travel. The traveller can compare their options and choose the train, for an equivalent or smaller budget and journey time, it can mean saving half a tonne of CO2eq over a return journey between Paris and Marseille according to the ADEME calculation methodology.

Completing your journey with an environmentally friendly hotel and car hire

Another element of the environmental impact of business travel is staying in a hotel. A night in a hotel uses resources and engenders emissions due for example to the energy consumed for heating and lighting4. To further reduce their environmental footprint, a traveller can book an environmentally friendly hotel, and even plan, for some journeys, a short-term car hire, taking into account vehicles with hybrid or electrical engines. Therefore to progressively reduce the environmental impact of users, it is important to adopt a global vision to steer their choices at every step of their journeys.

Celebrating CO2 savings

By choosing less polluting means of transport for their journeys, business travellers can contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector. These CO2 savings (compared with a reference scenario) can be calculated and valued by a company when the traveller chooses a soft means of transport. Indeed, calculating the greenhouse gas emissions avoided can allow senior management, and also each employee, to visualise the levels achieved. This makes it possible in particular to coordinate and celebrate the CO2 savings made in different ways (bonuses, competitions, rewards, etc.) to encourage employees to fully invest in this new way of considering their journeys.

Governing with an environmentally friendly travel policy

It is also possible for a company to create travel rules or a Corporate Travel Policy (CTP) to govern CO2 emissions. B2B online booking systems, like the one from The Treep, are a means for applying these rules by only making plane journeys compliant if there is no alternative by train and for those where the difference in door to door journey time is greater than 1 hour. The CTP can also favour hotels that have an environmentally friendly label and renting hybrid or electric cars.

There are also studies under way for implementing CO2 emission quotas for companies that are compatibles with the 2°C plan of COP21. Thus an environmentally friendly CTP applied on an online B2B booking service will play a role as a regulator by distributing emission authorisations for carbon emitting means of transport.

Reduction versus compensation

We are entering into an era of reduction versus compensation for greenhouse gas emissions. A company that compensates or contributes for carbon may be tempted to no longer reduce its CO2 emissions. The two actions need to be combined as the issue is so essential for our planet. Indeed, carbon compensation (either regulatory or voluntary) with the aim of achieving global carbon neutrality by 2050 must be part of the process for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the long term. At a company level, we speak more of carbon contributions, as carbon neutrality has only been scientifically defined at a planetary scale5.

Therefore, it is down to each company to commit to beginning to reduce its emissions, before even thinking about compensating, so that carbon neutrality is not just the result of a simple mathematical trick. Favouring and combining on each journey the CO2 savings, the time saved “door to door” and the price savings should ultimately be used for any travel booking. It should also be remembered that you can work during every kilometre of a train journey, from the first to the last. And for a business traveller, this “useful” time is precious.

1 “Cars are still the most common means of transport from home to work, even for short distances”, INSEE PREMIERE No.1835, INSEE 2021

2 For a short haul flight, taking into account the condensation trails. Source: ADEME (the French Environment and Energy Management Agency) Carbon Database

3 National average over all distances and all fuel types. Source: ADEME (the French Environment and Energy Management Agency) Carbon Database

4 Pre-deployment draft of environmental displays for hotels. Betterfly Tourism & ADEME, 2020

5 Net Zero Initiative- A reference system for collective carbon neutrality. Carbone4, 2020

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