As part of a significant stride towards fostering sustainable travel, Google has spearheaded the formation of an advisory committee to refine and augment Google’s Travel Impact Model (TIM).
The search giant aims to offer travelers more precise flight emission estimates and advocate for environmentally-conscious travel decisions. The committee is an amalgamation of climate scientists, academics, and representatives hailing from airlines, airports, and non-profit organizations. Their shared goal is to incorporate the latest scientific data and industry best practices into the TIM.
This collective endeavor is not merely about ensuring the TIM’s reliability and accuracy but about conceiving a tool that genuinely promotes sustainable travel choices.
“Tackling climate change is a global effort, and everyone — businesses, governments, individuals — has an important role to play. So it’s critical that we all have access to high-quality, credible information to understand how our everyday choices might affect the environment,” says Kate Brandt, Chief Sustainability Officer, Google. “For example, air travel, which accounts for 2-3% of global CO2 emissions, is one area where we can make a big impact. In fact, global search interest in ‘sustainable travel‘ has increased by 100% over the past five years.”
Google Hopes to Make Your Travel More Sustainable with Travel Impact Model
Google has pioneered an ingenious calculus of the environmental impact of all our air miles in the form of the Travel Impact Model (TIM). This open-access model offers travelers perspective into the carbon footprint corresponding to their planned flights, so they can select an itinerary that best suits their own commitment to the environment.
How Will Google’s Travel Impact Model Influence Your Flight Choices?
The TIM supplies the CO2 emission estimates displayed on Google Flights. So, the next time you search for flights, don’t forget to check this environmental impact information.
The aviation industry will no doubt be watching to see whether travelers are influenced by these figures when making their booking choices, selecting flights on the basis of sustainability over other factors which generally drive bookings: fares and schedules.
Google’s Green Wisdom Shared with Major Booking Sites
Google’s distributing this green knowledge to leading online booking platforms like Booking.com, Expedia, and Skyscanner. This collaboration is facilitated through their association with the Travalyst coalition.
“Over time, we’ve refined and improved the TIM with help from academic and nonprofit experts and various travel industry partners. Now, we’re formalizing these collaborative efforts by establishing an independent advisory committee to oversee future changes to the TIM,” Brandt explains.
With the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) serving as the Secretariat, this new committee brings together a group of uniquely qualified individuals and organizations:
- Jill Blickstein, Vice President, Sustainability, American Airlines
- Tim Johnson, Director, Aviation Environment Federation
- Jane Ashton, Sustainability Director, easyJet
- Achilleas Achilleos, Strategic Programme Officer, European Union Aviation Safety Agency (non-voting board observer)
- Kevin Welsh, Executive Director, Environment & Energy, Federal Aviation Administration (non-voting board observer)
- Dr. Marc Stettler, Reader in Transport and the Environment, Imperial College London
- Dr. Daniel Rutherford, Aviation Program Director, International Council on Clean Transportation (non-voting Secretariat representative)
- Caroline Drischel, Head of Corporate Responsibility, Lufthansa Group
- Prof. Steven Barrett, Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- Andrew Chen, Principal, Aviation Decarbonization, Rocky Mountain Institute
- Sally Davey, Chief Executive Officer, Travalyst
Beginning this month, the TIM Advisory Committee will commence its regular meetings. The main objective? To deliberate and approve modifications to the model, ensuring it encapsulates the most recent scientific breakthroughs in flight emissions prediction. Behind the curtain, Google is diligently managing the technical intricacies of the TIM, ranging from API access to data sources harvested from standard industry feeds.
The Advisory Committee will work through an annual in-person assembly, quarterly virtual meetings, and monthly work sessions. It will convene for the first time in Zürich, Switzerland, this July. The AC will share its recommendations through its public website and provide progress updates at key aviation and climate meetings.
“While there’s still a long road ahead to make aviation more sustainable, increasing transparency for travelers is an important step forward. We’ll continue to work across the travel sector to make sure you can find consistent and reliable data, no matter where you research your next trip,” assures Brandt.
Google and ICCT Partnership: Advancing Towards Lower Carbon Travel Search
As the technical Secretariat for the AC, the ICCT will facilitate efforts to improve the TIM’s carbon dioxide (CO2) estimates, incorporate non-CO2 climate pollutants like contrails, and credit sustainable aviation fuels and zero-emission planes. As technical Secretariat, the ICCT will collate and conduct technical research on topics selected by the Advisory Committee and commission studies where needed.
ICCT research has shown that passengers can reduce per trip CO2 by up to 60% by choosing a lower-emitting itinerary due to differences including aircraft type, seating configuration, load factors, and routing. Even more significant emission reductions are possible as airlines deploy new low-carbon technologies.
“Climate-conscious consumers understand that which flight you choose matters. But they want and need data to make informed decisions,” says Dr. Rachel Muncrief, the ICCT’s acting Executive Director. “We are delighted to partner with Google to help establish the TIM as the global standard for providing accurate, transparent, and consistent emissions information to consumers at the point of booking.”
