We’re seeing more and more companies making sustainability announcements, which we’re loving. In this series, we cast a critical eye over sustainability statements from big organisations: who’s saying what, how realistic their targets are, and what a company’s action plan really means.
Last week, global accommodation site Airbnb announced an update on their journey to net zero. We’ve read through their statement (so you don’t have to), and have pulled out some key points we’d like to address.
“Last year, we committed to a goal of operating as a net zero company by 2030.”
This is a great – and ambitious – target; most other companies have set 2040 or 2050 targets for their net zero timelines (if they’ve set a target at all). It’s a positive step, but we’ll be looking closer at what their policy entails, because not all net zero commitments are created equal.
“We have set near term emissions reductions targets, which have been approved by the Science Based Targets initiative.”
Science Based Targets is pretty much the gold standard for climate targets. It is a global initiative setting a standard for ambitious and effective climate targets. It helps companies, depending on the industry they’re in, define the emission reduction targets they should set to align themselves with what science is telling us to do.
When a company’s targets are approved by SBT-i, they are listed on their website with a status “target sets”. We did a quick search for Airbnb in the company dashboard on the SBT-i website, but there were no results. It could be that the dashboard hasn’t been updated yet – we’ll report back if it is.
In 2021, Science Based Targets launched the Net Zero standard, which sets a new bar for reductions targets and requires most companies to cut emissions by at least 90% across their entire value chain.
We had a look at Airbnb’s corporate sustainability update, where they’ve published their actual targets:
- Reducing scope 1 and 2 (absolute) emissions by 78.4 percent
- Reducing scope 3 emissions intensity (MtCO2e/$1M gross profit) by 55 percent
This indicates that the targets do not yet actually comply with the Net Zero Standard, but Airbnb makes no mention of this. We’re hoping to see Airbnb step up on their targets to meet this new standard soon.
“We have achieved 100 percent renewable energy in our global offices, fulfilling a commitment we made in 2020.”
Airbnb is a member of RE100, an initiative bringing together some of the world’s largest companies committed to transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy. Indeed, Airbnb has fulfilled its commitment to source 100 percent renewable energy for its offices. Airbnb seems to have done this by purchasing Renewable Energy Certificates (which are created by renewable energy generators to act as a compliance mechanism for procurement goals or mandates). It’s a pretty standard way for companies across the board to claim they’re running off 100 percent renewables.
“We’ve launched our new Airbnb Supplier Sustainability Program to help our vendors implement or maintain their own emissions reductions plans.”
This is actually the most significant step Airbnb has taken to reduce emissions, although it’s not yet clear what its impact will be. As with most companies, the bulk of Airbnb’s emissions (in this case, it’s a whopping 99 percent) comes from their Scope 3 – or indirect – emissions from their upstream (what they buy) and downstream (what they sell). Engaging with their suppliers to drive down emissions is HUGE, and perhaps the single most important thing Airbnb can do to reduce its corporate footprint.
It’s not clear if Airbnb is using a carrot or a stick approach (the report says “the program will ask suppliers to commit to measuring and reporting their GHG emissions and implementing or maintaining emissions reduction plans”) but this is definitely a massive step in the right direction.
Acknowledging the impact of travel on the environment
Airbnb has set some ambitious targets for their corporate footprint and has been relatively transparent in their approach. In the past few years, Airbnb has led the way in creating equal opportunities and promoting diversity and inclusion, and it’s clear they want to be seen as leaders in the climate space too. With this in mind, it would be great to see them become one of the first global companies to align their targets with the new SBT-i Net Zero Standard.
We’d also love to see them address the fact that tourism represents around 8 percent of global emissions, with almost half of that coming from transport (it’s projected that, by 2050, almost a quarter of carbon emissions will come from air travel). Are we likely to see Airbnb playing a bigger role in promoting climate-friendly travel, or encouraging travellers to stay closer to home (without the emissions-heavy air travel)? They have done it before, with their 2020 Go Near campaign (though this one was more about supporting domestic travel post-Covid). One way they could do this would be by displaying the emissions associated with trips to various destinations, to help raise awareness about the impact travel has on climate change.
Have you seen a brand announcement you'd like reviewed? Send them through to firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll have a look.