Business travel

Business travel is one of the greatest contributors to an organisation’s carbon footprint. This is especially true for the aid sector, which provides assistance worldwide. Meetings, training, missions, evacuations, home leave – people travel for many reasons.

How does transportation impact climate?

Before the outbreak of Covid-19, the transport sector as a whole accounted for 24% of direct CO₂ emissions from fuel combustion. (1) Almost 40% of particulate matter (PM2.5) comes from transport. (2) Transport also has the highest reliance on fossil fuels of any sector.

Why is business travel important?

Business and professional travel account for 15% of travel globally. (3)(4) The share of international travel by air has increased from 46% in 2000 to 58% in 2018, while international land transport has decreased from 49% to 39% in the same period (train travel representing 2% in 2018).

What effect has COVID-19 had on business travel?

As a consequence of global lockdown and stay-at-home measures, mobility and its associated emissions declined by an unprecedented amount in early 2020. Global business travel spending fell by roughly 61% in 2020 over the previous year due to the pandemic. (5) Transport demand is rebounding since 2021, both passenger and cargo. Global aviation passenger numbers are expected to return to 2019 levels in 2023 and demand is projected to grow over the next decades. (6)

© Briana Tozour/Unsplash.

Why is this a key issue for the aid sector?

Business travel is one of the greatest contributors to an organisations’ carbon footprint. This is especially true for the aid sector, which provides assistance worldwide. Meetings, training, missions, evacuations, home leave – there are numerous reasons for travelling.

What are the main families of solutions?

In addition to reducing the number of trips, several other types of solutions exist such as fuel efficiency, alternative fuels and alternative modes of transport.

Some key principles to consider

Reducing and adapting one’s professional travel behaviour is a critical step in mitigating the climate footprint of an organisation. However, these changes must not compromise the mission of the aid sector of assisting individuals worldwide. Business travel solutions must therefore be carefully selected and adapted to the various contexts, geography, accessibility, security or reasons for travel.

Is it easy to implement?

Business travel solutions are relatively easy to implement, without contravening the aid organisations’ primary objectives. They provide substantial emission reduction, they have an immediate effect, they require minimal intervention, they are easily measurable and they have a high symbolic value. According to a 2021 study, 83% of travellers worldwide believe that sustainable travel is important. (7)

© Alex Fu/Pexels.

What’s next?

The COVID-19 crisis has altered business practices, especially travel. Organisations learned to adapt. New tools were adopted as alternatives, such as videoconferencing. Despite the success many organisations experienced through a year of essential-only travel, some business leaders also realized the value of face-to-face interaction. As lockdown measures are disappearing, the standardisation of these new business travel practices is on the table, to reduce an organisation’s climate footprint but also to reduce costs and improve staff well-being.

Key facts


CO₂ emissions of London-San Francisco roundtrip represent about 5m2 of arctic sea ice melting (8)

70 times less

A train ride emits 70 times less emissions than a flight (9)

3 times less

Flying economy class emits 3 times less CO₂ than flying business class and 9 times less than flying first class (10)

To meditate

  • The rebound effect

    Sobriety and alternative sources of energy are the primary and main levers to significantly reduce carbon emissions globally.

    When improvements in energy efficiency contribute to the reduction of energy consumption, this leads to reduction of usage cost, and therefore to more consumption. For example, more efficient engines that use less kerosene can lead to a reduction in the price of air travel, which in turn can lead to an increase in passenger demand and therefore in the number of flights worldwide, thus emissions. (11)

Key solutions

  • # 1 Online meetings

    Prioritise travel-free meetings and use video conferencing as much as possible for remote meetings. Discover more

  • #2 Airline choice

    Favour the most eco-responsible ones, such as the most fuel-efficient ones or the ones using sustainable alternative fuels.

  • #3 Train on short-hauls

    Prioritise ground travel, train especially, for all short-haul trips.

  • #4 No stop-overs

    Take direct, non-stop flights to avoid detour emissions and high emissions during takeoff and landing.

  • #5 Economy class tickets only

    Flying business or first class produces much more GHG emissions per passenger. Discover more

  • #6 Combined business / leisure trips

    Allow staff to extend a business trip with a personal stay to reduce all professional and personal emissions of staff.

  • #7 Loyalty programs

    Donate all benefits received through loyalty programs to climate friendly projects.

  • #8 Less-carbon intensive vehicles

    Buy, rent and use lighter, fuel efficient, bioethanol or electric cars.

Key tools

An ambitious travel policy is one of the cornerstones of an effective climate strategy at an organisation’s level. It sets the rules and provides a clear and common framework for all staff. It allows for bold climate actions and best individual practices to be generalised across the entire organisation, thus scaling up the impact.

Specific tools can be developed or adjusted to support the implementation of the policy, such as a travel decision & booking tool.

Innovative financial means can be introduced to support a balanced budget, such as an internal carbon taxthat can be reinvested in green practices.

Behavioural incentives are essential. Awareness raising posters are useful tools to inform and engage the staff.

Tools and best practices

  • ETH Zurich has develop a travel decision tool. It allows travel options to be sorted according to time, cost or CO₂ emissions

    Check here
  • ETH Zurich proposes a flight decision tree when travelling is needed

    Read more
  • Atmosfair airline ranking index, 2018

    Read more
  • ICCT transatlantic airline fuel efficiency ranking, 2014

    Read more
  • Lund University travel policy

    Read more
  • University of Gent sets targets per department

    Read more
  • Internal carbon pricing - Policy framework and case studies

    Read more

To go further

  • What is the climate impact of aviation?

    Information about the role of flying in climate change from Stay Grounded

    Read more
  • The FlyingLess project

    The FlyingLess project, in collaboration with four partners and coordinated by the ifeu Institute, is developing approaches to reduce flight emissions in academia

    Read more
  • Carbon Neutral University - Academic Flying Initiatives

    Information on how to make universities less dependent on air travel

    Read more


(1) Tracking Transport, IEA, 2020. Read here.

(2) Air pollution sources, European Environment Agency, 2021. Read here.

(3) International Tourism Highlights, World Tourism Organisation, 2019. Read here.

(4) Expenditure of business tourists worldwide from 2001 to 2021, Statista. Read here.

(5) Expenditure of business tourists worldwide from 2001 to 2021, Statista. Read here.

(6) Tracking Transport, IEA, 2020. Read here.

(7) Share of travelers that believe sustainable travel is important worldwide in 2022. Statista. Read here.

(8) UCL news, Arctic sea ice loss linked to personal CO2 emissions. Read here.

(9) Stay Grounded, What is the climate impact of aviation? Read here.

(10) World Bank, 2013. Calculating the Carbon Footprint from Different Classes of Air Travel. Read here.

(11) The rebound effect in the aviation sector, Antony Evans, 2012. Read here.


Cover photo © Ratish Gandhu/Unsplash.


Economy class tickets only

Economy class tickets only



Online meetings & trainings

Online meetings & trainings