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How we are reducing our Carbon Emissions with Carbon Budgets

Published on By Tara Schwenk

Travel brands often neglect sharing their sustainability efforts for fear of not doing enough, but our journey of reducing carbon emissions through a Green Travel Policy and Carbon Budgets shows that collective imperfect efforts are more impactful than isolated perfection. Written by Tara Schwenk

Our clients often express their apprehension about sharing their sustainability efforts, fearing criticism for not being perfect enough. We’ve found that those who are already making significant strides are the ones most nervous about sharing all the good work they do. We'll admit, we felt quite nervous about putting this blog post out there for the same reasons. However, if there's one lesson we've learned, it's that everyone has to start somewhere. A hundred companies making imperfect efforts is far better than one company achieving perfection.

We want to take you through our journey as an agency, and how we are reducing our carbon emissions through our Green Travel Policy backed up by introducing Carbon Budgets. We hope you find how we did it helpful, and if you have any insights to share with us, we're all ears—we love to learn and grow together.

Acknowledging the Complexity

Travelling is a joy, but it's essential to recognise the potential negative impacts that come with it. Ignorance might seem like bliss, but in this case, it's dangerous bliss. The first crucial step is to become carbon literate and to understand the environmental footprint of things like cruise ships, private jets, and over tourism. Resources like Carbon Literacy Training can be invaluable in gaining this knowledge. You can read more about how we got our entire team (and agency!) certified as Carbon Literate in our previous blog.

And a disclaimer before we get stuck in! We understand that sustainability in travel is complex and involves more than just carbon emissions. Issues like biodiversity, community tourism, economic leakage, and environmental conservation are equally important. However, this blog post focuses solely on carbon emissions as a starting point. Our journey towards sustainability includes working on a comprehensive carbon reduction plan, recognising that air travel, while significant, is not the sole contributor to the environmental issues we face.

Lemongrass's Green Travel Policy

For years we had what you might call a “conventional” travel policy which included things like how much the team were allowed to spend on hotels, subsistence and so on. It also included details on how to host the perfect press trip and our travel policy for journalists and influencers.

Carbon Literacy Training made us aware that we didn’t give enough thought to our carbon emissions when travelling for work. This included decisions to hop on a plane to Italy for a one-day client PR brainstorm, sending three people to a client strategy meeting when only one was needed to present, or sending journalists on short (plane) trips to the same region three times in a row - we are not proud to admit this but this was our starting point.

Over the last year we have completely revamped our travel policy to make sure that not only are we profitable as a business but we are also reducing the impact any work related travel has on our planet. This policy has had a ripple effect and has had positive impacts for not just the Lemongrass team but also our partners and journalists as well.

Our Green Travel Policy has now been implemented successfully for a year and it’s making a huge difference in terms of carbon emissions. We're all more aware of our own carbon footprint more than ever before. Instead of everyone jetting off to workshops and meetings, we're finding ways to do things virtually or sending just one person instead of a whole team. This also means being brave and turning things down…

For example, our CEO Mirjam was invited to speak in Dubai this month, with just a one-night stay. And ultimately, she decided that there was no way to make such a short trip worthwhile from a carbon perspective, despite it being an amazing opportunity for brand awareness. Now you might say that is crazy and it might cost us business - actually we’ve found the opposite is true. As one door closes another opportunity knocks - and often one that is better in line with our values.

The impact we are seeing so far…

We’re already seeing a huge impact from our Green Travel Policy and the cumulative effect of small changes having a big impact.

In 2024, we’ve changed how we measure the success of our agency. Although profit is important, we equally look at staff happiness, client happiness, and what percentage of our portfolio is contributing towards responsible travel.

All our staff are Carbon Literate, and Lemongrass is Silver level certified.

We’ve set and exceeded an ambitious target that 25% of all press trips must be flight free.

It’s important to say at this point, we're not advocating for avoiding air travel as the solution for sustainable tourism. There are plenty of destinations that depend on (mindful!) tourism.

Consider our client, the Tambopata Research Centre in the Amazon for example. If travellers refrain from visiting, the Amazon region will continue to suffer from illegal gold mining and logging, as there are few alternative sources of income for local communities. So in this case tourism to the area is an absolutely vital source of sustainable income and helps prevent further biodiversity loss.

If you’re thinking about how you can apply a Green Travel Policy to how you work with media, or your own PR travel policy, read our blog on Country & Townhouse’s New Travel Guidelines to see what publications are now looking for when it comes to travel.

Setting Carbon Budgets

Our Green Travel Policy was a fantastic starting point, but we quickly realised that to make truly strategic decisions, we needed hard numbers and carbon tracking to back it up. That's where our carbon budgets come in.

What is a carbon budget and how can they be used?

Carbon Budgets seek to balance emission increases with reductions. Simply put, it's a Budget, or maximum amount, of carbon each individual should produce. Carbon Budgets act as a guide, or an early warning system, designed to highlight when you’ve had too large of an impact on the planet.

There are large scale Carbon Budgets, set for countries to help them achieve net zero, and smaller scale Carbon Budgets for individuals, which are what we use at Lemongrass.

So let’s take a look at how we went about this in our business.

We knew from our B Corp assessment, and through our partnership with eCollective, that the majority of our emissions fall under scope 3. Scope 3 emissions are all the greenhouse gases released from things a company uses or buys, like employee travel or products. They're not directly controlled by the company but still contribute to its overall environmental impact. After reviewing the 2023 figures, we quickly identified the primary carbon culprits—long-haul flights and indirect journeys with multiple planes. Meaning we now have the data to prove what we long suspected.

