Business travel is responsible for a large part of a company’s carbon emissions, negatively impacting the environment and contributing to climate change. Companies need to strive to align their operations with sustainable practices, and the concept of greener business travel needs to take center stage.
In an era marked by growing environmental consciousness and a pressing need to address climate change, the realm of business travel needs to undergo a profound transformation. Sustainable business travel refers to the practice of conducting corporate travel activities in a manner that minimizes their negative environmental, social, and economic impacts while aligning with broader sustainability goals. Organizations to reduce the carbon footprint, conserve resources, promote employee well-being, and make ethical choices when it comes to travel-related decisions.
Business initiatives to travel sustainably can include assessing the urgency and goals of a trip and considering alternatives to travel such as virtual meetings, utilizing public transportation and sharing rides, reducing the number of stopovers on business flights, and collaboration with sustainable partners for accommodations, airlines, and transportation services.
As many as 76% of companies say they have already incorporated or are planning to incorporate sustainability objectives in their travel policies. Forty-three percent of respondents in the Corporate Travel Study 2023 say they are implementing a structure to assign carbon-emission budgets to teams alongside financial budgets.
This commitment resonates with employees as well. In a 2023 SAP Concur survey, globally 36% of employees expect their employers to allow them to make out-of-policy bookings to reserve sustainable options. And in a study on business travelers’ attitudes toward sustainability, more than 70% of employees want their company to do more to enable sustainable travel – and would take a more sustainable mode of transport if financial incentives or sustainability programs were available.
Sustainability will become the new norm in business travel policies. Employee awareness and education is required to ensure that employee expectations are in line with corporate sustainability goals. As a concerned employee, manager or owner, now is a good time to examine how your company’s travel practices can be improved.
How To Prioritize Sustainable Travel
The fusion of sustainability and business travel requires a significant shift in corporate ethos. Beyond the traditional focus on profit margins and productivity, companies need to recognize the imperative to minimize their carbon footprint and contribute positively to the planet. The following guidelines provide a roadmap for companies to transform their business travel practices to being more environmentally responsible:
- Develop or revise business travel policy. Sustainability considerations and goals should be clearly embedded in business travel policy. Develop or revise business travel policy to encompass the guidelines mentioned below.
- Develop a priority framework. Create a priority framework that outlines the criteria for determining the necessity and urgency of business travel. Consider factors such as the purpose of the trip, potential environmental impact and available technological alternatives. Engage all stakeholders to understand diverse perspectives.
- Implement a pre-travel approval process. Establish an approval process that requires compliance with sustainable policies and aligns with the business travel priority framework. Include a mandatory cost-benefit analysis for each business trip to evaluate the potential financial and environmental gains or impacts.
- Analyze travel data. Review historical travel data to identify patterns in frequency and destinations of business travel to identify opportunities for reducing travel or replacing it with more sustainable alternatives.
- Go digital, local and regional: Leverage technology such as video conferencing and collaboration software to reduce the need for physical travel. Consider organizing regional meetings and leveraging local partners to minimize the need for long-distance travel, reducing both carbon emissions and travel expenses.
- Embrace flexible work arrangements. Explore flexible work arrangements, such as remote work or flexible hours, as alternatives to frequent business travel.
- Collaborate on sustainability initiatives and choose sustainable partners. Collaborate with industry peers to develop joint sustainability initiatives. Evaluate the sustainability practices of suppliers and vendors related to business travel. Partner with those who share similar sustainability goals, initiatives, practices, and programs, such as improving fuel efficiency, adopting sustainable aviation fuels, reducing single-use plastics, using renewable energy sources, and implementing water conservation practices.
- Promote environmentally responsible accommodations and transportation. Promote sustainable accommodation options and encourage employees to use public transportation, rideshares, and environmentally-friendly rental vehicles.
- Prioritize employee well-being. Consider the impact of travel on employee well-being. Educate employees about the positive effects of reduced travel on work-life balance and potential negative health impacts of frequent travel.
- Foster a culture of sustainability. Provide training to employees on the environmental impact of business travel and the importance of sustainable alternatives. Empower each employee to contribute to the company’s sustainability efforts. Consider implementing incentive programs to reward employees for choosing sustainable travel options.
- Track and reduce carbon footprint; consider offsetting emissions. Implement mechanisms to track and calculate the carbon footprint of business travel. Explore options for carbon offsetting to counterbalance the environmental impact of unavoidable travel. Set meaningful emission reduction targets, regularly assess the effectiveness of sustainable travel initiatives and use data-driven insights to make informed decisions and adjustments.
- Monitor regulatory changes. Stay informed about evolving regulations and policies related to carbon emissions, sustainable travel, and environmental standards. Adapting travel practices to align with changing regulations can position a company as a leader in sustainable business travel.
Sustainable business travel is not just a trend; it is a vital component of a responsible and forward-thinking corporate strategy. By embracing the guidelines outlined above, organizations can embark on a road towards greener business journeys and contribute meaningfully to a more sustainable future.
Anuja Agrawal is the co-author of Check-Up, Check-In: Why Business Travel Strategies Should Prioritize Employee Health And Wellness. Agrawal also is the founder/CEO of Health Flights Solutions, which has developed the leading platform for medical travel. She is a recognized leader in the medical and wellness travel industries and is committed to fostering practical conversations on the opportunities, efficiencies, improvement, and growth of the travel industry.