Corp Travel Giant CWT Nudges Clients Towards Microsoft-Style Carbon Penalties

BySteven I. Green

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Skift Take

More companies are taking carbon management into their own hands, stepping away from offsetting. This new footprint indicator could give CWT’s clients much greater control.

Travel management company CWT is now displaying how much carbon that travelers would potentially generate from flights and hotel stays for the first time, after adding a “point of sale” calculator to its app and online booking tool.

The travel agency previously only showed these types of emissions in its analytics tool, rather than the moment when employees were weighing up their travel options. The new platform paves the way for its corporate clients to adopt a similar tactic used by Microsoft that charges an internal carbon fee for business travel.

“That’s a use case that’s on our roadmap and we’re working with our clients,” said Erik Magnuson, vice president product management, travel content and connectivity, at CWT.

The addition of the calculator, which is provided by Thrust Carbon, follows a poll of its customers at the end of 2021, in which 87 percent of respondents said they wanted to provide information to employees at point-of-booking to help reinforce responsible travel choices.

“What we heard overwhelmingly from our clients is that they want better and richer data around carbon footprint understanding,” added Magnuson.

Offsetting as Last Resort

This booking tool add-on highlights a growing trend where companies seek to carbon offset as a last resort. When it comes to Microsoft’s in-house carbon penalties, Magnuson said the company was shifting away from a “cost-based understanding and budget for travel.” In the client survey, 76 percent of CWT’s clients said they didn’t want the agency to provide it with offsetting capability at the point of sale.

Magnuson added there were four aspects companies needed to address: understanding carbon footprints, avoiding what’s unnecessary, reducing what they can, and finally offsetting.

Could displaying this information leave CWT with fewer bookings? “We look at this (calculator) playing a role in these key aspects, and if it means avoiding travel is one of those, we have other options with our meetings and events business, that creates virtual or hybrid meetings,” Magnuson said.

CWT’s clients could now consider adding a carbon tax, like Microsoft, or develop carbon budgets, he added.

The calculator may also end up naming and shaming airlines that produce comparably higher levels of emissions. In this case, Magnuson said the new data puts ownership on every part of the ecosystem to own up to climate change. “In some cases companies see it as the suppliers’ responsibility to offset this themselves.” According to a recent report, United Airlines is offering its corporate clients a new sustainability dashboard with a carbon footprint calculator through its Jetstream portal.

CWT customers will soon be able use Thrust Carbon’s data in its analytics tool, or continue to use its existing carbon emissions calculator that’s based on the UK government’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs data. However, adding Thrust Carbon was seen as a “natural evolution and progression” as it offered more granular details, such as how the aircraft’s engines impact the environment.

“I don’t want to oversimplify it, but it’s just a bunch of averages,” said Magnuson. “There are good capabilities in there, and it was the first of its kind. But like anything when it comes to saving the planet, starting somewhere is better than nothing.”

And as some experts argue carbon emissions should only be calculated after the flight has taken place, owing to the effect load factor can have, Thrust Carbon will later include post-trip data in CWT’s analytics. Carbon emission data from cars and rail will also be added later in the year.

“We are rapidly moving to a world where emissions data will be valued side by side with financial data,” said Mark Corbett, founder and director of Thrust Carbon.

CWT itself aims to be carbon neutral by 2030, and this new feature forms part of its commitment to invest in $100 million into its myCWT booking tool.


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