Swedish companies offer their employees extra ‘climate leave’ if they shun air travel

10 February, 2020 / Articles

Signe Lidén has been taking the train, instead of flying, for holidays and business trips for about 15 years.

Now her company is one of three in Sweden that will compensate employees for making the more environmentally-conscious choice.  

Mrs Lidén is the human resources manager at media company ETC, which owns the leftist newspaper Dagens ETC.

The introduction of “klimatledighet” – climate leave – means employees who elect to “stay on the ground” when they take holidays will get an extra two days of paid leave a year.

“Since we are a (progressive) newspaper that encourages others to do the right thing and make the right choices on climate change then it’s more important to practice what we preach,” Mrs Lidén told SBS News.

“We want to inspire others to do it.”

Those that choose to stay at home or travel within Sweden are also able to claim the extra days off.

“If you do a ‘staycation’, it’s even better for the environment.”

The change comes as the “flight shame” movement, which also began in Sweden as #flygskam, gains momentum, prompting thousands of people to avoid flying due to climate change concerns.

Air travel is one of the fastest-growing sources of carbon emissions globally, with the industry now accounting for about five per cent of the world’s total carbon emissions, and counting.

New figures show there has been a four per cent drop in the number of people flying in and out of Swedish airports last year with two million less people travelling through the country’s 10 airports in 2019 compared to the year before. 

Mrs Lidén expects the majority of the company’s 115 staff to take up the offer of extra leave, pushing up the company’s salary bill if substitute staff members are needed.

She said it is worth it if the incentive convinces more people to reduce their carbon footprint.

“The ones you want to reach out to are the ones standing on the threshold not knowing if they’re going to take the leap.”

The relatively small size of Europe and a high-speed rail network make trains a viable alternative to planes.

“If I go to London from Sweden, I have to do five or six changes but I can still get there in 24 hours,” Mrs Lidén says.

Since train operator MTR Express became the first to introduce such a policy more than a year ago, seven out of 90 full-time employees have taken up the offer.

MTR’s chief commercial officer Peder Osterkamp said the main goal was to reduce barriers stopping staff from choosing environmentally-friendly travel.

“The majority of our staff are operative and can’t work remotely so if they travel by train to somewhere in Europe they would otherwise lose a day at their destination, so this is what we wanted to compensate.”

Consultancy firm Edges followed in their footsteps at the start of last year.

Edges spokesperson Jeanette Nilsson estimates about half of the company’s employees will complete a “flight-free” year.

“As a company and as an employer we want to take our responsibility for climate change, and we hope to inspire more companies.”

The firm also compensates workers that choose to ride to and from work or take public transport for longer distances, paying up to $600 a year.  

Unlikely to take off in Australia

All three companies hoped the policy would inspire other companies to do the same, but the idea is unlikely to take off in Australia.

Unlike Europe, there are large distances to cover in Australia and a lack of high-speed trains.

Ecotourism Australia chief executive Rod Hillman said it was unrealistic for most travellers in Australia to get from one side of the country to the other without flying.

He also questioned whether “climate leave” would encourage people to make lasting change.

“If it needs a subsidy, which is really what providing an extra day or two day’s leave is, it’s hard to see how that’s a sustainable thing because if you change jobs how is that behaviour going to be reinforced?”

He advised tourists looking to make sustainable holiday choices to instead “travel for purpose” such as supporting bushfire-affected communities.  

“When you travel to places you’ll have a better experience if you get more engaged in what’s happening in the area.

“There’s plenty of citizen science opportunities, like going in and working in the environment, get engaged with the community, volunteer for a day when you’re in a place, step out of the well-trodden path.”

The science man and innovator, Fernando Fischmann, founder of Crystal Lagoons, recommends this article.

SBS News

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