The Journey to Net Zero: Reducing Scope 3 Business Travel Emissions

A summary of the key takeaways from a recent webinar on reducing scope 3 business travel emissions.

Shoosmiths is delighted to be sponsoring United Nation Global Compact Network (UNGC) UK’s series of webinars on ‘Reducing Scope 3 Emissions’.

On 29 March 2022, our Chairperson, Peter Duff, joined a panel to discuss the challenges associated with, and steps that can be taken to assist, a reduction in business travel emissions. Also on the panel, moderated by Patrick Sandbach (UNCH UK,) were Olwen Smith from the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi)’s corporate engagement team and Natasha Allard, Global Environment Strategy Lead at Dentsu International.

Target setting

Whilst acknowledging it can be a daunting task, the panel highlighted the importance of target setting when embarking on the net zero journey to provide strategic direction.

Science based targets (SBTs) are targets adopted by companies to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that are in line with what the latest climate science says is necessary to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement (making efforts to limit warming to 1.5 °C). SBTs help companies determine how much and how fast they need to reduce GHG emissions.

Scope 3 emissions tend to account for the vast majority of corporate emissions and when a company’s relevant emissions are 40% or more of total scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions, an ambitious, measurable scope 3 target is required. That said, it is recognised that there are significant challenges when it comes to data availability for scope 3 emissions, as well as a lack of direct influence, and, as a consequence, the SBTi allows for greater flexibility on scope 3 target setting compared to scopes 1 and 2.

Business travel, which falls under Category 6 of the GHG Protocol, includes emissions from the transportation of employees for business related activities in vehicles owned or operated by third parties and therefore includes travel by air, rail, bus and cars (other than when commuting to and from work). Companies may optionally include emissions from business travellers staying in hotels.

Data collection

Data collection can be a challenge when it comes to measuring business travel emissions. Shoosmiths and Dentsu International both advocated the use of a central travel booking platform to aid with data collection. This data (supplemented by any additional spend data related to business travel from your finance team) can then be converted into kgCO2e using government conversion factors available here.

Travel booking platforms also usually include information on the carbon footprint of each journey, helping the user make an informed decision when deciding on the best mode of transport.

Encouraging more sustainable business travel

The panel discussed the importance of changing people’s habits when it comes to business travel, and the fact that the pandemic has the potential to act as a springboard here. Virtual meetings became the norm during the pandemic and, together with the uptick in hybrid working, present an opportunity to think twice before reverting back to pre-pandemic ways.

To aid this, Shoosmiths introduced an ambitious sustainable business travel policy in March last year, which includes guidelines on how to travel in a safe, cost effective and sustainable way and to ensure everyone adopts and encourages the best working practices that minimise the need for business travel.

Highlights of the sustainable business travel policy include:

  • Encouraging a one day a week no travel approach – the greatest difference can be made choosing a day when you would normally have travelled
  • If you do need to travel, adopting a travel hierarchy way of working so using public transport such as bus or train, followed by car and as a last resort travel by air
  • Where there is a need to travel – encouraging early planning to incorporate as many meetings as possible rather than travelling somewhere for one meeting
  • All business flights need to be approved by a line manager and each flight incurs a carbon flight levy. The levy is set deliberately high to encourage changed behaviours i.e, £200/flight, increasing to £300 if the flight is more than four hours’ duration
  • Colleagues have the option to upgrade to first class rail travel for rail journeys of two hours or more – encouraging travel by rail rather than car.

The policy is intended to encourage and incentivise (the flight levy being a deterrent in contrast to the rail upgrade which is an incentive) rather than provide hard and fast rules.

In contrast to Shoosmiths travel, which is predominantly national, Dentsu International’s business travel comprises predominantly of flights. The levers they are evaluating to reduce emissions from flights include:

  • Flying less – in a people-based business you cannot replace all in person meetings with virtual ones, but consideration needs to be given to where reductions in travel can be made, embedding the learnings from the pandemic
  • Flying direct or flying economy – on the basis more emissions are associated with take-off and landing and in travelling economy you take up less space and thereby contribute to a less significant share of the emissions
  • Choosing sustainable airlines
  • Choosing sustainable fuel.

The importance of regularly reviewing the data available and the levers (which are constantly changing and progressing as technology develops) was highlighted. Likewise analysing specific journeys which are undertaken regularly, and finding viable alternatives – for example, the journey from London to Amsterdam can now be undertaken more effectively and cheaply by rail rather than air.

Getting engagement

Reducing or adopting more sustainable business travel requires engagement from across the business. A ‘top down’ approach works well here with the C-suite and senior leaders showing their commitment to the measures implemented and regularly communicating this to the business. As well as internal communications, other things to consider are establishing a cross-business working group and training for all those involved in the booking process, to ensure they consider the carbon footprint at the point of booking.

Final tips/ takeaways

It can be daunting when first embarking on measuring scope 3 emissions but you need to start somewhere and the ability to measure is improving – tools like a centralised travel booking platform help;

It is a constant learning process - regularly review the data you have available and measures you have in place and update travel and expenses policies accordingly;

It is not a tick box exercise - having policies in place is all very well but you need to accompany this with educating people; the visibility of leaders is important here to ensure that best practice is woven into the fabric of your organisation.

To find out more about Shoosmiths’ sustainable travel policy see here.


This information is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. Please contact us for specific advice on your circumstances. © Shoosmiths LLP 2024.


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