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Will Your Meetings Ever Have a Carbon Budget?

A new report from the Global Business Travel Association looks at the frontiers of climate-conscious travel, from carbon fees to sustainable aviation fuel.

Corporate travel departments are known to be a few steps ahead of their meeting department cousins in terms of putting managed-spend programs in place, and over the years, the Global Business Travel Association has often driven understanding of those strategies. Recently, GBTA members have been setting their sights on managed sustainability practices, and the association’s new report may give forward-thinking meeting professionals things to consider as they work to control the environmental impact of their events.

“Managing Emissions from Business Travel Programs: Overview of Corporate Best Practices,” looks at four building blocks of a climate-conscious travel program—travel decisions, emissions tracking, supplier engagement, and decarbonization.

Recognizing that readers are at different points in their sustainability efforts, the report charts what it looks like to be starting, advancing, and leading in each of those areas.

For example, in terms of travel decisions, companies in the early stages of a sustainability program typically have a policy that “encourages travelers to consider the necessity of travel and seek lower carbon options when travel is deemed required.” At the next level, the travel policy “mandates and enables travelers to travel smarter and select lowest carbon options” while companies that are leading on this issue have introduced internal carbon-pricing mechanisms linked to travel emissions.

The report calls carbon-pricing “the next frontier,” and explains two strategies currently in use. First, some organizations are setting a carbon budget for their corporate travel, capping the total amount of CO2 emissions that the whole company, a department, or an individual is permitted over a certain time frame. Alternatively, or in addition, some travel departments are charging travelers a carbon fee—a certain dollar amount per metric ton of CO2 emissions generated by the travel. (Here’s how Microsoft does it.)

As carbon-pricing strategies work their way into corporate travel, it’s possible that more meeting stakeholders will consider the carbon budgets or carbon fees associated with their events, and more meeting professionals might source destinations with these factors in mind.

Measurement Is a Must
Companies that mandate carbon budgets or charge carbon fees need to be able to measure their travel emissions, which leads to the emissions-tracking section of the GBTA report.  The methodologies discussed fall along a spectrum. On one side, there are widely available and cost-effective tools that are not especially robust, calculating emissions on a single factor such as distance traveled.  On the other side are tools that are more accurate, taking into account additional travel factors like the type of plane flown. However, a lack of standardization in emissions-tracking methodologies is a current challenge.

“Without a single standard, transparency is paramount,” the report emphasizes. “Organizations should double-check that the tool or service they plan to apply for carbon-emission calculations provides sufficient information about the method of calculation and the underlying scientific assumptions.”

Meeting professionals may see an attendee-emissions tracking tool as a good next step in their sustainability efforts, giving them data to make year-over-year comparisons or site selection decisions, or to provide to stakeholders if carbon budgets come into play.

The GBTA report also suggests some best practices for finding suppliers who are making meaningful sustainability efforts, and it provides an overview of the current market for purchasing Sustainable Aviation Fuel, or SAF, an alternative to fossil-based fuels.

Both GBTA members and non-members can download the free report.

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