Travelogix Presents…Thrust Carbon
For Episode 8 of our Travelogix Presents series, we sat down with Thrust Carbon Co-Founder and Director, Mark Corbett.
Mark created a social enterprise in his early 20s developing educational platforms; he built Europe’s largest student technology event and won not one, but two hackathons with The International Air Transport Association (IATA). Consequently, I think it would be fair to say, Mark has driven some pretty unique change wherever he’s been.
In this interview, and off the back of a recent integration between Thrust Carbon and Travelogix, we had Mark drop by to talk about sustainability in travel and the role technology and innovation play in the world of greener thinking. We also learnt more about Thrust Carbon and why they are a “problem-obsessed business”.
Grab yourself a coffee and enjoy our chat with Mark Corbett, Co-Founder and Director, at Thrust Carbon.
“My career makes perfect sense in reverse”, Mark states. I believe he’s referring to just how much he has been involved with during his career to date.
Disliking “injustices in the world”, Mark created a social enterprise at university, which only fuelled his hunger for more change and more impact.
As a result, he set the goal of “building something that had a hard commercial impact along with a very strong social impact”. The education sector beckoned.
Mark tells me: “I have always been surrounded by fantastic people and in those early days, I may have been the most naive member of the team, but this didn’t equate to the least hard-working!”
Things started to spark for Mark when he met Kit Brennan, Co-Founder at Thrust Carbon, who at the time was working in the hotel world. They soon fired into gear and created, amongst other things, Europe’s largest student technology event – where clients included Nike and Tesla.
However, they found themselves more and more embedded in the travel space. It was their intention to create “something that sat in the background and did its job”. So, they travelled to Madrid in 2019 where they developed (in two days no less) an ancillary management tool at the coveted IATA Hackathon.
As a result, Mark and Kit were invited to compete at the next hackathon later that year in Germany, but this time, with sustainability as its theme.
Something clicked and they entered the competition with the team’s name being ‘Thrust’.
Early on, climate change, sustainability and social change inspired them both, so they accepted IATA’s invitation, and, in two days, they created a carbon calculator and the first iteration of Thrust Carbon. The rest is history
Oh, and for context, they won again.
Thrust Carbon: A vision of a world where our actions don’t have to cost the earth
Hot on the heels of our recent integration with Thrust Carbon, we wanted to learn more about the ethos that sits behind Team Thrust and their beliefs around offsetting and sustainability more broadly.
Mark said, “we came into the industry problem-focused. We asked ourselves things like, why aren’t people offsetting? what is the future of sustainability in travel? and what does the industry need to do better? and are there technologies out there that can help with this?”
Often, when we discuss climate change and the things that need to happen to get our planet back on track, we think only of the wholesale changes that are needed. Whilst there may be some truth to that, we can certainly lower the bar to achieve the incremental steps needed to enable these wholesale changes to take place.
In tackling one element of sustainability in the tracking and offsetting of carbon emissions, Mark and Kit made a few startling realisations early on.
Mark says: “At the beginning, Kit and I learnt that only 1% of travellers were offsetting their travel, and within that, we found lots of muddiness, inaccuracies, hidden fees and poor quality around the offset purchased.”
He continues, “we were shocked by the lack of clear data around carbon emissions. There was an inability to manage the entire offset process that could accurately show a flight, hotel, a travel package, or segments of an individual’s trip.”
When team ‘Thrust’ began to position itself for launch, they were due to do so with the aviation space and specifically with airlines. This just so happened to coincide with one of the world’s worst economical and public health disasters we’ve ever seen.
Undeterred due to the strength of their product offering, they switched their focus to corporates. Mark said, “by working with corporates, this naturally added a certain amount of pressure onto the airlines, into the TMC landscape and, of course, online booking tools.”
He continues, “when we came into this space, it felt like sustainability was the stick that was being used to beat the industry with.
“But if there aren’t any practical solutions, this ends up being a huge source of frustration and ultimately makes the end user feel incompetent whilst not actually chasing down a credible and realistic solution.”
Even in those early years, Thrust Carbon understood that it needed to adopt a realistic approach in the hunt to create real behaviour change.
Marks says, “we have enjoyed changing the narrative in the travel industry. As an example, showcasing that we could make a 5% or 10% reduction to a client’s emissions has proved vital.
“If these emissions were never created, these are emissions that would never be released into the atmosphere and therefore, removing the need to offset.