We've now revamped our journalist trip participant forms to capture precise data on travel distances, airports, and modes of transportation. For UK trips, we now gather information on whether journalists are using electric cars, hybrids, or diesel vehicles, along with details like car size. This ensures that our data is accurate, empowering us to continuously improve year after year.

Our goal?

To see the needle move on the spreadsheets and to see Carbon Reduction come from these budgets.

From tracking our emissions, we knew we needed to prioritise:

  • How we work with journalists - can we work with more journalists IN-destination?
  • Change how journalists and influencers move in destination - our responsibility doesn't end at check-in.
  • Hotel group trip itineraries - how can we combine them? For instance, tourist boards are joining forces for group trips. Plus, we’re encouraging hotel clients to showcase multiple locations, each with its unique benefits. For example, we recently hosted a group trip featuring many of our Italian hotel clients as a multi-stay trip itinerary.
  • Spotlight plant-based menus and highlight restaurants and wineries that champion environmental or community initiatives - we know meat has a huge impact environmentally, so how can we create an itinerary with the lightest impact possible?

We are committed to reducing our carbon 10% year-on-year, based on our revenue. Tracking our carbon emissions is the only way we could possibly achieve this goal. We always tell our clients, you can’t manage what you don’t measure, and in this case, carbon budgets give us the tools to have tricky conversations backed by data.

Getting everyone on board

With calculators in hand, we tallied up the estimated carbon emissions for each team member. Armed with this intel and a crystal ball (okay, maybe just some good planning), we split up a carbon budget among the team members embarking on exciting trips throughout the year ahead. By making carbon tracking a regular part of our conversations, we've embedded it into the fabric of Lemongrass's culture.

Having our Carbon Budgets in place now means we have accountability and complete oversight on the carbon impact of all trips. This allows us to make decisions based on each person's Carbon Budget, for example, our Managing Director has nearly maxed out on her allowance for 2024, so we’re being mindful of what events and opportunities she is travelling to - and how she travels. Having Carbon Budgets prompts us to ask these important questions and to travel responsibly.

While travel is undeniably a perk of working in travel PR, our recruitment process has always emphasised the company's values. Purposeful and meaningful travel lies at the core of what we do, and we're fortunate to have a team that shares these values. Many of our team members are on their own journeys to reduce their carbon footprint, aligning with our company ethos.

How can you reduce your emissions?

If this is all sounding appealing, but you’re stuck on where to start, our friends at The Conscious Travel Foundation have created a great guide for travel brands. Created in partnership with ecollective, they’ve put together successful strategies for travel businesses to reduce their carbon emissions, prioritising the most impactful areas for intervention.

What’s next?

While cutting carbon is crucial, it's not the only piece of the puzzle. We need to broaden the conversation beyond carbon to include biodiversity. These two aspects are closely linked.

Biodiversity simply means the different kinds of living things on Earth, like plants, animals, and tiny organisms, as well as the places they live in. It includes how many different species there are, the variety within each species, and the different types of environments they live in. Biodiversity protection is vital because it sustains ecosystems, supports food production, provides medicinal resources, regulates the climate, and preserves cultural heritage. While carbon reduction is crucial, biodiversity conservation is equally important for the overall health and well-being of the planet and its inhabitants.

Our initiatives include more than just planting trees; we're committed to preserving and protecting existing ecosystems. We know we could be doing more, and our next step is to start looking at biodiversity to offset the unavoidable carbon emissions we create. Keep your eyes peeled for the next part of this journey.

In addition to Carbon Budgets and Green Travel Policy, we’ve also:

  • Eliminated meat from company meals
  • HR has gone paperless
  • Our benefits and work celebrations are more environmentally mindful with select local suppliers
  • Internal Lemongrass Green Team - driving internal change and policies
  • Plus, we've embarked on a collective 100-point challenge as an agency. Through independent learning and research, team members are earning points, sparking meaningful conversations and inspiring further changes within the team.

Looking ahead, we're eager to take our sustainability efforts even further. Our goal for next year is to integrate Carbon Budgets into our client partnerships. By working hand in hand with our clients, we're committed to achieving these shared goals and driving positive change in the travel industry.

But, there is still a long road ahead.

We hope to see rail fares become more accessible for everyone, making sustainable travel options more attainable. We remain dedicated to educating our clients on the importance of collaboration and fostering strong partnerships with neighbouring regions and even "competition." By embracing this spirit of cooperation, we aim to meet the evolving expectations of journalists for press trips. This may entail longer journeys combining multiple stories and locations in one trip, whether by plane or train, to optimise their time and minimise environmental impact.

While offsetting carbon emissions can be a part of the solution, it's crucial to recognise that it's not the ultimate answer. We understand that we're not perfect, and carbon offsets or budgets alone won't address the broader issues of sustainability. As part of our commitment to sustainability, one of our primary targets is to actively seek ways to reduce carbon emissions rather than relying solely on offsetting measures.

As we navigate these challenges and opportunities as an industry, we believe collaboration is key and that together as an industry we can have a positive impact.

We would love to know how you are tackling your carbon reduction plans as a travel brand, the more ideas the better!

Lemongrass Marketing is a PR agency for travel brands with purpose. We combine traditional PR and digital PR for travel to deliver campaigns that speak to your audience, and get measurable results. Regardless of where you are on your sustainability journey, our carbon-literate team can give you the confidence to speak with authority on your sustainability endeavours. Get in touch to learn more: call +44 (0)1865 237 990 or send an email to