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Meeting global carbon budget goals with sustainable travel

2 Mar 2022 7 MIN READ

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Zooming in on carbon budget goals, data-driving practices, and pro-planet travel practices for businesses.

Meeting global carbon budget goals with sustainable travel

What are carbon emissions?

Greenhouse gasses (GHGs) are gasses in the atmosphere that absorb and re‐emit heat, causing the atmosphere to get warmer. The various types of GHGs—including water vapor, carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and ozone—occur naturally in the environment. 

Greenhouse gases' are crucial to keeping our planet at a suitable temperature for life. Without the natural greenhouse effect, the heat emitted by the Earth would simply pass outwards from the Earth's surface into space and the Earth would have an average temperature of about -20°C.

However, human activity since the industrial revolution has emitted huge quantities of GHGs, which are rapidly changing the Earth’s climate.

NOAA Climate.gov graph, adapted from original by Dr. Howard Diamond (NOAA ARL). Atmospheric CO2 data from NOAA and ETHZ. CO2 emissions data from Our World in Data and the Global Carbon Project

Carbon dioxide, in particular, is a problem: more carbon dioxide is released by human activity than any other greenhouse gas emissions, and it has the most significant environmental impact. 

Since carbon dioxide is the most common and damaging greenhouse gas, GHG emissions are often referred to collectively as carbon emissions. However, it’s more accurate to refer to the “Carbon dioxide equivalent” (CO2e)—the amount of CO2 which would have the equivalent global warming potential—to describe different greenhouse gases in a common unit. 

More specifically:

Greenhouse gasGlobal warming potential
1 kg Carbon dioxide (CO2)1 Kg CO2e
1kg Methane (CH4)~12 Kg CO2e
1 kg Nitrous Oxide (N2O)~ 114 Kg CO2e

Reducing global GHG emissions

The rise in carbon dioxide emissions has had an enormous impact on the environment. Since GHGs trap heat, they cause global warming and climate change, leading to extreme weather, forest fires, hurricanes, flooding, and rising sea levels to name a few examples. 

The problem is getting worse every year. A 2021 overview of the global average temperature rise from 1880 to 2020 reveals some staggering facts: the earth’s temperature rose by 0.08° C per decade, and in the past 40 years, that rate has doubled to 0.18° C per decade. 

global average surface temp

Global warming can’t be stopped entirely, but experts believe it can be significantly slowed with the right interventions. The goal prescribed in the Paris Agreement is to limit the rise in average global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celcius from where they are today. This goal can only be achieved by limiting the amount of CO2 emitted into the environment.

The European Union and the United States have committed to reaching net-zero carbon dioxide emissions, or carbon neutrality, by 2050. Net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 require massive investments a significant change in consumer and corporate behavior - no less than 1.4 billion tonnes of carbon emissions need to be cut every year from now until 2050. The US and the EU have set interim goals like reducing emissions by at least 55% by 2030. 2030 is just around the corner—now is the time to make major changes.

climate change smog over trees

What is the global carbon budget?

The carbon budget is defined as:

The maximum amount of cumulative net global anthropogenic carbon dioxide (C02e) emissions that would result in limiting global warming to a given level with a given probability, taking into account the effect of other anthropogenic climate forces.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

In other words, it’s the maximum amount of carbon dioxide that can be emitted by human activity while still limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. 

The earth’s carbon budget comprises inputs -  carbon emissions - and outputs - carbon removal. For the budget to be balanced, the outputs must be equal to the inputs. 

How can businesses tilt the global carbon budget to a more positive bottom line? 

The mitigation of climate change requires massive efforts that can’t be borne by policymakers alone - the private sector has to take responsibility for mitigating its carbon footprint. Since the 2015 Paris Climate Accords, and more recently, the 2021 Glasgow Climate Summit, corporate sustainability has become a priority for businesses, with companies worldwide setting their own corporate climate targets.

Meeting carbon budget goals requires a two-pronged approach:

  1. Minimizing emissions and
  2. Carbon removals

Actions to minimize carbon emissions include: 

  • Adopting renewable energy sources, such as solar energy or wind power. Many businesses equip their roofs with solar panels or utilize power from wind farms. 
  • Recycling - to reduce the number of raw materials created from scratch.  
  • Work with sustainability-minded vendors and suppliers. 
  • Swap gas-fueled cars for electric cars. 
  • Offsetting carbon emissions - balance your overall GHG emissions by paying others to offset your carbon emissions or with projects combatting deforestation. Many such projects take place worldwide, including in some developing countries.
  • Make smart decisions using data - improve efficiencies and drive down emissions by leveraging data analysis and tech knowledge through tools like GreenPerk API. This will help your business understand its own practices and where it can afford to emit less. That will give you actionable insights and help you reach your net zero-emission targets.
forest with sky

Carbon efficient business travel practices and tools

No talk about minimizing carbon emissions is complete without referencing travel: travel is a significant source of global emissions and air travel accounts for a staggering 12% of all cumulative emissions for transport. According to some statistics, 12% of travel is for business purposes. Hence, sustainably-thinking companies have to integrate sustainable travel into their environmental policy.

Sustainable travel practices include opting for direct flights, replacing air travel with rail travel, and choosing airlines that use sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) - a clean substitute for fossil fuels sourced from sustainable resources.

GreenPerk: a data-driven solution to minimize business travel carbon footprint

While blanket sustainable business travel policies are encouraged, some solutions, such as GreenPerk, go beyond that by offering businesses data-informed tools to minimize travel carbon footprint effectively and reach their carbon reduction targets. The GreenPerk sustainability suite offers a variety of climate solutions that enable businesses to cut down their carbon footprint.  With access to complete travel data and carbon emissions opportunity savings, Green Perk enables businesses to take practical, effective steps. GreenPerk clients simply log in to the GreenPerk API dashboard to glean data and insights for practical steps to minimize their carbon footprint.

Carbon emissions savings with specific rail travel recommendations

Say, for example, that 10% of a company’s business trips are between London and Paris, 100% of which are taken by plane. GreenPerk API shows the potential Co2 emissions savings incurred by taking the Eurostar train instead - in this case, a significant 74%. This can help companies reach their climate goals and zero emissions targets in a data-driven, efficient way.

Carbon emissions savings with specific airlines recommendations

Another example: say that a company based in London takes frequent business trips to a prominent client in New York. GreenPerk API dashboard reveals that flights taken with one airline emitted more carbon than flights taken with another. Armed with this information, the company can make an informed decision in reaching their emission reduction goals: booking all trips with the more carbon-efficient airline. The carbon footprint will be minimized by about 22%."

Offsetting your company's carbon footprint 

Even after optimizing travel for sustainability, all travel still leaves some carbon footprint. Companies committed to corporate sustainability can offset their emissions with GreenPerk, our carbon offsetting travel program. Any flights, hotels, trains, and hire cars you book via TravelPerk can become carbon-neutral with GreenPerk: investment in carbon offsetting projects around the world, from the construction of household biogas plants in rural Nepal to a Solar Home System project in Ethiopia.

What to do next?

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