“Everyone should be able to find reliable, accurate emissions estimates no matter where they’re booking a flight, and we believe the TIM can provide this kind of trusted, universal standard,” said Kate Brandt, Chief Sustainability Officer at Google. “Together with the ICCT and the new advisory committee, we can empower travelers around the world to make more sustainable choices.”
This partnership will further develop the TIM as a trusted data source to support sustainable air travel. To be widely adopted by consumers, emissions estimates should be:
- precise in distinguishing between low and high-emitting tickets;
- comprehensive of the full climate impacts of aviation;
- future-proof across new aircraft and fuels;
- fully transparent in methods, and
- provide consistent results, both across carriers and booking platforms.
Google and the ICCT will continue to leverage partnerships, such as the Travalyst Coalition, to ensure the TIM is widely adopted across the travel industry.
About the International Council on Clean Transportation
The International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) is an independent research organization providing first-rate, unbiased research and technical and scientific analysis to environmental regulators. Their mission is to improve the environmental performance and energy efficiency of road, marine, and air transportation, to benefit public health and mitigate climate change. Founded in 2001, the ICCT is a nonprofit organization working under grants and contracts from private foundations and public institutions.
IATA’s Own Climate Impact Tracking Measures Advance Towards Per Passenger Measures
Just last week, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) revealed its own plans to launch its annual Track Zero report measuring the sustainability of air travel. IATA’s new Net Zero Tracking Methodology involves three key requirements:
Standardization: The methodology lays out a transparent framework for accurate reporting that can be adopted industry-wide by outlining the pertinent emissions scope, sources, and processes for emissions tracking and measurement.
Accuracy: The methodology incorporates the best data collection and validation practices, minimizing administrative burden.
Comprehensiveness: The methodology allows for the reporting of all types of decarbonization activities on a lifecycle basis, including the use of conventional and sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), carbon offsets/carbon capture, and future power sources (hybrid-electric, electric, and hydrogen-powered aircraft).
IATA announced a new collaboration with the Aviation Impact Accelerator (AIA) this week. AIA is a global partnership housed at the University of Cambridge with the goal of putting the aviation industry on the fast track to net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050.
This joint venture aims to understand the financial implications of achieving aviation’s 2050 net-zero CO2 goal. By building on existing research, the collaboration will assist in creating tools for airlines to analyze and evaluate different decarbonization routes. They are also working on an accurate per-passenger CO2 impact model but argue that attributing CO2 impact to any single flight is inherently flawed since multiple factors affect the fuel usage of any flight.
These include factors beyond airlines’ control, such as weather and traffic, which can impact fuel burn and related CO2 emissions. Therefore, it’s suggested not to rely solely on individual, single-flight data to predict a flight’s CO2 emissions, which could lead to inaccuracies.
Instead, IATA and AIA recommend specific principles and methodologies for calculating CO2 emissions, resulting in more reliable measurements.
A Little Perspective on Your Flight Carbon Footprint vs. Staying at Home
FlightChic has been a proponent of flight and general global sustainability long before this became a much-debated topic. This humble writer believes true carbon emissions reduction is essential to life on Earth. While FlightChic truly hearts aerospace, the prospect of moving to Mars is unappealing. Why not put all our smarts into saving the planet that made us? (We can still go to Mars on holiday, right?)
But it is equally important for consumers to be aware of the full impact of their choices.
Aviation is essential to modern life. It allows us to travel (sustainably), meet, conduct business, and catch up with loved ones. It also supplies much-needed goods and materials daily, without which our modern economy would halt. Aviation also lends essential life-saving services during global emergencies, from fires to floods, plagues and famines, hurricanes, and earthquakes. All the logistics of life and recovery today depend on aviation, and no sustainable alternatives exist.
Airlines are uniquely positioned among other industries to advance toward their sustainability targets because anything that keeps them from burning fuel will also help them boost profits. Fuel accounts for around 28% of an airline’s operating expenses, and jet fuel prices keep rising. For airlines, it truly pays to be green.
The key is not to suppress flight but rather to make intelligent choices about it, both personally and at a policy level.
Both of these plans (the Google/ICCT approach and the IATA/AIA approach) have merit for consumers. The IATA/AIA approach may prove more helpful to airlines in addressing their specific tasks toward Net Zero sustainability, such as selecting new aircraft for their fleet and designing their cabins accordingly.
Consumers should know that aviation accounts for 2% of global carbon emissions. The technology and platforms that power the internet and keep us connected while staying at home, on the other hand, account for up to 4% of global emissions.
So, disconnecting, going offline, seeing more of the world, meeting more people to improve our mutual understanding, and just appreciating the natural beauty of the planet we are trying to protect is an excellent way to reduce your carbon footprint. You can always choose to travel offline, take no selfies, post no Instagram stories, and make no TikToks. Just enjoy the journey, and maybe send a letter or a postcard. It’s worked for people for thousands of years (not the postcard part—that’s a relatively modern invention).
The aim is to make air travel more sustainable by achieving Fly Net Zero 2050, primarily relying on actual carbon reductions with few carbon credits applied. To reach that target, aviation desperately needs rapid development of affordable SAF (Sustainable Aviation Fuel).