ESG Reporting

How to set a business travel "baseline"

Learn what a baseline is, why it's an important tool to help you tackle your travel emissions, and what you need to get started.

Setting a baseline is one of the biggest strategic decisions you can make as a business, and will shape how you deliver on your sustainability goals for years to come. In this article, we cover why it's important to establish a baseline, and the key considerations you should take into account when you're deciding what it should be.

What is a baseline?

A “baseline” is a snapshot of your business’ historical emissions, which is used as a way to benchmark future improvements and reductions against. You’d typically set a “baseline year” when you start reporting on your emissions. A baseline year would contain 12 months of complete historical data that, as a business, you can look back on to show how well you’re progressing with your reduction targets. 

Why is it important to set a baseline for business travel?

If you’ve decided to make changes to the way you travel as a business, it’s important to have some way of assessing how well you’re doing with those changes. For example, you may have implemented a new sustainable travel policy that restricts certain modes or classes of travel, which will affect your total emissions calculations for the year. Being able to look back to your baseline year will show you how well you’re doing, or prompt you to make even more ambitious changes to the way you manage your travel


Setting a baseline? Here are 5 things to consider

1. Historical data 

If you’re a business that has only recently started collecting your travel emissions data, you may not have much historical information to establish your baseline year on. If this is the case, try to think back on your travel patterns over the past few years - for example, have there been periods of time where you have been required to travel more than others, such as for client pitches, site visits or industry events? One important thing to note is to set a baseline year pre-pandemic (which would be 2018 or 2019) as air travel came to a complete standstill during the COVID years. 

2. Industry averages 

A good tip for checking what others in your industry are doing is by looking at their most recent impact or sustainability reports. This will help you determine what others are using as their baseline and why they’ve chosen that particular period of time. While travel activity varies a lot between different industries and sectors, consulting firms like McKinsey and BCG have set theirs at 2018 and 2019 which is far enough back that it gives a sense of perspective on how the business has evolved over that period, but also takes into account years where travel came to a standstill.


Boston Consulting Group

For consultancy firm Boston Consulting Group (BCG), business travel is the single biggest source of their emissions. To help realize their Net Zero goals, they've made significant changes to the way they travel, by engaging with their clients to define concrete travel plans for international projects. Simple measures such as forward planning helps reduce the total number of trips, increases productivity and helps them achieve their sustainability goals. 

You can read about their approach to travel in their 2022 / 23 sustainability report. 


3. Organizational changes

If you’ve introduced a new travel policy (whether it takes into account sustainability measures or not) or implemented large organizational changes within the last two or three years, bear in mind that these changes will skew your baseline. This is because it will have influenced your company’s overall behavior and spending, such as how much you travel, the classes that you allow employees to travel and the standards of accommodation they're allowed to choose from. Equally, if your company has been through a period of instability, with layoffs or structural changes, there may have been fewer people on the road during those periods.  

4. Sustainability targets

If you've set Science Based Targets, you may have already decided what your baseline year should be, because it should align with the rest of the goals you've set for your organization. Having one baseline for travel and another for other parts of your business can make things more complicated, so ideally you’ll want to pick one that can serve your entire sustainability agenda unless there are significant reasons not to. This could be if a certain year makes sense for the rest of your business operations, but it doesn't accurately represent your travel behavior.


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5. Future business plans 

This is where it’s important to get input from senior leadership. Are there any future business plans that will influence how much you travel? Is the company planning to hire new talent or take on new major, long-term client projects that will require a lot of travel? Having this insight can help shape the baseline year, and even though you can’t accurately predict the future, this information can make sure you set realistic goals and try to deliver on them.


Setting a baseline for your business travel is essential if you want to track and measure the improvements you're making over a specific period of time. And while it’s important to bear in mind that your company’s circumstances may change and that you may need to revisit your chosen baseline year in the future - this is no bad thing. Staying flexible, but ambitious ensures that your climate goals stay relevant and challenging as your business evolves.


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