About Google Flight’s New CO2 Display

Google Flights now displays a carbon emission (CO2) estimate for most flights.

Folks, this is a game changer because it brings flight-related emissions data to the shopping table on a scale that reaches millions of flight shoppers.

Google Flight display for Seattle to London, one way on Nov.1st 2021

Not only is Google Flight’s CO2 data credible and easy to understand, it is easy to see which flight is better or worse, and by how much. This has big implications, namely:

  • Leisure and unmanaged business travelers will become accustomed to seeing this data. Many will use it to select their flights, making CO2 data part of the “consumer experience”.
  • Business travelers who shop first on Google Flights before booking in the OBT/TMC channel will get used to seeing this data. Many will use it to select their flights.
  • Travel managers will be expected by travelers and their executives to provide booking tools that provide flight-specific CO2 data.
    • This will create a standards problem, unless the booking tools use the same CO2 model as does Google Flights. More on this below.
  • Airlines will feel pressure to improve their CO2 metrics as they appear in Google Flights, especially if Google is successful at making its CO2 model a free resource to others, as it says it plans to do.
  • Unfortunately, it will reinforce the belief that premium seats, e.g., business class, should be allocated more CO2 per passenger than economy seats. This belief is wrong, and leads to more flight emissions, not less.

Insights About Google Flight’s CO2 model

Google’s CO2 model calculations are based on the European Environmental Agency (EEA) framework 3.1a, published in 2019, and some of its related data sources, including the BADA flight emissions model, which may use 2016 aircraft and engine data. The EEA framework is described here. Google apparently uses the Tier 3A approach, described on page 25. Google also uses data from other sources, including those from airlines and other sources to obtain the aircraft models and seating configurations.

Some things that caught my eye about Google’s approach:

More connections don’t necessarily mean more emissions. Note in the exhibit above that a 2-stop flight (circled in blue) has less emissions than the one-stop flight below it.

There seems to be no adjustment made for a flight’s passenger load factor or cargo weight, nor for the actual in-flight routing or actual gate-to-gate time. Factoring in these variables would make the model more accurate, IF the model was given each flight’s actual data. This data is practically impossible to get pre-flight. Other flight CO2 models may include these variables by making good-faith estimates, but they are still estimates, and probably a good example of providing false precision. Google’s approach is good enough.

That said, Google uses a traditional method for allocating more CO2 to premium economy, business and first class seats, based on the square footage of these types of seats. I’ll take another tilt at the windmill by saying again this is fundamentally wrong, and harmful to the climate.

Moving on. A flight’s emissions are shown as better or worse based on the other flights’ emissions for the same O&D, the same route, and the same cabin, and the same day(s) of travel. If a flight’s emissions are within 5%, plus or minus, of the median emission value, it is marked as “average”. Users can sort the itineraries based on CO2, so it makes it easy to pick the least-emitting flight.

Google says it plans to make its model available to the travel industry for free via the Travelyst coalition. It would be even better if Google published an API tomorrow to let anyone consume their calculations. The quicker the travel industry coalesces around flight and hotel CO2 calculation methods, the better. Until then, expect travelers to be confused about seeing significantly different emission estimates for the same flight. Confusion leads quickly to distrust, which is not what we want on this issue.

Innovation Opportunities

A few quick thoughts on how this platform could be put to even better use:

  • Change the basis of allocating CO2 from the seat’s size, to the amount of CO2 emitted for the weight of the seat, its passenger and the passenger’s luggage, per square foot.
  • Publish an API so anyone could consume these calculations (as mentioned above).
  • Integrate this CO2 data into your corporate booking tool.
  • Use the API and your TMC’s historical booking data for your program to set a 2019 baseline of flight emissions. Better, have the bright folks at Thrust Carbon or eco.mio do the heavy lifting, and enable ways to make offsetting easy and ethical.
  • Update the analytical modeling to use more current data on engine emissions.
  • For those concerned about the accuracy of the CO2 estimates, lobby for the airlines to publish for every flight the
    • Amount of fuel consumed;
    • Cargo weight;
    • Passenger and baggage weight;
    • Passenger load factor (wishful thinking).

Flight emissions will only grow in importance. It’s good to see Google enabling better decisions on this front.

A Better Way to Manage Road Warriors, and Their Costs

You road warriors are a hardy bunch, aren’t you?

You spend over a hundred hours a year on planes, take trips on short notice, cross too many time zones, lose sleep, gain weight, get up way early and come home late, and give up more than your share of weekends.

All while being squeezed by travel policies that leave you shaking your head, wondering if the people who approved these policies really, truly understand how hard it is to be a heavy-duty road warrior.