“Most people look at the net zero by 2050 target but to my mind, getting a 50% reduction by 2030 is the first incredibly important goal we should be aiming for. There’s some low-hanging fruit in the world of reducing emissions, that’s for sure.”
Sustainability silver bullet or a joined-up approach?
Nope. There’s no such thing as a silver bullet in sustainability. There can’t be due to the myriad of highly researched ways in which we can assist our bruised planet. As Mark coins, “offsetting is a necessary half-measure”.
He continues, “there are companies out there who have chosen to not go down the offsetting route at all, as they believe it isn’t the solution with the biggest impact. No! It is a worthwhile investment in both climate and local community projects.
“When we think about the bigger picture of how we actually travel for the least number of emissions possible, it’s not that complicated to imagine a world where you have as much of a level playing field as you would with SAFs, electric mobility etc.
“Macro investments are needed along with large industrial change. Airlines won’t replace their entire fleet with an electric fleet right away, this will be something airlines will have to work towards.
“However, in placing emissions data at the point of search, or inside of OBTs, we can place more pressure on the entire supply chain for future investments into sustainable infrastructure to make these changes happen faster. We know the speed of change is so vitally important and we care about the role we play in moving things along at pace.”
In January 2022, the Guardian cited a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) which highlights, and terrifyingly so, the journey our planet has gone through of late, and since 1980 for this particular report.
Being aware of this very same study, Mark tells me that “the U.S was pelted with 20 separate billion-dollar climate disasters in 2021 alone and at a cost of around US$145 billion.”
“With each passing climate and ecological disaster, it places more pressure on corporates and industry, in general, to ask themselves ‘what are we doing about this?”
There are some lofty clean energy and green commitments from the U.S with President Biden passing the ‘Build Back Better Act’ in 2021.
Originally opposed due to the level of investment, it seems as though there is a clear agenda when it comes to climate and clean energy in the U.S.
As reported in Nature.com, Jeff Tollefson wrote, “The bill, revised by key Democrats in the evenly divided Senate, would invest around US$370 billion in a variety of low-carbon energy technologies over the coming decade.
“This includes tax credits for businesses to develop such technologies, which could reduce costs and attract more private-sector investment.
The expenditure comes on top of more than $200 billion in clean-energy and climate investments that lawmakers approved in a major infrastructure bill in 2021”.
2022, and the road ahead
2022 has been a whirlwind year for most in the travel industry. Yes, the demand for travel has increased, as travellers and corporates alike are willing to get in the skies once more, but how has the year been thus far for Mark and his team at Thrust Carbon?
“As travel has continued to rebound, many of our clients have had the time and resources to invest in climate technologies, which is really fantastic to see for the sustainability world more broadly”, Mark tells me.
He continues, “this has been balanced nicely against the backdrop of Covid in 2020/21 where, aside from the survival element for most industries, there was much more of a strategic approach in terms of partnerships and of course, sustainability.
“Currently, we represent around £52 billion worth of travel spend globally and work with five of the ten biggest TMCs on the planet.”
In fact, the recent integration we have undertaken with Thrust Carbon opens the doors to yet more sustainability options for our portfolio of TMCs.
Mark says, “we are now able to open up a new world to the TMCs that Travelogix looks after from a data management perspective.
“Working with Travelogix to improve their clients’ access to sustainability data so they can make better decisions and ultimately, drive them towards net zero – along with their corporate clients – is a huge step for Thrust Carbon in driving tangible change in the business travel space.
“We need technology, and the optimization that comes with that, to achieve any and all sustainability goals.”
At Travelogix, we value data. I think that’s fair to say. But we also place a huge price on choosing the right partners and collaborators to work with within the travel ecosystem.
Adding to an already thriving sustainability offering here at Travelogix, Thrust Carbon provides yet another fantastic, behaviour-changing, sustainability solution for our global TMC client base.
Mark Corbett, and Co-Founder, Kit Brennan, truly believe in creating change. After all, they’ve been creating since their early 20s; whether it’s a social enterprise, educational development, or conjuring up Europe’s largest tech event for students – we (the planet) should be thankful they have found their home in the world of sustainability and emission reduction.
Thrust Carbon is playing its part in encouraging companies and TMCs alike to turn ‘effortlessly green’ by illuminating the emissions data ‘up top’, at the point of booking. They want to work with their clients to change policy and behaviours whilst encouraging clients to select the lowest logical emitting route.
They’re already working with five of the ten biggest TMCs on the planet, so I don’t think it would come as a shock if more were to be announced soon. Let’s face it, they would be in good hands.