What Is Sustainable Business Travel & How Can You Benefit From It?

According to a report published by Transport for London, sustainable business travel concerns the managing of costs, social impacts, and environmental consequences of commuting for business. 

If properly implemented, an efficient sustainable business travel policy can reduce the need for employees to travel, save time and money while reducing an organisation’s carbon footprint, and increase a company’s reputation.

For the uninitiated, our guide will bring you through what is sustainable corporate travel and ultimately, learn how a sustainable business travel programme can benefit your company.

What is Sustainable Business Travel?

sustainable business travel
Business travel doesn’t have to leave a large carbon footprint | Credit: Mantas Hesthaven via Unsplash

Firstly, business travel is defined as any travel undertaken by an employee for the purpose of work and the cost of which is paid for by the organisation rather than the employee.

In this regard, a business that wants to promote sustainability in business travel would need to consider these common sustainability practices:

  • Financial sustainability
    As businesses have learned during the two years of movement restrictions, business travel can often be expensive and at times unnecessary. Financial considerations in this regard will relate to the impact of business travel on operational costs as well as the time cost spent by the employee who is travelling.
  • Social sustainability
    This aspect looks at the impact of travelling on the health and wellbeing of an employee. Typically this aspect of sustainability ensures that travel policies in place do not adversely affect an employee and ensures business travel does not lead to stress or result in other health impacts.
  • Environmental sustainability
    Plainly, this is the environmental impact of the organisation’s operations from its employee’s business trips. Different modes of transportation impacts our environment drastically. For example, a train from London to Paris emits 90% less carbon dioxide than a short-haul flight. Depending on the efficiency of the train and its systems, the number may be higher or lower, but it’s clear that the collective carbon footprint of a company is closely linked with its travel arrangements.

How can Organisations Benefit from Sustainable Business Travel?

sustainable corporate travel
There are both tangible and intangible benefits to implementing sustainable business travel policies | Credit: Ian Schneider via Unsplash

There are many tangible benefits to organisations who want to implement a sustainable business travel policy such as cost and time savings.

Scrutinising travel options may uncover areas for organisations to save on operational costs. We’re all accustomed to working online now and travelling business class for a one hour meeting halfway across the world is pretty much unthinkable. 

Furthermore, time saved by employees who are travelling can result in tangible performance improvements—up to 86% increase in work efficiency and up to 20 minutes extra work time per day. While the report cited references work from home scenarios, it can easily apply to executives making long trips for meetings.

Parallel to the tangible benefits mentioned, there are also many intangible benefits to sustainability. A proper policy can affect employee motivation, company perception, and align an organisation’s policies with local governments. 

Employees like to feel that they are making a difference in the world and a company policy that promotes sustainability can help align an employee’s personal goals with the company goals.

As climate change has transcended its status as merely a hot button topic, a company’s attitude toward sustainability will greatly affect how Gen Zs and millennials view as an employer. 

Job satisfaction for an employee can often stem from a sense of belonging to something greater than themselves, so a good sustainability policy goes a long way in building trust in an employee and ultimately, loyalty. 

Finally, many governments around the world have carbon emission goals that they have set and positioning your organisation in line with global movements may be beneficial. 

How can organisations create a sustainable business travel programme?

how to implement sustainable business travel
A great tip to start implementing a sustainable business travel policy is to choose eco-friendly suppliers | Credit: Ian Schneider via Unsplash

Back in 2019, Uber highlighted the need for organisations to reduce their carbon footprint and outlined some best practices that may be helpful. 

Aside from espousing their own ridesharing options, one suggestion sticks out as universal and easily implemented – choose eco-friendly suppliers.

Travel and accommodation go hand in hand in business travel and both has their own impact on the environment. Transportation like flights or rental cars have an impact on CO2 emissions whereas for hotels, the energy and water consumption rates. 

This can be mitigated by choosing eco-friendly suppliers. The S&P Global Corporate Sustainability Assessment (CSA) highlights the state of sustainability efforts by organisations across industries and has highlighted Air France-KLM as the most sustainable airline in 2019. 

For hotels, the Global Sustainable Tourism Council provides certification to hotels and other accommodation providers who have sustainable operations. Looking at these two resources will help decision makers determine the best option for eco-friendly business travel suppliers. 

Many travel agencies are now equipped with this consideration in mind and it may benefit policy makers to consult one before enacting changes or even outsource the job completely. 

Secondly, begin to introduce sustainability practices into your company culture so that employees buy-into the organisation’s goals. 

This can include little gestures like only providing e-tickets, choosing electric vehicles for car rentals, or providing employees who frequently travel with reusable utensils. 

These little changes can have a surprisingly big impact on how customers view an organisation and more importantly, how staff feel about contributing towards the larger goal of sustainability. 

Lastly, when travel is absolutely unavoidable, identify a carbon offset program that the organisation can contribute to yearly. These programs allow you to pay to reduce greenhouse gas emissions elsewhere around the world. 

NativeEnergy has a calculator for your business or travel and has verified projects that are proven to offset carbon footprints. Projects that they contribute to include wind farms, water projects, and tree-planting projects. 

Travelling Sustainably

travelling sustainably
The travel sector is said to recover in 2023 | Credit: Micheile dot com via Unsplash

According to Reuters, global tourism (including business travel) will return to pre-pandemic levels in 2023 and grow at a rate that will outpace global gross domestic product (GDP) growth. 

While this is good news for the travel sector, organisations should not forget the lessons learned from the pandemic. The lack of travel has had a significant impact on many aspects of the business—many for good. 

With the proper implementation of sustainable business travel now, organisations will enjoy the benefits of this paradigm shift while other companies rush to return back to normal.

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