The Travel Friction Concept

Let’s call all this wear and tear you’re taking on “travel friction“.  You get it, right?  The more trips you take, the tougher those trips are, the more you get burned out by being on the road.

Fun fact: Real road warriors, those in the top 10% of all travelers, absorb Continue reading

A Brighter Way to Measure Travel’s Impact

For the amount of money firms spend on travel, surely they’d like to know the impact. There is an incredibly practical – and pretty easy –  way to answer this question.

Forget about ROI – it’s too theoretical.  Skip Big Data – it’s irrelevant.  Instead, focus on what matters and what’s measurable.

Think about the issue this way: At what point is too much travel counter-productive?

Spend too much time on planes and you’re not selling.  Cross too many time zones and you’re not giving clients such good advice, or making such good decisions on that oil rig. Take too many redeyes in coach and you’re seeing a doctor for a cranky neck or worse, deep vein thrombosis.

It’s about cause and effect; travel and impact. So the approach is simple.

First, identify the road warriors in your firm, and their business unit leaders.  Ask those business unit leaders which business metrics matter, and might be affected by too much travel, and are measurable.  Think sales, hours billed, customer satisfaction, safety, etc.

Go to HR, and ask which HR metrics matter, and might be affected by too much travel, and are measurable.  Think absenteeism, engagement, disability costs, retention, etc.

Now use your travel data to find a comparable group of employees that has done much less travel than your road warrior group.  So now you have a cohort of low-travel employees and a cohort of high-travel employees.

We’re almost there.  With a bit of analytical muscle, measure each cohort’s average result on each metric.  Then compare the two groups, testing for statistical differences. Something like this, perhaps:

Slide2

Voila!  You now have a fact-driven analysis of travel’s impact.  The impact on your business, and the impact on your people. The implications will be clear.

Too much turnover, absenteeism and disability costs among your high-travel group?  Cut back their travel workload and/or loosen your travel policies for the road warriors.

No meaningful differences between the two groups?  Your travel policies are probably fine, but then what is all that extra, possibly excessive, travel really doing for your firm?

Either way, having these facts gives travel managers, HR executives and business leaders a clear-eyed view of travel’s impact.  Making solid business cases for changing travel workloads, travel budgets and travel policies is now ever so much easier.

The best part?  Travel category managers get to lead on this issue.  For you folks that are frustrated by delivering diminishing returns from mature sourcing and policy compliance, you should be first in line to drive this type of study in your organization.

For those interested in jump-starting a travel impact study, tClara and I can help.  We can quickly score your travelers’ Trip Friction™ levels, create the cohorts, and benchmark your firm’s travel intensity to those in our database.

I’ll be at the ACTE Global Conference in Miami at the end of this month, and hope to connect with many of you there.

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Applying Travel Innovation: 7 Case Studies

Looking for real-world examples of how companies are applying new trends and technologies in their travel programs?

Look no farther – Advito, BCD Travel’s consulting arm, describes seven solid case studies in its latest white paper: “Leading the Way: Corporate Travel Management Goes Next-Gen”

You’ll learn what these companies are doing:

  • Coca-Cola – improving policy compliance
  • DuPont – gaining control of meeting spend
  • EADS – integrating end-to-end travel technology
  • Microsoft – increasing the use of virtual travel
  • Salesforce – leveraging social networking
  • Sapient – using Yammer for travel communications
  • U.S. Foodservice – freeing travelers to choose mobile apps

You can download the free white paper here (registration required). NB: I contributed some content to this paper.

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Cutting Taxi Costs and CO2

You’re in a long line outside an airport, waiting for a taxi and wondering how many people in front of you are going to the same place.  Wouldn’t it be great if you could pair up?  Save time, money and reduce carbon emissions – what’s not to like about that idea?

Well, there are a handful of websites that will help you do just that.  The one that first caught my eye is Taxi2 (www.taxi.to).  Your travelers Continue reading

Hotels and CO2: Good Green Metrics

Are you factoring carbon emissions into your travel procurement decisions? It doesn’t yet seem to be a strong trend in the U.S., in part due to the lack of good metrics.  Here’s a company that is taking on the hard work of measuring CO2 emissions for hotel rooms: The Hotel Carbon Index. Continue reading

Sustainable Travel: Case Study

How does sustainable travel relate to travel procurement? Airline emissions of CO2 account for about 3% of global CO2 output.  Not the biggest emitting industry, but a very visible one.  Many companies are taking a closer look at what they – and their suppliers – are doing to reduce carbon emissions.  Travel is a topic that comes quickly to mind.

The question is how can you keep people on the road but have a positive impact on your CO2 reduction goals? Here’s one answer: Continue reading