Why we offer our staff extra holiday if they don’t fly

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Naturesave was founded 25 years ago with the idea of creating a more sustainable insurance industry. From the word go, our environmental beliefs meant led to a strict policy of avoiding flying for all business travel, using public transport wherever possible.  As a national business based in the South West, this has meant our key staff have clocked up some serious train hours over the years.  Naturesave has customers as far north as Findhorn, near Inverness, which involves an annual 12-hour train marathon.  

For those who are currently fighting the Flybe corner, we can see the appeal of getting around in the shortest possible time. For Naturesave however, this was never an option, so we never got used to it. Instead, we found we had a policy that added authenticity and evidence to our environmental stance.  Walking the walk has definitely made it easier to talk the talk. It’s also worth mentioning that whilst train journeys are longer, they are significantly more productive and infinitely more relaxing. 

Once we had established our no business flights policy, we began to consider whether we could influence the flights made by our staff outside of work. If we made it easier, would our staff consider travelling overland for their next holiday?  We considered different incentives and settled on providing additional holiday time to compensate for the extra journey time. 

In 2009 we launched the ‘Naturesave no-fly holiday policy’.  Initially, the offer was fairly informal and was for staff to receive extra paid holiday for the additional time it takes to travel overland, instead of flying.  Our staff responded extremely positively. There were discussions along the lines of ‘what if we want to holiday in Australia’ so we clarified that the offer was for mainland Europe only.  Longer trips would be considered for special circumstances.   When we started, sourcing the most suitable train routes was more of a challenge than it is today so we also assisted staff with information to help demystify European train timetables. 

How does the policy work?

Over the years the policy has evolved and become more formal. The maximum travel time that can be reclaimed is now four working days in any one year. This is agreed at managers discretion and uses the following qualifications;

  • Sustainable holiday travel means – travel by land or sea that has a significantly reduced environmental impact compared to journeys to the same destination by plane.
  • The policy does not include single-passenger car journeys, nor does it include road-trips with campervans or caravans. It does not include holidays which are journeys in themselves, e.g. long-distance cycle rides, cruises or walks – unless travel is required to or from start and end points.
  • The policy generally excludes travel within mainland England but can include travel to Scotland, Northern Ireland and British islands (e.g. the Isle of Man, Shetland Islands, Channel Islands)
  • Journeys that are already quicker, or comparable in length, by land or sea compared to flying are excluded. For example, taking the ferry from Plymouth to northern France. 

What has it achieved? 

When we set up the policy take-up was initially quite small.  It became apparent that many of our employees already take their holiday in the UK. This is in part due to our location. We are based in Totnes, and to many of our staff, the perfect holiday is easily achieved enjoying some of the world’s finest beaches, located right on our doorstep. Likewise, as a green and ethical business, there is also a tendency for our employees to be more focused on environmental issues such as low impact holidays.  Another inescapable reason was cost.  Train travel is nearly always more expensive as it competes with an aviation industry that is exempt from VAT and pays no tax on kerosene.  

Over the period we have run the policy, a quarter of staff have taken advantage of the benefit each year, resulting in an additional 1 or 2 days of annual leave per person.

In the last couple of years, we have found more staff taking up the offer. This is driven by increased awareness of the climate crisis, particularly the impact of aviation on the environment. Take-up has also been influenced by and the increased ease of planning rail journeys across Europe, using sites like raileurope.co.uk (formerly loco2) and the www.Seat61.com

Recent holidays that have been taken without flying are; a trip to Amsterdam which switched from plane to train, a long weekend skiing which switched from plane to car and two trips to the South of France, one which switched from plane to car, one to train.  The combined amount of carbon saved is shown below. 

  • Bristol – Nice – family of 3 = 1.5 tonnes
  • Bristol – Nice – family of 4 = 2.0 tonnes
  • Bristol – Geneva – 4 people = 1.6 tonnes
  • Exeter – Amsterdam – Family of 3 = 0.980 tonnes
  • Total saving – 6 tonnes

Royal recognition

Two years after we launched the scheme, Naturesave won a Queens Award for Enterprise for Sustainable Development. The citation highlighted our business travel and staff holiday travel policies. In more recent times we have has found ourselves singled out by key media outlets such as the BBC, The Telegraph and The Guardian, drawn to a climate positive story that is all about helping people reduce the emissions whilst doing something they enjoy.  In 2019 we were delighted to work with the campaign group Possible, (formerly 1010) to help set up the Climate Perks campaign. The campaign has a simple premise, to kick start a movement for clean travel by encouraging employers to take up the no-fly holiday policy. As a founder Climate Perks member Naturesave will always be happy to talk through our experience with any employer considering taking up the policy. Visit climateperks.com for helpful advice on setting up your own policy. 

The cost to Naturesave?

As a company, Naturesave absorbs the cost of the extra holidays awarded. In return, we receive two key benefits. The first is the appreciation of our employees, as well and prospective new employees. Those that use the scheme have reported that they enjoyed their holidays more and rediscovered the pleasure of travel. They also report feeling proud of being able to demonstrate to their friends, relatives etc that they have an employer who takes environmental issues seriously.  The second benefit is a commercial one. When customers are considering Naturesave they want to know how authentic our environmental credentials are. We find that our no-fly policy for business and our no-fly holiday policy is a natural corollary of our other ethical credentials and resonates with our clients and stakeholders. 

Who wants to join us?

Looking back, we have not had any significant issues running our no-fly holiday policy and generally find that staff treat the idea with respect and honesty. In essence, this is a net positive strategy that empowers both management and staff that real change is possible. We heartily recommend this to other employers. 

If you are an employer and want to discuss this policy in more detail, contact Matthew Van Den Elst, legal director at Naturesave on 01803 869 768