Tom Klein, Sabre CEO, was invited to be a featured speaker last week at the Harvard Sustainable Travel Forum in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The November 14 forum was hosted by the Sustainability and Environmental Management Program of Harvard Extension School and the event brought together high-level practitioners in the field of tourism — from government, private sector and non-profit — to discuss the relationship between the environment and tourism, and what can be done to better protect our planet (click here  for PDF version of entire agenda session info). Klein participated in the first panel discussion session, which focused on examples of sustainable initiatives that companies / organizations are exercising to help reduce emission levels and ultimately protect the planet. Listed below is background information for the panel session.

“If we want to capture and preserve the economic and societal benefits of travel, while protecting the environment, we have to get on with this.  It has to be a global priority.” – Tom Klein, CEO, Sabre 


Moderator: Megan Epler Wood, Core Lecturer, Environmental Management of International Tourism Development, Sustainability and Environmental Management Program, Harvard University Extension School


  • Tom Klein, CEO Sabre (Travelocity, Last Minute, Sabre TN subsidiaries)
  • Mauro Marrocu, CEO, Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC)
  • Kathleen Matthews, Chief Communications Officer of Public Communications and Global Affairs, Marriott Worldwide
  • Vince Molinari, CEO/Founder, Gate Global Impact, Inc.

During his opening remarks, Klein discussed several ways in which Sabre has embraced the opportunity to apply sustainable technology while working closely with the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) to develop and provide standards for environmentally responsible travel. He also highlighted the progress the airline industry has made in areas such as CO2 emission reduction and cutting fuel costs with the launch of the new Boeing 787, which uses 20% less fuel than older, similarly sized aircraft. Klein pointed out that the biggest way the industry can have an impact on sustainable travel is to tackle the antiquated air traffic control systems, which date back to the 1950s.

The current systems’ indirect routings force airlines to burn far more fuel and emit far more CO2 than they would with modernized systems like “NextGen” in the U.S. and “SESAR” in Europe. However both are underfunded by their governments and progress is slow.

Klein said, “If we want to capture and preserve the economic and societal benefits of travel, while protecting the environment, we have to get on with this.  It has to be a global priority.” He suggested what’s needed is a pragmatic, globally adopted solution that creates the right incentives for all parties – for both governments and the airline industry.

The European Union (EU) has proposed an emissions trading scheme that would create billions in new costs for the airlines that they and/or their customers would have to absorb, and the industry has balked loudly.

Klein proposed a constructive trade, whereby the industry agrees to some form of global emissions trading solution – perhaps administered by the International Civil Aviation Organization – that would be implemented in phases, but only if the next generation air traffic control projects in the U.S. and EU come online.

Airlines would get the modern air traffic control systems they need – and any costs associated with emissions trading would be offset by reducing fuel consumption and other saving associated with the new system. The governments would wind up with much improved economic infrastructure, along with some of the regulation they want.

Klein concluded by saying, “So much good work is being done by companies and organizations around the world, but when we don’t collaborate, when we refuse to compromise, the arguments just get louder and little if anything is accomplished.”