Business trips: initiatives of companies and institutions to avoid air travel
Around one third of outbound flights in Germany are business trips. The share of business trips in domestic flights is also particularly high at 65%. The number of business trips has also grown strongly in recent decades. According to the German business travel association (VDR), business travel in Germany increased by around 8% between 2014 and 2018 alone.
94% fewer emissions – due to video conferences
Virtual meetings in the form of video conferencing can reduce the emissions associated with business travel. If a five-hour video conference replaces two trips of 1,000 km and 5,000 km by plane, at least 94% of the emissions are saved, depending on the technology used.
The use of digital communications has also increased significantly over the past decades, however. Digital technologies alone are not enough to reduce the number of business trips. This is because their availability simultaneously enables contacts and induces new business trips. Nevertheless, video conferencing naturally remains a more environmentally-friendly way of going about this.
Rules and approaches for companies to avoid aviation emissions
Companies, too, need to rethink their approach to climate protection and review the need for travel. The Covid-19 pandemic offers a good opportunity to do this.
There are several rules or approaches that companies and institutions can use to incentivize flight-free travel of their employees:
Some companies and institutions give their employees extra holiday time if they holiday without travelling by plane. Examples include the email provider posteo and the Berlin-based cooperative Weiberwirtschaft.
Some companies and institutions go even further. For example, they have banned short-haul flights by their employees: the Berlin University of Applied Sciences (HTW) and the Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development, for example, have taken this measure. Some companies and institutions no longer reimburse the costs of short-haul flights. This applies, for example, to the SFB 1287 research unit at the University of Potsdam or the Institute for Energy Technology at the HSR University of Applied Sciences Rapperswil in Switzerland. Employees of Deutsche Telekom and Deutsche Bahn are also no longer allowed to book airline tickets for short domestic routes that can be easily done by train. Overall, however, the willingness among Dax companies to forgo flights is rather low.
New technical possibilities for video-conferencing and virtual collaboration also offer opportunities to avoid travel and conduct meetings digitally. The Covid-19 pandemic has significantly accelerated this trend. Examples of conferences that have been held virtually and included not only substantive presentations but also a social program – such as joint yoga classes, concerts and shared drinks at the end of the day or open, informal discussion groups with speakers for in-depth, personal exchange – include the Berliner Energietage and IST 2020.
In 2019, scientists from Scientists for Future in Germany launched a campaign to voluntarily refrain from short-distance business trips by air. More than 4,000 scientists signed the campaign “Under 1,000 km, I won’t do it”.
As of January 2020, the German Federal Business Travel Act no longer situates the price of a trip as the most important criterion. Federal employees can now travel by train, even if the trip costs more than a flight. Such a rule should also be introduced in business travel regulations for other employers in order to set the right incentives.
For every business trip, it should be weighed up whether there are alternatives to air travel: Can the meeting take place virtually as a telephone or video conference? Is it possible to travel by train, which might even allow more time to work during the journey than would be the case when travelling by plane? There are many opportunities for climate protection here as well.