Sustainable Business Travel: Evaluating Plank’s Carbon Footprint

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On July 24, 2020, during the height of the pandemic, I published a blog post about our concerns and goals based on the environmental impact of Plank’s and my work-related travel. I outlined a series of steps that we could take to be a more environmentally conscious company and reduce our travel-related carbon footprint.

It’s clear now that I was reacting to what we had seen in the first few months of the pandemic: we could continue to run as a company and generate new work without as many in-person meetings. I also described a framework of steps that we should take to offset and reduce the impact of our travel when it is needed to see a client, attend an event, or speak at a conference.

Well, when I reviewed our Impact Report for 2023 and flipped to the section on the environmental impact of the travel we did as a team, my heart sank. It went against what I considered possible in 2020 and didn’t come close to living up to those standards. I knew we were travelling a lot this past year but I didn’t internalize the impact until I saw it in writing.

What happened?

A lot has changed in the 3.5 years since I wrote my original post. I didn’t realize then that while some habits were changed permanently, others would snap back into place.

Having moved into a post-pandemic world, many of the expectations that were there before have reverted back to how they were. While we still do most of our work remotely from our clients, there is a growing acknowledgement that some in-person collaboration is better and will help us do better work. Faced with the option of attending an event in-person or online, we primarily want an in-person experience.

Finally, travel enhances one’s work experience and adds to the enjoyment of our work. We have also focused our energy on having clients and partners all over North America. This means we don’t have the luxury of being able to visit with our clients by public transit.

On the other hand, knowing all this, we can still do much better than in 2023. We can find a new balance that considers some of the items I outlined in 2020, but that is adjusted to our reality in 2024.

Next Steps

Here are some of the changes we will be putting into place to ensure that we take our environmental commitment seriously and consider what is needed to run our company effectively.

  • Carbon offset all flights, even if not directly offered by an airline.
  • Continue to encourage train travel over plane travel for regional trips.
  • Encourage our team to consider Electric Vehicles for personal, Uber, or taxi usage.
  • Continue to promote the use of public transit.
  • Look for conferences and events that are geographically closest to where the attendee lives.

While this feels like a step back from our lofty goals in 2020, this is the first and most realistic set of guidelines we can follow immediately in 2024. This way, we can start at an improved level that we can meet now and spend the next couple years improving and optimizing things even more.

One thing that has come out of our travels is that a lot of people are choosing to take their vacation in the same place as they are travelling for work. It means we are potentially taking less additional flights overall, even if this doesn’t directly affect Plank’s carbon footprint.

What are you or your company doing to further your commitment to positive environmental goals? Are you doing anything at all? I’d love to hear about it. Reach out if you want to discuss further.