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Road to net zero – sustainable travel in a post-COVID world

Vincent Moreau
12 Jul 2021

As a global organisation, travel has always been part of what we do. It is also one of the largest contributors to our carbon footprint.

The last 12 months have been a gamechanger, particularly for travel. When we set our net zero ambition almost a year ago, we knew that remote collaboration would play a significant role. COVID-19 has changed the landscape by dramatically accelerating this shift.

While the lockdowns have wreaked havoc in so many ways, the images of “before and after” skies have shown us one of the most striking (and few) beneficial outcomes of the pandemic. Skies in some parts of the world have gone from grey and polluted, to clear and blue. Air in congested cities that was previously difficult to breathe has felt fresh again. How can we get back to “normal” without turning the skies dark once more?

At the heart of our approach is ensuring that the first question we ask is “do we need to travel?” If so, how can we make smarter travel choices? We are tackling this change on a number of fronts and have made significant progress this year.

During the pandemic, some 95% of our workforce shifted to a work-from-home approach. We hired, trained, sold, and managed from home, proving a wholly new model. We are making some of this permanent, shifting to our new normal. The Group’s guideline now is for people to work in the office or on client site on a sliding scale of 30%–70% of the time – or in other words, at least 30% of employees time will be spent not working in an office. This is a sizeable shift.

Of course, to ensure the success of reduced travel, we must find ways to support our people in being able to continue to work collaboratively, deliver as productively as before, and to maintain a healthy work-life balance. That is why we are in the process of expanding our virtual collaboration and digital workplace initiatives, such as re-vamping our offices to be more collaborative spaces.

At this point, we must also acknowledge that in the same way that there is a carbon impact of working in an office (both through commuting to get to the office and office’s consumption of energy), there is a carbon impact from working at home. To account for this, our global sustainability team is incorporating the carbon impact of working at home into the commuting component of our carbon footprint.

We have also launched a new Group Travel Policy, the result of a global team effort – from HR, Procurement, Security, Sustainability, and our Accelerated Solutions Environment team – that aims to help us travel smarter, safer, and more sustainably. The revised policy reflects both the impact of COVID-19 and our net zero ambition.

The policy encourages our employees to think differently about travel — do we need to travel as much as we did in the past? Can we travel smarter or less? It increases awareness of sustainable travel and encourages people to choose more sustainable travel options with guidelines, support, and tools on how to do so.

This means making smarter travel decisions, For example: flying direct is a key change, rather than booking a slightly cheaper stopover ticket; choosing hotel accommodation closer to the end location than we might have done previously; and grouping trips together to reduce overall travel impacts are just some of the changes that will drive the organisational behavior change needed to meet our business travel reduction targets.

We are also making a global move to a 100% electric car fleet as part of this sustainable travel transformation. The transition began almost immediately in key countries and we are pleased to confirm that there will be no orders of new pure diesel or petrol cars for our company fleet. New contracts with selected leasing companies and car manufacturers have been agreed to offer the best prices for electric vehicles (EV) and hybrid vehicles. Further, all employees are being urged to take into consideration the impact of reduced business travel when deciding on a company car.

Taking just one local example, we can see how the timeline of this policy will pan out. Capgemini Belgium expects around 30% of the most polluting cars in its fleet to disappear this year and 45% in 2022. By the end of 2022, almost 70% of the Capgemini Belgium fleet will be hybrid or electric and 100% by the end of 2025.

In India, the transition is underway with an additional 35 electric vehicles in its fleet for employees commuting across the Bangalore, Pune, and Noida locations. This is set to expand further when commuting resumes post pandemic. The EV-charging infrastructure has also been created to enable the charging of 50 EVs each across Mumbai, Pune-Hinjewadi, Talwade, Bangalore-EPIP, DTP campuses, and Noida locations.

Partnerships will also help us in our renewable vehicle ambition, and we are joining the EV100 initiative from an international non-profit organisation, The Climate Group. EV100 brings together companies committed to accelerating the transition to EVs and making electric transport the new normal by 2030.

As part of our commitment to net zero, we have introduced new targets validated by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi). This includes a target to reduce the impacts of employee commuting.   Earlier this year, we carried out a detailed global community survey based on current and expected commuting habits to establish the baseline for measurement and to inform commuting reduction action plans. With responses from over 42,000 employees globally, we have great insight into current and pre-COVID-19 commuting patterns as well as plans for commuting in the future. In enabling us to see patterns, the survey will help us work out relevant and specific country-level programs.

We are already seeing many carbon-friendly travel initiatives getting underway. In France, for example, there is a monthly bike allowance for people to cycle to work, carpooling, a partnership to buy electric bikes, and onsite bike repair workshops. In the UK, travel planners with local knowledge and promotions support low-carbon commuting. These add to many other initiatives already up and running, including employees in India using company-owned electric buses to commute to work.  Free public transportation is provided for employees in the Netherlands for business travel and a reward scheme for company car drivers to switch to bicycles shifted 140,000 kilometers from car to bicycle pre-COVID-19.

While slashing our travel emissions during the pandemic was, of course, easily achieved, maintaining such an ambitious new travel trajectory aligned to our net zero ambition demands a concerted effort. Our CEO Amain Ezzat and Group leadership assert our responsibility to ensure that we build back better as a business, rather than bouncing back to the same travel emission levels as before the pandemic.

We have the building blocks now to do this. There is no time for failure.