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Business Travel Agency Advice Agencies

Can agencies indulge in business travel and meet environmental goals?


By Sam Bradley, Journalist

July 4, 2023 | 7 min read

We ask agencies how they plan on finding a balance between sustainability commitments and regular air travel.

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How can agencies meet both priorities? / Unsplash

Some of you will have been in France for Cannes Lions last month. Or perhaps you made a trip to London for Advertising Week or to Texas for South by Southwest earlier in the year. Or all three if you’re important enough.

Business travel is back and, antiquated as it may seem, pressing the flesh is still a better sales technique than a Zoom meeting.

There is a cost, though. According to the BBC, June was the hottest on record for the UK and air travel is one of the most polluting forms of getting from A to B. So can agencies still justify these trips when they’re also trying to reduce their carbon emissions? Is it possible at all to balance sustainability aims with the business imperative of travel and time spent face-to-face? There’s no business class on a dead planet.

How do you solve a problem like… balancing the business benefits of travel with sustainability aims?

Anne Coghlan, co-founder and chief operating officer, Scope3: “Attending major industry events, like Cannes Lions, can really move the needle toward decarbonizing advertising so it makes sense to travel there. For balance, we partnered with Carbon Direct to measure and compensate for travel emissions via our curated portfolio of high-quality carbon removal projects. Utilizing the wealth of data available about flight emissions and working with experts on compensation is a small way to meet business needs while doing right by the planet. We offered partners to join this program with us for Cannes this year and hope it becomes standard practice to include in event budgets moving forward.”

Pamela Noakes, global sustainability director, M&C Saatchi Group: “Our emissions include flying and we’re reducing ours. But flying has an important role in society – connecting people with loved ones, supporting societies reliant on tourism and bringing healthcare and emergency aid to communities. Air travel’s here to stay. The only available solution to cutting emissions from long-haul travel is through high-quality, verified sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs). But SAFs need a market. We’re pioneering the SAF market in our sector, buying SAFs instead of kerosene for aircraft that match emissions from our flight use.”

Camilla Yates, strategy director, Elvis: “As a B Corp, we take our carbon emissions very seriously, but we also recognize the value of in-person experiences. These two things don’t have to be mutually exclusive. First, we assess the value of being somewhere in person and we’ll only travel if it’s worth it. If we do, we usually go by train. Doing this, rather than traveling by plane to events like Cannes, emits a massive 30 times less carbon dioxide. Plus, the comfort, space, views and well-equipped bar make traveling by train a far superior option, especially on the way to Cannes where the networking opportunities with like-minded, responsible marketers start the moment you get onboard.”

Jenifer Willig, chief executive officer, Wrthy: “More often than not, less is more and the sustainable approach is also the business solution. We are a global agency with team members around the world who have been working remotely for the past six and a half years. Yes, pre-pandemic! And like most companies, we work across multiple platforms to make up for the fact that in-person meetings are not always convenient for a global team and, in our case, not required to foster collaboration or creativity. We have three criteria to identify whether travel is required: Will more than 10 people be present? Can one person represent? What’s the risk if we miss?”

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Annabel Mackie, managing director, Fivebyfive: “We have a roadmap to being carbon neutral by 2030 and the key to all of it is a rigorous validation process. Our head of sustainability is also our global head of HR, so she interrogates all travel requests more objectively than someone who’s client-facing. We use our network to reduce mileage. If the need is in America we send someone from LA, not the UK. We use The Oxford Principles for New Zero Aligned Carbon Offsetting and Supercritical. And if we do need to fly we turn right – economy has a significantly lower carbon footprint.”

James Hacking, founder, Socially Powerful: “As a smaller agency, travel is necessary to reach our global clients. While technology has helped bridge the gap and made crossing time zones easier, having in-person face time with people is invaluable. It enables deeper connections and interactions you can’t form via a computer screen. For environmental and budget reasons, we avoid constant back/forth travel by planning meetings with as many clients as we can in one region, particularly long-haul. The competitive nature of the advertising sector means we need to be in front of decision-makers and network with people so we don’t miss out on opportunities.”

Got an opinion of your own? Email me and I’ll clue you in on next week’s debate topic.

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