Deletion of non-carbon impact of flights is temporary, reassures Google partner Travalyst

Deletion of non-carbon impact of flights is temporary, reassures Google partner Travalyst

The sustainable travel foundation founded by Prince Harry says it is working on better 'alignment' among governments, academics and the industry on the non-CO2 impact of flying

Search giant Google found itself defending the way it calculates the environmental cost of flying this week after it emerged it has taken out the impact of contrails.

This key non-carbon impact of flying requires more global academic and stakeholder agreement to provide Google users with accurate information, the firm said.

Contrails are the thin wispy clouds, usually described as vapour trails, that aircraft create when flying in the upper atmosphere.

They are thought to have a measurable contribution to global warming and the UK government effectively doubles the carbon emissions impact (multiplying by 1.9) to take account of contrails. 

Google made the change in July with little fanfare, although in April the firm did announce that it was working with Travalyst, the non-profit organisation set up by Prince Harry on its Travel Impact Model.

And as media reports pointed out Google has not sought to hide its calculations, posting its methodology on US software website GitHub.

Travalyst founding members also include Skyscanner, TripAdvisor,, and Visa. Expedia has also joined since it was launched, and Google and Skyscanner were the first to implement its sustainability framework in April. 

While the focus has been on Google, with the implication that it has begun downplaying the impact of aviation on the environment under pressure from the industry, the change actually stems from efforts to provide travellers with more accurate and transparent information to make greener choices.

Travalyst told Travolution that the decision to take out non-carbon impacts is intended to be temporary while greater ‘alignment’ from experts and other stakeholders is sought.

The organisation also pointed out that the data Google provides to its users is intended to help them assess the impact of flights while they are comparison shopping for the best option.

Because the non-CO2 impacts have been taken out for all flights Google users can continue to make fair comparisons based on their relative environmental impact, a spokesperson said.

In a statement Travalyst added: “We agree that CO2e [non-carbon] emissions are a critical factor in calculating the impact of aviation on the environment. 

“That is unequivocal and they must be factored in, however, it is crucial that we strive for alignment in how these impacts are calculated.

“Travalyst exists to bring a unified, credible set of sustainability information to the mainstream to help travellers and operators make better choices. 

“The absolute core of that is creating alignment on the journey to decarbonising the sector. 

“This means we reduce confusion and inconsistencies, which we know to be a major blocker in making better choices. 

“Currently there is not enough alignment globally among academics, governments and industry on how to calculate the impact of non-carbon emissions.

“However, there are active efforts underway to make sure that alignment does happen and we are fully committed both to helping drive these efforts and to reintegrating this factor as soon as possible.”