Investing in ways to reduce carbon emissions within a travel programme should be done as simply as possible, according to Julia Fidler, global employee experience lead of the Microsoft Travel Team.

Speaking at the inaugural Corporate Travel Climate Action Summit (CTCAS) on Friday, Fidler outlined how she persuaded Microsoft to invest in a Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) initiative with SkyNRG and KLM in just six months – but admitted it had been a steep learning curve. 

“About six months ago, when we started to talk to our sustainability team, they educated us about the ‘reduce, replace, remove’ strategy and the carbon fee we charge internally. I didn’t know much about it, so this was a learning process for me,” she said.

Around the same time, she recalled she saw a presentation from KLM around an investment opportunity for “biofuel” as it was presented to her at the time. “It aligned so well with the idea that we could both look at reducing our travel, but also have something positive,” she said.

Fidler also said that with Microsoft charging the internal “carbon fee” among departments, she discovered that the team could submit a proposal to access this fund. “Traditionally it has never gone into travel before. We had to put in a proposal to say ‘please can we have a small amount of that money to invest’, and explain why this is important.” 

When asked if the investment was made as a financial investment, or as a strategic customer partner, Fidler replied it was financial. “We wanted to make the payment as simple as possible, and the structure of the deal as simple as possible, to get it through quickly,” she said. “What we do next is a good question. The likelihood is that we will have a portfolio approach in the future. Potentially we’ll look at other airlines, other technologies.”

Fidler also spoke of her passion for the industry. “As a travel professional, I love the travel industry, so it’s always difficult for me to talk about a zero travel future. So being able to look at alternatives to reduce travel, the KLM presentation was perfect… there was so much to be inspired by.

“If we as a community of travel industry professionals can show support for SAF now, so the investment can be made to build the capacity for the future, then I think our children will be able to fly in the future. And I personally feel impassioned by that.”

When later quizzed whether there was any criticism of SAF, Charlotte Hardenbol, head of programmes and solutions at SkyNRG, warned that a challenge would be if the fuel were mandated too fast. “We need to scale at a pace, and hold on to those criteria, that’s the biggest challenge,” she said. 

Other industry experts also advised that SAF should be seen as  one option among several in reducing carbon emissions. Gareth Redmond-King, head of climate change, World Wide Fund for Nature, said: “Invest in them, but don’t count them as in effect offsetting your travel.”

Fidler added: “Knowing the corporate travel industry, and getting investment, I had to go through a significant learning curve. The type of data I had to provide. Have a balanced approach. A portfolio approach is really important. Go with what you know today.”

Microsoft is also exploring new technologies to reduce travel. “We also had to look at behavioural change, looking at technology,” she noted. “We use [Microsoft] Teams, which is dramatically different to using Skype.” 

Fidler also shared more advice with delegates: “The 100-year anniversary of KLM was important, so you should look at pivotal  dates. They are great focus points.” 

Meanwhile, a white paper is also in production, written in partnership with an NGO, that the Microsoft Travel Team hopes to share, which will include specific information about carbon accounting, which was important for buyers to understand due to “double accounting risks”, and offsets.

More than 60 delegates heard a series of presentations from organisations including World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership and the Carbon Disclosure Project at the summit, which was held at Barclays Bank’s HQ in London’s Canary Wharf.

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