Will travel emerge from the pandemic greener?

This was the topic for our Friday 17th July FGA online presentation and discussion with the Business Travel Association members. The answer was in short, yes.

North Yorkshire


During the meeting we discussed sustainable aviation fuel, FGA sustainable travel solutions and the industry appetite for environmental changes to business on the build back better recovery path. The same day McKinsey published an article called ‘Make it better, not just safer: The opportunity to reinvent travel’, so we are seeing there is much thought leadership happening within the space on what recovery should and is going to look like in what we call ‘the new normal’.

As I personally saw from visiting London this week things are not normal. It was quiet, some cafes, bars and restaurants are closed. The air is cleaner and things are going to change. As more will work from home, how can we carve out what we want for the future and what will be important in work, play and travel? We have our approach – FGA Travel Smart: sustainable travel policies, sustainable aviation fuel commitments, more permanent remote working, mental health and well being initiatives. Have you started to think about yours?

Many believe that virtual meetings have allowed us to stay connected and continue business as close to usual as possible, and frequent and corporate flyers have said they won’t travel as much. At the same time many planes are being retired out of service like the A380 and B747 and questions are being asked about next steps for jobs and recovery in the travel sector. Tourism and travel accounting for 10% of global GDP so it is very important.

Travel is opening up, train journeys will increase, so will local holidays and road trips. So how can the aviation sector strengthen its offer to emerge greener? And how can they get customers on board with this too? It will cost money. Sustainability isn’t cheap. The Jet Zero Council has just launched in the UK, the Prime Minister stating: “We should set ourselves the goal now of producing the world’s first zero-emission long-haul passenger plane.” As Airbus announced this Summer that it does now have a plane that can fly on 100% sustainable aviation fuel, the statement of carbon-neutral air travel can become true in the coming years.

Our approach is more collaboration and global commitments. We started some work on 12th June when there were up 27 aviation stakeholders on our co-hosted online meeting to discuss next steps in green recovery (poster below). The aviation stakeholder subsequently made a joint build-back-better-commitment on 24th June which you can read about here, so collaborative recovery work is beginning. It’s a critical time for all businesses but especially those that rely heavily on fossil fuels, travel and events. The next steps will be key to success, survival and a good reputation.

Re-fly saf

Amex GBT, our partner, have made some progressive announcements during the pandemic updating their booking engine, Neo, to filter on carbon as well as price and time and were the first travel management company to offset their own travel just last month. Also choosing to partner with FGA, as they see their customers want more sustainable travel solutions which we are working on with the airlines, airports, the sustainability sector and corporates. Some will emerge stronger and smarter but it’s going to take some strategic thinking and change to do so.

Feedback from one attendee was: “We are starting to have initial conversations with some customers around sustainable travel policies for the first time.  I guess the time is now”.

We carried out a few polls throughout the discussion on Friday and opened up the floor to the group of almost 50. 

We asked the group if they knew what ESG was the abbreviation for. 11% had and 89% had not heard that it was: Environment, Social and Governance but up to 50% of the BTA members had heard of sustainable aviation fuel, we’ll keep checking on this figure until we’re at 100% .

ESG – who cares wins!

ESG is important work and hugely relevant during the pandemic recovery. This term created in 2005 from a report called ‘who cares, wins’ encapsulated something that businesses were saying were ‘nice to haves’ but ESG is fast becoming big business and a whole investment sector is now named ESG investments. HSBC saying that the pandemic has been the litmus test. ESG investments are performing well and are resilient compared to fossil based alternatives. ESG-behaviour is something that is also been noticed during the pandemic and that is how businesses are treating people during the crisis. The whole term is a humanitarian approach to business which has been deemed a ‘UN approach’ before and counter to how we should be doing business. Our belief is in a collaborative approach and as long as no competitions rules are broken then we don’t see why business can’t be done in this way.


Large corporation are beginning to align their business strategies with ESG which means integrating sustainability, inclusivity and diversity all through policies and practices and not just having a couple of carefully chosen projects to write some PR on, this is key going forward. FGA have spoken to many Chief Sustainability Officers who have said they are not early adopters or just simply no to us when it comes to discussing decarbonisation of their travel through sustainable travel policies and sustainable aviation fuel. We hope they may rethink their stance and open up conversations as we need to get this work going now and it is the time. FGA are gaining great support but the travel industry needs adoption of the ESG principles and more purchasing of SAF quicker to recover well. Corporates are the ones that will have impact and we’re starting to get some to join us.

Corporations will need to embed these as core principles into doing business in a more ESG-friendly way which not only pleases the share holders, it pleases the employees and Gen Z who are choosing to only work for businesses which match their own values.

Aligning with ESG is a future move. Companies choosing this path are resilient and respected. There is a real change in attitudes in regards to leadership style, excess, being disposable and materialism. This doesn’t mean people don’t like eating nice food at nice restaurants and going on holiday but it is saying that people are finding interest and excitement in some other ways and ownership is less important; experiences and environment are much more important. Ipsos MORI discussed during a recent webinar ‘Thunberging‘, a new term used by online dating sites who have seen a 240% increase in the words ‘climate change’ on people’s profiles. Younger people showing they are looking for partners who share a ‘concern for climate change’ as a key value, who are also our future leaders and future customers.

What we have seen in the media is that there is a lot of ‘I do not accept this’ going on right now on mistreatment, race, environment, gender, mental health and lifestyle and it has all been very much put into the forefront of our minds. Whether you are a fatalist, an environmentalist, have conspiracy theories or think it’s not a coincidence that the pandemic is happening now then I think you will agree that it is a wake up call, we need to up our game, rethink a lot of things, become more circular and equally lead by sustainability and people as much as by profit – this is what ESG is about. We have many old systems, practices and models in place which serve very few. As a person that had many unworn clothes with the label still on in the wardrobe, was always throwing away uneaten food from the fridge and constantly going away, I had a few epiphanies in the last few years and more so during the pandemic. Have you?


Sustainable travel policies and FGA Travel Smart are ways companies can embed sustainability and carbon neutral targets into their business with a travel focus. We are presenting our work to travel management companies and corporate travellers as we believe through an alliance and leading examples we can shift travel into a new era, so we can keep it feeling special, exciting and cool but also more sustainable.

Get in touch with us to discuss how FGA can work with you to recover from the pandemic stronger: sarah@flygreenalliance.org

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