Julien Etchanchu is senior director, sustainability, at corporate travel consultancy Advito
When speaking to students about sustainability, I have found that many already feel it's too late to make a difference.
it is true that sustainability is one of the most significant challenges
humanity has ever faced, we have many solutions at our disposal, even
if they are not always immediately championed by the industry.
the business travel industry has an important role to play in climate
impact, I don’t believe it has fully grasped the magnitude of the issue.
The industry's failure to align with the IPCC's goal of reducing
emissions by 50 per cent by 2030 and International Air Transport
Association’s (IATA) plan to decrease emissions by 2032 reflects a lack
of consideration for urgency.
One reason for this failure is the
industry’s seemingly constant need for growth. This leads to a more
fundamental question: do we need to continuously grow? And should we
prioritise growing or thriving?
The airline industry has largely
prioritised technological innovation to promote more sustainable modes
of transportation. However, relying solely on technology is not feasible
and will not be enough to push emissions down to long-term net zero
Rather, according to the rebound effect (or Jevons
Paradox), it’s possible that these efficiency improvements might even
lead to increased use and therefore higher emissions. Already, there are
indications this is the case. While carbon intensity in the airline
industry has reduced significantly over the past three decades, absolute
emissions have more than doubled due to the rise in volume. In other
words, without decreasing traffic, we have no chance of reaching targets
set by climate scientists.
Innovations like sustainable aviation
fuel (SAF) have been touted as solutions to the aviation industry's
carbon emissions problem. IATA set a goal for SAF to represent 10
per cent of aviation fuel within ten years, starting in 2007. However,
as of 2023 only 0.01 per cent of aviation fuel is SAF.
discrepancy shows that the industry has fallen very short of its goals.
While SAF offers a glimmer of hope, it's crucial to recognise the
scalability challenges it presents, which may prove insurmountable.
Barking up the wrong tree
the business world, GDP has become the yardstick by which we measure
success, but it fails to account for externalities such as pollution,
inequality, and environmental degradation. For instance, reforestation
may not necessarily contribute to GDP growth, but it can bring immense
benefits in terms of ecosystem services and carbon sequestration.
highlights the limitations of GDP as an indicator of true human
prosperity. In the face of climate change, we need a new model for
measuring success that takes into account both economic and
environmental factors. That answer may lie within an
environmentally-focused economic theory known as the Doughnut Theory.
Kate Raworth's Doughnut Theory is a holistic economic approach that
promotes sustainability, fairness, and social wellbeing through a new
way of thinking. It proposes that human activity must overcome two
fundamental obstacles, represented by two concentric rings.
first ring is the social foundation, which ensures that no one is left
falling short on life's essentials such as water, food, health, energy,
gender equality, social equity, peace and justice, income and work. The
second ring is the ecological ceiling, which ensures that humanity does
not collectively overshoot the planetary boundaries that protect
earth's life-supporting systems.
Unfortunately, our current
actions are causing significant harm to the planet, including CO2
emissions, climate change, ocean acidification, pollution, biodiversity
loss, land conversion and freshwater withdrawals. According to the
Doughnut Theory, our future economic viability is threatened.
economies are already beginning to adopt the Doughnut Theory to present
a more feasible and comprehensive approach to sustainable development.
Amsterdam, a city known for its progressive policies, is mandating that
decision-makers meet specific social and ecological targets to ensure
their actions align with the Doughnut's inner circle of social
foundations and the outer circle of ecological boundaries.
policy approach includes targets like reducing fish and meat
consumption, limiting flights at Schiphol airport, and prioritising the
restoration of existing buildings. Moreover, Amsterdam is taking steps
to address social issues such as green concrete measures around housing,
better access to education, culture and sport. Notably, other cities,
including Portland on the US west coast, are set to follow suit.
Doughnut's sweet solution for travel
application of the Doughnut model to the travel industry prompts an
important question: what would the model look like in practice? To
begin, it is essential to adopt an approach that values both positive
and negative ecological and social externalities.
strategy for reducing carbon emissions in business travel is to hold
polluters accountable for their actions. We can achieve this with a
carbon tax, which would incentivise emission reductions and reward
airlines with more efficient fleets.
However, it is also
important to consider the positive social impacts of travel, such as
enabling students to study abroad or transporting life-saving vaccines.
in the hotel industry, we should value the renovation of older
properties through incentives over building new ones, which can
contribute to soil artificialisation and biodiversity loss. When it
comes to food, the current pricing discrepancy between organic and
conventionally grown food is a cause for concern.
One way to address
this issue in the hotel industry is by incentivising mostly local and
vegetarian food options. Furthermore, water usage is crucial, and
implementing a social pricing system could be effective. For instance,
offering the first 50 litres of water for free, with additional usage
priced significantly higher, could help reduce waste.
One size does not fit all
climate scientists recommend halving our emissions by 2030, it is
important to consider the unique circumstances of different industries.
For example, a company selling exclusively electric cars may not be
expected to meet the same emissions targets as other industries.
a railway company may not need to cut their emissions in half as the
externalities of their actions are highly positive: from an ecological
perspective, they reduce emissions, noise and climate change; and from a
social perspective, they positively impact the health of communities
and create green jobs.
By recognising the nuances of each
industry, we can create a more effective approach to sustainable
development. Ultimately, the travel industry must shift its focus from
growing to thriving. This requires embracing a new model that
prioritises economic development without sacrificing social and
The Doughnut Theory provides a
promising framework to achieve this, inspiring cities like Amsterdam to
adopt new principles as a tool for transformative action.
move forward, it's crucial for the travel industry to take action and
pave the way towards a more equitable and regenerative system. Despite
the many challenges ahead, we must remain steadfast in our pursuit of