Pierre-François Brézès, Managing Director France of American Express, talks about the numerous initiatives of his group to help companies reduce their carbon footprint.
While the environmental impact of payment solutions is relatively limited, why is a major player such as American Express involved today in helping companies to reduce the carbon footprint of their travel?
Pierre-François Brézès – Certainly, when you think of carbon footprint, American Express is not one of the “usual suspects” in the world of business travel. Nevertheless, our commitment to supporting businesses, which is characterized by the expression “powerful backing” in English, is also expressed in this dimension. It even makes sense in this context, as our clients’ demands in terms of CSR have become more stringent. Conditions have really changed with the crisis. The objectives of reducing carbon emissions have a strong influence on new travel policies. It was therefore natural for us to pay a lot of attention to this important subject.
At your level, what initiatives have you taken?
P-F. B. – We have two levers of action, one of which is far from trivial, namely the assurance given to our customers that they are working with a supplier who is as committed to protecting the environment as they are. For example, American Express Group has declared its ambition to achieve zero net carbon emissions by 2035, well ahead of the 2050 threshold set by the Paris Agreement. In addition, we have been certified by EcoVadis in France for the second consecutive year, with Gold status. This certification attests to our commitments according to four criteria: the environment, social aspects, ethics and responsible purchasing. This creates a virtuous circle, as we turn to suppliers who are also part of this approach.
American Express also supports environmental projects, in which you now want to involve companies and their employees.
P-F. B. – Since April, we have been giving our customers the opportunity to support environmental initiatives through our Membership Rewards program. Cardholders affiliated with the loyalty program can now use their points to support the Courances forest restoration project in Essonne, France, run by Reforest’Action. We’ve been working with them for a long time, supporting them in their approach. And now, we are also offering our corporate clients the opportunity to get involved with them, as well as their employees, who will be able to participate individually.
In addition to your own approach, how is American Express engaging more directly with companies to reduce the environmental impact of their business travel?
P-F. B. – Indeed, the other lever is to help them better manage their carbon footprint and act for the environment while continuing to support their business. When we talk about sustainable development, there is the sustainable dimension, but there is also development. And in order to develop, companies need to get in touch with their customers, their markets. Which today means that they need to travel
As you have announced, this will also involve payment cards made of recycled plastic?
P-F. B. – The first thing we could do is obviously the core of our offer, the issuance of plastic cards. When we use this raw material, it seems natural, even a duty, to ensure that our cards are made of recycled plastic. In fact, the French market is the first within the American Express group to make this change for almost the entire portfolio. I’m quite proud of the fact that 89% of our card ranges – or 99% of the volume of cards issued – will be made of recycled plastic by the end of 2022.
What does this evolution represent? And for cardholders, how will the transition work?
P-F. B. – Compared to a blank plastic card, it emits more than a third less CO2, 36% exactly. In the context of the global deployment of recycled plastic cards, this represents 80 tons of plastic avoided per year worldwide. In France, this development concerns almost all our cards, including those co-branded with Air France
KLM and our purchasing cards. And we are currently doing R&D on the two remaining products to make them also in recycled plastic. Made in France, these recycled plastic cards will be deployed as sales and renewals come in. The worst thing would have been to ask each employee to throw away their old card to get the new one. The carbon footprint would have taken a big hit!
Working on these dashboards to highlight the environmental impact of business travel offered great added value
At the same time, the data from the expenses incurred will also, and above all, be used to better measure the carbon footprint of travel.
P-F. B. – We were already very active with large companies, providing them with dashboards to help them optimize their travel policy, create better travel policies and identify
economies. From there, working on these dashboards to highlight the environmental impact of business travel offered great added value. This idea is not totally new, since we were already proposing dashboards of carbon emissions linked to air travel. But today, we are moving towards something much broader for large companies. This means dashboards that include not only air travel, but also rail, hotels, car rental, VTCs and cabs, etc. These dashboards will be available in 2022.
While the calculation of the carbon footprint is still a matter of debate, how do you ensure that your measurement tools are relevant?
P-F. B. – We want to offer an extremely robust tool. We all know that we need to better measure our carbon footprint to better guide our travel policy and better define our strategy to reduce our environmental impact. Today, while there are no standard international norms, the idea is to base our dashboards on recognized market methodologies. In the air transport sector, for example, we work with the most accurate conversion factors available, i.e., those of DEFRA. In hotels, one of the standards used is the Cornell Hotel Sustainability Benchmarking (CHSB), and we will use this information to integrate it into our reports. You also have the Environmental Protection Agency, the EPA, which will help us with some of the other types of calculations.
Specifically, what information will these sustainable dashboards be based on?
P-F. B. – As far as air travel is concerned, our dashboards include several variables, such as the class of transport, the number of kilometers traveled and the type of trip (domestic, regional, etc.). For vehicles, it will be the type of fuel, the engine, the engine capacity, the distance traveled. For the hotel industry, the dashboards will be based, for example, on the energy consumption of establishments, the recycling of used products or the type of rooms. Our advantage is that we control the end-to-end chain between the buyers and the network of merchants accepting the American Express card. As a result, we can go very far in terms of granularity.
Your payment solutions give companies a fairly detailed idea of the full cost of their travel. Is your goal to give them a vision of the overall carbon footprint of their travel?
P-F. B. – The advantage of our dashboards and measurement tools is that they cover all the expenses that pass through the American Express spectrum, whether they are made with corporate cards, lodged cards or single-use virtual cards. Our payment solutions address both travel agency spending and spending paid centrally or individually on the move. This data includes both business travel and meeting and event spend using our corporate meeting cards. We have the ability to address all business travel. In the same way that Amex can provide companies with a view of their total costs, we will be able to give them comprehensive information on the carbon footprint of their employees’ business travel.
I’m Michelle, and I love to travel. As a former hotel expert for one of the world’s largest hotel chains, I’ve stayed in nearly every type of room imaginable (including many that were not so desirable!). Nowadays, I am fortunate enough to be able to explore the world on my own terms. From international flights to learning different languages, there is nothing too far out of reach!