Employers hold potential for staff to ditch the plane for the train

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At Naturesave we reward our staff with extra paid holiday, as an incentive to travel overland, instead of taking flight for their holidays.  By doing this we remove one of the major obstacles to low carbon travel – which is the extra time it takes. By adopting such a policy employers can a real difference to the planet and provide a welcome perk to their employees.

So how can businesses help reduce emissions from flying?

At Naturesave we recognise the role that changing consumer behaviour plays in making things happen. As a business, we seek to help our home insurance customers be greener through discounts for adopting greener lifestyles, and help our commercial customers through free sustainability consultations. Over the 25 years, we have been in business, we have found that so many consumers want to lead greener lifestyles, but lead busy and time poor lives and often just need a little help getting there. 

When it comes to aviation emissions, consumer behaviour is the key to change. But how do we change attitudes to flying, especially when for many it’s the ticket to a long awaited and much needed holiday.

The simple answer is, by making it easier to consider the alternatives. By empowering our staff to opt for overland travel, through extra paid holiday to cover the additional travel time, we are using a workplace innovation to facilitate and drive behaviour change. This, in turn, helps supports a cultural shift towards low carbon leisure travel that potentially does not incorporate flying at all. A train journey to the South of France is an undeniable pleasure compared to taking the plane. It will also more than likely, drop you much closer to your sun lounger than landing in Nice or Marseille airports. 

Research indicates that converting one or more return flights to train, coach or boat is likely to be one of the most powerful actions regular travellers can take, to reduce lifestyle carbon emissions. This in turn helps to inspire further behaviour change amongst peers, and hopefully employers. 

As a company, such a policy also adds weight to and reinforces our environmental and ethical values, by recognising that our staff have an important role to play in responding to the urgent challenge of climate change. Enabling our employees to ‘walk the talk’ when it comes to sustainable behaviour gives us and them more credibility as an organisation trying to make a difference.

Covid-19 and technology show the way for business travel

The recent pandemic which highlighted the vulnerabilities of the human race, has strengthened our resolve when it comes to flying.  Highly infectious and zoonotic viruses such as COVID-19 are a serious threat to the human race.  They are also a reminder that our practice of encroaching on animal habitats in our constant search for economic growth is putting unnatural pressures on the planet’s ability to cope and putting our health at risk.  We have been fortunate the pathogenic strength of this virus was not similar to that of SARS which would have resulted in a far greater loss of life; not just elderly people and those with pre-existing health conditions

If and when life returns to some sort of normality, perhaps it is time to reconsider our excessive levels of flying. Maybe it’s even time to consider a standardised world policy on flying. Whichever way we go we need to fly less and consider it a privilege and not a right. 

Video conferencing technology has enabled so many of us to discover that we can still be productive working from home. This shift in business practice is showing us that flying for business purposes with such frequency is simply not necessary. Even the airlines are joining in, with Dutch airline KLM recently running a campaign for responsible flying asking ‘Do you always have to meet face-to-face? Could you take the train instead? 

Holiday travel requires a different kind of support

Technology and the pandemic have helped show us a way forward for business travel, but that is not quite the same when it comes to our holidays.  No video conferencing technology or virtual reality headset will ever replace escaping abroad to sunnier climes.  Alternative forms of travel, such as taking the train, usually take a lot longer and therefore eat into precious holiday time.

To stimulate change here requires the removal of this key obstacle of time, which is where employers come in.  If more employers were to adopt a “No Fly Holiday Policy” and give staff extra paid holiday to get to their destination without flying, it would unlock a cultural shift towards low carbon holiday travel.   (It is worth noting at this point that time is not the only barrier to low carbon travel. At the present time, the aviation industry is exempt from VAT on overseas flights and pays no tax on kerosene. Whilst this market skew remains in place, flying retains an unfair cost advantage over train travel.)

So, go to your employer and tell them about the extra paid holiday we give our staff not to fly. Aside from anything else, it would help demonstrate they were serious about their environmental credentials. Meanwhile, you can take your time getting to your destination, the planet benefits and people will have greater loyalty and respect towards those firms that develop such a proactive climate-friendly holiday policy.

Whilst the world’s aircraft have been grounded, we have clearer skies, fresher tasting air and spectacular sunsets.  What is not to like about that?

Matthew Criddle is the Founder and Managing Director of Naturesave Insurance