While the COVID-19 pandemic caused a massive healthcare crisis and shrank the global economy, it also had an upside: it drastically reduced environmental pollution on a global scale. Reduced energy demands resulted in decreased fossil fuel consumption and fewer particulate emissions. This led to improved air and water quality, among other environmental benefits. And what’s not to like about blue skies and the absence of rush hour traffic?
This environmental upside brought sustainability into the limelight. Many businesses, more than 36% of surveyed companies, according to Business Travel News, increased their commitment to sustainable practices, including sustainable travel, as a result of the pandemic.
What is sustainable business travel?
Simply put, sustainable business travel is traveling in a less environmentally impactful manner. As consumer consciousness grows and government and industry regulations drive changes in the travel industry, corporate travel managers are increasingly responsible for sourcing sustainable vendors and incorporating sustainability into travel programs.
From selecting carbon-neutral travel options to purposeful business travel, sustainability requires the responsible consumption of resources.
5 Ways to implement sustainable business travel
If you’re wondering how to travel sustainably, there are various ways to implement sustainable business travel practices into your corporate travel program. Here are a few suggestions:
1. Implement Purposeful Travel Policies
Adopting a purposeful travel mindset encourages companies to look at travel as an investment rather than a cost. Identify the types of travel your company does and evaluate its importance. Can certain meetings or trips be combined to conserve resources and reduce carbon footprint? Could some business trips be shortened? Is there a way to identify objectives for each business trip to measure effectiveness? Asking these questions and others will help you keep conservation at the heart of your business travel program and make the most of your travelers’ time on the road.
2. Decrease Your Air Travel Carbon Footprint
Sustainability, as it applies to air travel, mostly focuses on decreasing the amount of greenhouse gas “Scope 3” emissions, as categorized by the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol. These are emissions released by airport operational and employee ground vehicles, airport utilities, and aircraft travel, with the latter accounting for about 50% of total airline Scope 3 emissions.
While a clear, single emissions reporting system is somewhere down the road, there are several simple ways to decrease your air travel carbon footprint in the meantime:
Select greener airline vendors. For travel in 2023, Delta, KLM Royal Dutch, Alaska, Xiamen, Cathay Pacific, and American Airlines received the highest marks.
Opt for greener aircraft. More fuel-efficient planes, planes that use sustainable aviation fuel (SAF)—a biofuel with a smaller carbon footprint—and planes with lower operating costs fall into the greener aircraft category.
Touted as the most fuel efficient, the Airbus a350-900’s range is 8,000 nautical miles and it can fly for up to 17 hours before refueling. Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner is about 20% more fuel efficient than comparable aircraft, and the Airbus a320neo is the most fuel efficient single-aisle aircraft.
Book nonstop flights. Direct flights require fewer resources as there are fewer takeoffs and landings and no route overlap between your point of departure and destination.
3. Stay at Hotels that Employ Sustainability Measures
Many pandemic protocols that hotels adapted prevail in the post-COVID-19 environment. Sustainability trends that “stuck” include asking travelers to modify their resource consumption behavior, such as reusing towels and sheets.
Sustainability importance increased significantly in the hotel industry; Marriott’s requests for carbon footprint information almost tripled during the pandemic, an upward trend Hilton Worldwide and IHG Hotels & Resorts also experienced.
As with airlines, there is no single agnostic hotel industry resource for measuring carbon footprints. However, there are sustainability tools hotels can use now, such the Hotel Water Measurement Initiative, the Hotel Carbon Measurement Initiative, and ENERGY STAR’s Portfolio Manager tracking tool.
If you’re investigating more environmentally friendly hotels as part of your travel sustainability requirements, look for your preferred vendor’s green certifications and participations in programs such as LEED, Green Globe, Green Key, Audubon Green Lodging, Green Seal, EarthCheck, and Travelife. Additional sustainability measures to look for include:
Property-wide recycling. This may include standard glass, paper, and cardboard recycling back of house as well as in-room recycling bins and use of recycled paper and donating unused toiletries to local charities.
Resource conservation. Low-flow toilets, faucets, and showerheads, as well as auditing water use, guest towel and bedsheet reuse, energy efficient light bulbs, and onsite alternative energy sources, such as solar panels, increase hotel stay sustainability.
Emphasis on organics. From coffee to flowers and food and beverage options, use of organics not only lessens chemical impacts on the planet but also supports fair-trade and local vendors.
4. Consider Sustainable Ground Transportation Options
Transportation is the largest contributor of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions—about 27% according to the EPA. As industry-governing bodies take more significant measures to increase sustainability and government and private agencies promote the use of alternative energy vehicles, markets are responding accordingly.
The electric car market is projected to increase 12.9% by 2029 and car rental agencies are increasing investments in electric vehicles (EVs) and charging stations.
However, EVs remain problematic for business travel except where charging stations are more available. If you’re opting to incorporate electric vehicles as part of your travel sustainability program, check hotels and lots for charging stations or consider EVs when trips require less than 40 miles of driving.
Hybrid vehicles, therefore, may be a more sensible option for increasing the sustainability of your travel program. Hybrids are also more widely available; major car rental companies Hertz, Avis, Enterprise, Budget, Alamo, and SIXT offer hybrid vehicles.
With the Global Business Travel Association projecting a 6.8% increase in business travel car rental costs this year, these alternatives may stretch your ground transportation budget and boost sustainability:
Buddy up. Encourage your travelers to share rental cars when traveling to the same destination, thereby decreasing emissions and costs.
Consider location. Book hotel stays and meeting venues with sustainable travel options in mind. Look for hotels with shuttles, near trains, and within walking distance, as well as public transportation and ride sharing where your risk management program allows.
Negotiate discounts on hybrid vehicles. Revisit your rental car contracts annually to ensure you’re getting optimal rates on greener vehicles.
5. Educate Travelers on Sustainable Business Travel Practices
The number of travelers wanting sustainable options is high—90% according to a consumer study. Of utmost importance to travelers are decreasing environmental impacts and supporting local cultures, communities, and economies.
Inform your business travelers of newly-adopted practices and teach them how to travel sustainably themselves. Organizations can even implement reward programs to encourage adoption of sustainable business travel practices.
And although their itineraries may not include the Galapagos Islands, travelers can tread a little lighter on the planet. This checklist offers ways to increase sustainability on a personal level.
Why is sustainability travel important?
While business travel is often a key measurement of economic success, it’s important to remember that travel also has social and environmental impacts.
For the altruistic, sustainable business travel practices protect and preserve our natural resources for the future. For those more driven by bottom-lines, sustainability sells. Business Insider reports that today’s shoppers “want more than just quality, often looking for products and brands that align with their personal values. … Protecting the environment topped that list.”
While there are many additional reasons to adopt sustainable business travel practices, your team needs to understand why it’s something your company is advocating for. Getting your employees on board with what you are trying to accomplish is the best way to reach your goals of a more environmentally-friendly corporate travel program. Once educated, your business travelers will be more aware of and make greener choices that benefit your company, their travel destination locales, and the environment at large.
How can a travel management company help implement sustainable business travel policies?
Christopherson’s corporate travel experts can help you implement green corporate travel policies that encourage eco-friendly behaviors while traveling.
As your corporate travel management partner, we will collaborate, guide, and assist as you seek out vendor partners who meet your sustainable business travel goals.
Our experienced corporate travel agents and your integrated online booking tool can help travelers book sustainable hotels, flights, and ground transportation.
And our AirPortal technology digitally aligns your entire corporate travel program by integrating those policies and plans so you can succeed.
To learn more about Christopherson, contact us today.