We interviewed James Dent, the founder of Susterra Ltd, which is a software/consultancy firm specialising in services for corporate travel sustainability. James and the Susterra team have built a software package which provides accurate and detailed carbon emissions reporting and analytics for all aspects of business travel. We’re excited to share his insights on how organisations can use data to reduce their carbon footprint.
Let’s hear it from him:
It was at university in Manchester where I really discovered a passion for sustainability. I completed my degree in Mathematics and Philosophy and went on to study Environmental Science. After graduating, I led various clean energy generation projects in Southern Africa, worked on research projects at the UK’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and wrote sustainability strategies for FTSE 100 companies. I eventually decided to create software to make it easier for organisations to reduce their emissions—enter Susterra.
Outside of work, I compete in Ironman Triathlons. My next race is in a month so wish me luck. I’m from the North so my guilty pleasure has to be pie and chips. Training means I can’t indulge but since I’m based in London, it’s not so hard as there are no decent options down here!
Corporate travel sustainability
1. Why did you decide to enter the field of corporate travel sustainability business travel?
It’s where we can make the most impact. We work with organisations, not individuals, in order to create huge reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. For a lot of companies, corporate travel is the biggest contributor to their carbon footprint. By utilising our data-driven analytics we can maximize and streamline their sustainability impact.
2. You have 9 years of experience in the corporate sustainability sector. What major changes have you noticed over this period?
This last decade has seen a huge increase in regulatory requirements for carbon reporting. Transparency of data has increased alongside voluntary corporate participation. There has been a huge rise in awareness of the environmental impact of travel. The corporations we work with understand the need to act, and staff and customers care about their carbon footprint.
3. What concerns you most about the sustainability challenges we all face today, and what specific challenges have you identified in business travel?
What concerns me most is that action has been delayed until it’s too late. Governments and corporations really need to move quicker in order to make a change.
A huge challenge is that often the economic effect of a journey doesn’t match the environmental impact. For example, the relative cost of rail travel is much higher than flights and that makes no sense.
4. Carbon emissions reporting is a key step in going green—after all, in order to improve something, you should measure it. Which organisations have set good examples with their reporting?
Very good point! We work closely with Flight Centre Travel Group who have really been proactive in their dedication to sustainability. Axa and Virgin Money are two of our clients whose commitment to reducing their emissions has been outstanding.
5. What are some initiatives that companies can refer to when preparing their corporate travel sustainability reporting?
The Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) and the UN Global Compact are good places to start; they provide a lot of information. If companies want to engage with disclosing their sustainability impact, the global reporting methodology to follow would be the World Resource Institute: Greenhouse Gas Protocol for Corporate Accounting and Reporting.
6. Tell us more about your experience in developing software for carbon emissions reporting. What are some challenges you faced in getting it right? How have you improved on other offerings?
Susterra’s uniqueness lies in our granularly accurate software. From the start, we’ve been dedicated to getting this right. This level of deep dive accuracy enables an analysis to be quantifiable. This allows us to create science-based carbon reduction strategies and targets for our clients, taking into account optimised reductions in CO2e and cost.
Challenges whilst developing the software were collecting multiple large-scale data sets—they’re hard to find! Lots of big fuel-burning companies (understandably) don’t voluntarily publish their emission data.
7. What’s the relationship between carbon emissions reporting and costs? How can companies use data to tell the stories they need to justify and support making changes in their organisation?
Often fuel is the biggest contributing factor to the cost of travel. As such, the carbon footprint is directly proportional to cost. Therefore, by reducing one you can often reduce the other.
Data allows companies to clearly evaluate the environmental and financial impact of travel. A concise analysis assesses the efficiency of different aspects of the corporate structure; for example, the environmental and economic cost of a project relative to revenue generated.
8. What are some organisations you’ve come across that have achieved significant cost savings after cutting their carbon emissions?
One of our clients had a travel spend of around 2-5 million per annum. We were able to use data-driven analysis to set them an emissions reduction target of 25%. Within 12 months they were able to reduce their CO2e/km by 21%. The effect of that was a cost saving of around 15%.
9. There’s a new generation entering the workforce. How do you think their habits and priorities will affect business travel, sustainability and costs over the next 10 years?
They’re definitely more environmentally conscious. They’re more aware of data metrics and its importance. Business travel will always be a necessity but we see this generation as a leading light in commitment to a more sustainable economy.
10. Finally, what’s the most important piece of advice you would like to share with organisations who are serious about cutting their carbon emissions?
Use your data to create a realistic plan to move forward with. Ideas and words are nice but it’s numbers that drive change!
James Dent spoke about how organisations can cut their carbon footprint (and costs) in an Uber x ITM webinar. You can access the recording on the ITM website.