Business Air Travel and Climate: Changing Behaviors Before, During, and Beyond the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Before the COVID-19 pandemic, demand for air travel had been growing at a rate that outpaced decarbonization efforts. Individuals and organizations were struggling to reduce air travel in an effort to limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

Results from World Resources Institute (WRI) indicate that COVID-19 travel restrictions were a transformative event that drastically changed not only its business travel behaviors, but its staff perceptions and reduction commitments as well. COVID travel restrictions resulted in significant emissions, budgetary, and time savings. Moving to virtual meetings resulted in 2,200 fewer flights in 10 months, a 92 percent decrease compared to the same period in 2019, pre-pandemic. This reduction in flights avoids 3,000 mt CO2e, US$2.6 million in ticket expenses, and 11,000 hours in flight time for staff.

As vaccines become widely available and travel demand resumes, this paper considers how applied behavioral science can help translate recent perception and behavior changes into long-term organizational and sector-wide practices and policies that sustain strategic business air travel reductions.



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