Zurich Insurance joins corporate squeeze on air travel to cut emissions

Fewer business flights would impact airlines, airports and associated businesses. © Keystone / Christian Beutler

One of the world’s largest insurers Zurich has pledged to slash emissions from air travel, the latest big global employer to seize on working practices introduced during the pandemic to cut its carbon footprint.

This content was published on September 8, 2021 - 09:48
Ian Smith and Philip Georgiadis, Financial Times

The Swiss company said on Tuesday that from next year it would cut emissions generated from flights for employees to 70% below pre-pandemic levels, one of a number of changes designed to help the group meet an existing goal of halving its greenhouse gas emissions by 2025.

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Zurich, which has its headquarters in the Swiss city and employs 55,000 people in more than 200 countries, said it would achieve the target by holding fewer internal meetings that involved travel, and continue to do more customer and investor meetings using video conference technology.

“The experience of the global pandemic has shown us a pathway to improving many aspects of our daily and working lives, and there’s no going back,” chief executive Mario Greco said in a statement.

The move by Zurich comes as airlines anxiously await the return of lucrative business travel. The pandemic has forced companies to overhaul how they do business, replacing face-to-face meetings with digital communication and cutting travel budgets.

Impact on airlines

Some airline executives such as Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary are expecting a full recovery, while others such as Shai Weiss, Virgin Atlantic’s chief executive, are braced for a 20% reduction in the coming years.

Several large European companies have said they will reduce business travel. The UK’s Lloyds Banking Group has pledged to keep carbon dioxide emissions from travel to under than 50% of 2019 levels, while Dutch bank ABN Amro is aiming to halve its air travel compared with 2017 over the next five years. Consultancies Deloitte and PwC, and consumer group Nestlé, have also pledged to reduce travel.

A permanent reduction would be a big blow to hotel groups and airlines, given that corporate travel can generate up to 75% of airlines’ revenues on some international flights, according to PwC.

Zurich said it hoped to go fully digital in its customer communications by 2025. By then, it said, petrol-fuelled company cars would also be removed from the group’s fleet. New company cars were to be either electric or hybrid, with immediate effect.

Remote working

Other employees would continue to perform client tasks remotely, as they had been doing during the pandemic, the insurer said. One example is the company’s risk engineers, who perform assessments of the threats facing customers including hazards such as fire and floods.

These engineers have been conducting site inspections through video-streaming technology that allows them to capture photos, mark up problems and chat with customers.

Together with other new energy efficiency and sustainability pledges, Zurich said the new measures would reduce carbon dioxide emissions from its operations by more than 40,000 metric tonnes, equivalent to 20% of 2019 levels.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021

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