Flightless employee benefits
© Alexander Bagno/Unsplash.

Flightless employee benefits package

  • Transport
  • Professional travel
  • Travel
  • HR
  • Benefits

Air travel, especially long-haul flights, is a major contributor to an organisation’s carbon footprint. Employment contracts, especially for expatriates, often include several benefits such as round-trip airfare for them and their families. Alternatives exist to offer employees contractual benefits that are significantly less carbon intensive, more consistent with the social mission of organisations, and still attractive to employees.

What is the solution?

The solution is to phase out carbon-intensive benefits offered to employees in their employment contracts, such as airline tickets, and instead offer equivalent benefits with a significantly lower climate impact.

Energy cheques, food or bicycle vouchers, culture passes, housing assistance, train tickets, childcare, restaurants, or local tourism are all alternatives that organisations can consider. Alternatives with very different terms and conditions can also be considered, linked to retirement or more advantageous health benefits, for example. Even more innovatively, an organisation may choose to offer employees who choose to take a train rather than a plane for their vacation an extra day off with pay. (1) Organisations can be very creative and even pioneering in this area.

A variety of alternatives exist. It is possible to offer one or more alternatives to replace the airfare. Alternatives can be the same for all employees or flexible. Options can vary from one organisation to another, depending on preferences and situations.

Key facts


of 18–44-year-old would prefer to work for an employer that helps them travel low-carbon on vacation. (2)


of employees consider job-related benefits important to their overall job satisfaction. (3)

10x more

Avoiding 1 single round trip flight Madrid-Rio has about 10x more impact than switching to a yearly vegetarian diet. (4)

70x less

A train ride can emit as much as 70 times less emissions than a flight. (5)

Why is this a key issue for the aid sector?

Air travel, especially long-haul flights, is typically the largest contributor to an organisation’s carbon footprint in the international aid sector. This sector, which provides assistance around the world, relies on a large number of overseas-based employees who traditionally receive benefits such as round-trip airfare for themselves and their families, usually used during vacations to return to their home countries.

Reducing significantly the carbon footprint of an aid organisation means reducing air travel. This includes both business and personal travel. An organisation can choose no longer to encourage, facilitate, and fund air travel of any kind. Conversely, organisations can become a major source of action and inspiration for their staff. The growing desire for consistency and climate action by employees, especially young ones, can further motivate an organisation to take the plunge.

Is it easy to implement?

One might think that it would be easy to implement this change. However, as with any element of a Human Resources policy, it requires a great deal of discussion and negotiation with the staff and their representatives and relies on broad acceptance of the change.

Employee benefits included in employment contracts can have significant emotional value. This can be the case for airline tickets, which can create an almost invisible motivation to work within an organisation. Conversely, applying a more virtuous approach from an environmental and social point of view can lead to a stronger commitment of the staff to an organisation and an increased adherence to its values. It can also help attract new employees, especially young ones.

Key implementation points

Key actions

  • #1 Define clear and consistent objectives

    Include this measure in a broader climate action plan for the organisation, based on a variety of solutions and with clear and consistent objectives and directions from management.

  • #2 Communicate

    Communicate on the objectives (climate, airplane), on the benefits’ evolution process (focus group) and on modalities (inclusion of social partners). Communicate the outcomes to all staff (newsletter, email, greetings). Emphasise the desire for transparency and inclusiveness.

  • #3 Include social partners in the decision-making process

    Inform, consult and include employee representatives, social partners and trade unions from the beginning and at all stages of the decision-making process.

  • #4 Estimate the value of the airfare benefit

    Estimate the financial and moral values of the airfare benefit. Employees and staff representatives should not feel like they are losing out.

  • #5 Identify and analyse alternatives

    Identify the alternative(s). Ensure that they have a much smaller carbon footprint than the airline ticket benefit that they are replacing. Be creative and innovative, but also fair and pragmatic.

  • #6 Arbitrate

    Make choices: one or more alternatives to air travel, the same offer for all or at the discretion of each employee, universal or different depending on the country, linked to leisure or essential needs.

  • #7 Inform beneficiaries

    Communicate to beneficiaries the new benefit offers and the terms of application by differentiating new contracts from existing ones.

To be considered

  • Potential co-benefits

    • Overall coherence with the organisation’s climate objective and social mission
    • Increased sense of ownership by environmentally and socially conscious employees and increased motivation
  • Success factors

    • Existence of an overall climate objective or strategy within the organisation and a varied and coherent action plan
    • Willingness of the organisation’s management and its Human Resources Department
    • Broad acceptance by employees
    • Multi-actor process including Human Resources, the environmental/ CSR focal point and employee representatives
    • Maintained and trusted relationships with employee representatives
    • Transparency, communication and inclusiveness
  • Prerequisites and specifics

    • Availability of sufficient alternatives, in equivalent volume and financial value
  • Potential risks

    •  Lack of attractiveness of the organisation in terms of recruitment
    • De-motivation of staff because of a process that is perceived as imposed or as less advantageous, or that the alternatives offered are perceived as unfair

Success stories

Naturesave, pioneer of the flightless vacation incentive system

A few years after launching its no-fly business policy, Naturesave launched its no-fly HR vacation policy in 2009.  Originally, the offer was informal and consisted of providing staff with additional paid time off to compensate for the additional time required to travel by land instead of air.  Since it was more difficult to find rail routes at the time than it is today, Naturesave assisted its staff in this process as well. (6)

Additional paid environmental leave at the British Environment Agency

As part of its employee benefits package, the British Environment Agency offers up to two extra days of paid leave per year to actively contribute to environmental protection. Examples include beach clean-ups, restoration of natural ecosystems and school outreach. (7)

Tools and good practices

  • Employee benefits: A guide on common and best benefits, Workable
  • Climate Perks Policy (Sustainable Employee Travel)

    The Climate Perks initiative works with climate-conscious employers to offer paid "travel days" to employees who take the train, bus, or boat instead of the plane on vacation, allowing them to act on their values.

    Read here
  • Climate Perks case studies

    Read more about the companies already offering paid journey days.

    Read here

To go further

(1) Climate Perks, case studies. Read here.

(2) Climate Perks, employees benefits. Read here.

(3) Society for Human Resource Management, Employee job satisfaction and engagement: The doors of opportunity are open, 2017. Read here.

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

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

(6) Nature Save, Why we offer our staff extra holiday if they don’t fly. Read here.

(7) Environment Agency UK, Benefits. Read here.


Cover photo © Alexander Bagno/Unsplash.