A route to success: Sustainability in long-distance travel

A route to success: Sustainability in long-distance travel

March 1, 2023

Solutions for mobility ecosystem players to cut emissions and attract environmentally conscious consumers

Our recent survey revealed that sustainability is now a key issue for travelers when planning trips. So what can industry players do to address their concerns? Our follow-up article on sustainability in long-distance travel looks at the challenges facing the industry, especially in air travel, and offers several actions players can take to cut emissions and ease traveler concerns.

"Reducing global carbon emissions will therefore require a multi-modal carbon-emission plan."

Compared to just a decade or so ago, sustainability now plays a major role in the way people travel. Whether it’s taking a train instead of a plane, using biofuel to fill up a car or diesel vehicle or short flight bans, environmental concerns are changing long-distance mobility for ever.

Roland Berger’s “The future of long-distance travel 2022” report and survey revealed that sustainability is now among the most important priorities for passengers when planning trips, especially when it comes to air travel. Our follow-up article “The future of long-distance travel: Focus on sustainability” looks at the issue in detail. It outlines the sustainability challenges facing ecosystem players, focusing on carbon emissions and ever-stricter regulations, and what travelers, companies and regulators can do to address them.

The challenges

In 2019, CO2 emissions from passenger transport (car, rail and air) accounted for 15% of all man-made CO2 emissions. They are projected to increase significantly by 2030. Aviation emissions are the fastest-growing source of transport emissions. CO2 emissions in the industry are expected to more than triple by 2050 (compared to 2015 levels) if no action is taken to mitigate them, jumping from around 3% of all man-made CO2 emissions to around 12% by 2050. Non-CO2 greenhouse gas effects, for example from nitrogen oxides and contrails, could double this volume.

Industry stakeholders are moving to tackle the problem, with significant activity in 2022. For example, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the industry’s UN-backed watchdog, pledged to achieve net-zero aviation emissions by 2050. The move followed similar commitments from industry groups. In addition, the European Commission gave France permission to ban flights on routes that can be completed in less than 2.5 hours by train (excluding connecting flights). Several other EU countries are considering similar moves.

While Roland Berger estimates that banning all short-haul flights could cut global aviation CO2 emissions by 12%, much more needs to be done to cut aviation emissions.

"Roland Berger estimates that banning all short-haul flights could cut global aviation CO2 emissions by 12%."

A way forward

Roland Berger’s Roadmap to True Zero proposes a route to eliminate all aviation emissions by 2050, using levers such as sustainable aviation fuels and hydrogen power. But identifying levers to decarbonize the entire transport sector is much more complex. It means comparing carbon emissions by travel mode, and considering all the parameters that may affect a trip (number of passengers, fuel source, type of vehicle etc.).

Reducing global carbon emissions will therefore require a multi-modal carbon-emission plan, with a homogeneous and detailed comparison tool to help ecosystem players address the top priorities and help travelers take actionable decisions.

While no such multi-modal tool exists, in the article we describe several actions mobility ecosystem players can take to address decarbonization and attract environmentally conscious travelers. These include improving communication to make customers more aware of players’ sustainable strategies, increasing consumer engagement through, for example, offsetting schemes, and developing partnerships to improve efficiencies, product offerings and standardization. More details on these and the other actions are available in the article, so please feel free to download it.

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A route to success: Sustainability in long-distance travel


The challenges of making long-distance travel more sustainable, especially air travel, and actions players can take to reduce emissions and ease travelers’ sustainability concerns

Published March 2023. Available in
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