Sustainability in the Air
Sustainability In The Air
How Google is empowering sustainable travel choices through technology and collaboration

How Google is empowering sustainable travel choices through technology and collaboration

In this episode, we talk to Sebnem Erzan, Global Head of Travel Sustainability & Transport at Google.

In this episode of our ‘Sustainability in the Air’ podcast, Sebnem Erzan, Global Head of Travel Sustainability & Transport at Google, speaks with SimpliFlying CEO Shashank Nigam, and shares the tech giant’s vision for sustainable travel. She discusses Google’s vision that focuses on empowering users with accurate and consistent information to make environmentally conscious travel decisions.

Erzan also underscores the growing demand for sustainable travel options among users, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic. She shares Google’s cognisance of this shift in consumer preferences, and how it is leveraging its platform and technology to equip travellers with the tools they need to make informed choices.

Here are the key highlights of the conversation:

  • Google’s vision for sustainable travel and empowering users (5:15)

  • Staying attuned to evolving user preferences and incorporating feedback (6:30)

  • The decision to remove non-CO2 emissions from the Travel Impact Model (10:45)

  • Working with airlines to include CO2 emissions in search results (13:48)

  • Data sources and accuracy of the Travel Impact Model (21:49)

  • Enhancing user experience and enabling behavioural change (32:03)

  • Trends in sustainable travel and Google’s approach to staying ahead (37:00)

  • Rapid Fire! (40:36)

Keep reading for a quick overview of the episode.

Why Google’s Travel Impact Model matters

One of Google’s cornerstone initiatives to promote sustainable air travel is the Travel Impact Model. It comprises a transparent and non-commercial tool developed by Google to calculate carbon emissions for flights. 

Erzan explains that the Travel Impact Model utilises a combination of data sources, including information from partners, licensed external data, and public datasets from government agencies. The model incorporates granular details such as seat layouts and aircraft types, which are obtained directly from airlines or partners, to ensure precise calculations. Additionally, the model takes into account factors such as load factors and taxi times, further enhancing the accuracy of the emissions estimates. The model is overseen by an independent advisory committee and is available to the public.

By promoting collaboration and alignment in emissions measurement, the Travel Impact Model represents a crucial step towards consistent and accurate reporting of carbon footprints in the travel sector.

4 ways Google is promoting sustainable travel

1. Consistency and collaboration

Throughout the conversation, Erzan emphasises the crucial role of consistency and collaboration within the travel industry.

She stresses that disparate information across different platforms can lead to confusion among users and ultimately hinder progress towards sustainable travel.

Google recognises the need for a unified approach and actively collaborates with a wide range of stakeholders, including airlines, NGOs, and policymakers, to align methodologies and improve the accuracy of emissions calculations.

Erzan highlights Google’s efforts to foster collaboration through initiatives like the Travalyst coalition, which brings together key players in the travel industry to drive sustainability efforts. By working closely with partners such as, Skyscanner,, Expedia, Sabre, and Travelport, Google aims to promote the adoption of the Travel Impact Model and ensure consistency in emissions reporting across the industry.

2. Enhancing user experience and enabling behavioural change at large

Erzan acknowledges that behaviour change on a large scale takes time. She emphasises that education and awareness are essential first steps in driving sustainable choices.

She also shares Google’s ongoing efforts to enhance the user experience by adding meaningful context to carbon emissions data. While flight emissions data on its own is a critical piece of information, contextualising makes it easier for users to understand the actual impact of their travel choices.

For example, instead of displaying flight emissions purely as figures, Google makes the information more palatable by representing them as the number of trees that can absorb an equivalent amount of CO2. By presenting emissions data in a relatable and easily understandable format, Google aims to drive behavioural change and encourage more sustainable travel decisions.

Erzan also mentions other initiatives, such as displaying “eco-certified” hotels with a green leaf icon and providing sustainability attributes for accommodations, such as their efforts in water and waste management.

Furthermore, Google has expanded its sustainability features to include trains and buses, recognising the importance of promoting sustainable travel across various modes of transportation.

3. An independent advisory committee to ensure credibility

Erzan highlights the pivotal role of the independent advisory committee to ensure the credibility and objectivity of the Travel Impact Model.

Comprising leading experts from airlines, NGOs, and academia, the advisory committee provides valuable guidance and oversight to the development and implementation of the model. By relying on their expertise and adhering to a transparent decision-making process, Google aims to maintain the integrity and reliability of the emissions data provided to users.

The independent advisory committee operates through task groups and workforces that focus on specific aspects of the Travel Impact Model, such as the inclusion of non-CO2 factors. These groups work on proposals that are then presented to the advisory committee for voting and decision-making. This collaborative and transparent approach ensures that the model remains at the forefront of scientific understanding and industry best practices.

4. Collaborating with airlines and industry stakeholders

Erzan shares that Google is keen on working closely with airlines and industry stakeholders to integrate sustainable travel choices into their booking processes.

While the Travel Impact Model is available to all partners through APIs or bulk data uploads, Google remains open to exploring opportunities that promote a shift towards sustainable travel.

For example, Google has partnered with the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to establish global standards and enhance the consistency and accuracy of flight emissions calculations worldwide.

Erzan also highlights the importance of collaboration in driving industry-wide change. By working together and leveraging Google’s technology and reach, the industry can collectively work towards a more sustainable future for travel, she adds.

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‘Sustainability in the Air’ is the world’s leading podcast dedicated to sustainable aviation. Through in-depth conversations with top aviation leaders, we break through the clutter and provide a clear roadmap for a net-zero future.

Sustainability in the Air
Sustainability In The Air
Every week, Shashank Nigam, the CEO of SimpliFlying, talks to airline, airport, travel and technology executives to help make sense of the many paths to net zero, for an industry that is one of the hardest to decarbonize.
Whether you're a frequent flier, an airline executive or just love travelling, if you care about sustainable global travel, then welcome aboard.