Agent Diary: ‘Calculating carbon emissions for travel journeys made me ashamed’

Climate change is something we all have to take seriously – and the good news is we can, says Andrea Smith, a Holiday Village agent based in the Peak District.

March was annual B Corp Month, which I marked by planting trees!

I’m a homeworker and run my business from my smallholding in a rural community in a national park. Living as close to nature as I do, the weather has a radical effect on everyday life, so climate change is a big issue and I try to live sustainably.

A few weeks ago I was heartily ashamed of myself when I came across a website that calculated carbon emissions for travel journeys

I plant trees, keep bees, have pigs – they make great compost, which I use on my fruit and vegetable crops – and use environmentally friendly cleaning products in reusable bottles. But a few weeks ago I was heartily ashamed of myself when I came across a website that calculated carbon emissions for travel journeys.

Carbon calculations

It told me that, as a rough guide, each person on a long-haul flight is responsible for 250kg of CO2 emissions per hour in the air. According to the Woodland Trust, an oak tree can absorb 150kg of CO2 per year, so it’s going to take one poor oak tree more than 40 years to work off my flight to India for two next month.

As an agent I’ve been sending people on holiday for 20 years. As with most travel agents, travel is not just my job, it’s my passion and not something I think I can give up. In November, Virgin Atlantic ran a flight from Heathrow to New York on 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and Jet2 has announced it will run an SAF-blend flight out of Bristol this year, so amazing things are happening. But it all takes time, and what can one homeworker do to make a difference?

It’s going to take one poor oak tree more than 40 years to work off my flight to India for two next month

I don’t know about you, but as we were coming out of Covid, I made a deliberate decision to support the tour operators who had been the most supportive during that difficult period.

When we take a brief from a client, we have a decision to make on where we place that business. Can we not then apply the same principles to supporting the operators who are making the most effort towards sustainable change?

I know there are objections. How, for instance, are we supposed to know which operators are truly invested in sustainability? But as selling agents, one of the first things we learn is how to ask the questions that help us overcome objections.

Metric equality

Are there questions that we can ask now of our industry leaders? Not every company can be a B Corp with its high environmental (and social) performance standards, but could we develop a list of measurable goals that tour operators can achieve – ones that would also acknowledge the efforts of smaller tour operators, and not just those with bigger budgets?

Next time you book a holiday, use the formula to calculate the emissions and perhaps reflect on what more you could be doing to help

Why not create a chart you can stick on the wall to have operator sustainability info at your fingertips? Maybe it could even be visible to customers, so you’re advertising your commitment to change.

Now we are asking more of our operators, what commitments are we going to make ourselves? Yes, we are recycling our coffee cups, using personal water bottles, printing less and so on. But next time you book a holiday, use the formula to calculate the emissions and perhaps reflect on what more you could be doing to help.


Be upfront about offsetting

I was recently asked how my customers react when asked to offset their carbon footprint. Unfortunately, it is usually discussed at the end of the booking process, along with extra luggage and seating on the plane, perhaps giving clients the impression it’s just another extra I’m trying to sell. Could we raise the offsetting question earlier in the booking journey and encourage their buy-in? “Your family’s holiday will generate three tonnes of carbon emissions. We’re working to offset this on your behalf, but will you help us…” Perhaps we could incentivise by offering a malaria vaccine for a child if they contribute. Maybe clients would then find it easier to embrace.

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