Skift Take

Travelport's Tom Kershaw was not shy with us about sharing how he feels about what is real and what is just a pure waste of time in the travel industry's efforts to be green.

Are carbon offset programs bad news? In many ways, believes Tom Kershaw, Travelport’s chief product and technology officer, making a case for more measurable and achievable ways to reach environmental goals.

Kershaw told Skift during an interview recently that offset programs are often abused and are usually cheap and easy answers to make people feel less guilty. “And cheap and easy ain’t the way out,” according to him.

He further mentioned that a lot of the offset dollars go to owners of forests or green areas to not cut down trees and there is proof that those dollars didn’t really prevent anything.

“The offset dollars create an industry that makes money off of it, and for which I have huge distrust,” he said.

“Also, it doesn’t mathematically add up. Do we really know how many trees we’d have to plant to offset what’s happening?”

An earlier European Union study supports Kershaw’s position, reporting that 85 percent of offsets had failed to reduce emissions.

Talking about the fear against offset programs, Rachel Kyte, co-chair of the Voluntary Carbon Markets Integrity Initiative, said during a Radio Davos podcast, “Observers fear that companies are using carbon offsets as part of a sort of generic net zero or carbon neutrality pledge before taking necessary steps to reduce emissions.”

Looking Good Only on Surveys

A majority of travelers — 87 percent — said that they want to travel sustainably, according to the new Sustainable Travel Report released by on Earth Day this year.

Skeptical of surveys and studies that talk about how people are willing to pay more to travel sustainably, Kershaw said those responses may look good on surveys and studies, but the reality may be a bit different.

He very matter-of-factly mentioned that when asked if they would be willing to pay more money to not destroy the planet, there is a slim chance people would say no.

“Try making them part with the money or take a layover that takes three additional hours or a six-hour train ride instead of a 30-minute plane ride and the reality would be there to see.”

A Vacationer survey last year had stated that the older a survey respondent was, the less likely they were willing to spend more on a vacation to lower their carbon footprint.

Kershaw noted that people are right now pretty much left to their own devices as there is no standardization in the measurement tools for sustainability, or agreement about what it is that we’re measuring.

He said that sustainability for individual consumers is currently too expensive and too hard to understand. An earlier Skift story had also mentioned how travelers are confused by sustainable travel.

How Corporate Travel Can Drive Sustainability

The Travelport executive, however, believes that corporate travel is where all the action is going to be.

He’s not alone with that premise.

“We’ve seen companies really move to prioritize employee well-being and sustainability, and that’s shown up in their travel policies,” Michael Riegel, general manager, Europe Middle East and Asia of TripActions, was quoted as saying at a 2022–23 Skift and TripActions State of Business Travel Survey.

As more organizations set more ambitious emissions-reduction goals for themselves, they’ll almost certainly be re-evaluating their travel habits, according to a report by McKinsey and Skift.

“This opens up opportunities for travel companies to enter into robust decarbonization partnerships with their corporate clients,” the report said.

Never mind if these companies might be doing it for their own gain, Travelport’s Kershaw said what matters is that these businesses are motivated and require options.

“Whether it’s the scores they want to get, or the tax rebates, if we can give them the tools to be able to drive sustainable outcomes, they’re going to do it,” he said calling these real investments as opposed to sustainable aircraft or sustainable air fuel which are much more expensive.

Equipping Corporations With Tools to Adopt Sustainable Measures

And until we get enough scale to implement these changes, we have to find ways to give those companies tools to include these options during the booking process, he said.

The corporate metric can lay down a cut-off for flights with a certain amount of carbon emission that would not reflect in the flight search, Kershaw offered as an option.

To help companies that strive to be a little greener, corporate travel agency CWT has relaunched its mobile booking tool to include more sustainable modes of transport.

For change to come it needs to be enforced or legislated, according to Kershaw. And the closest we have come to that, from a legislation perspective, for sustainability, is corporate policies.

While Kershaw noted that expecting a consumer to spend an extra $100 for a longer layover to save the environment might be too much to ask for, but for a corporate travel manager those are funds they budget for their environmental, social and governance programs.

Travel managers, he said, play an important role in driving sustainability for every large company with environmental, social and governance goals.


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Tags:, carbon offsets, cwt, mckinsey and company, sustainability, sustainable tourism, travelport

Photo credit: Contrails at a Munich airshow. Walter Bibikow / Getty Images

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