Sustainable Business Travel: How to Benefit from It

Sustainability is not a new buzzword. It’s an idea that’s been gaining traction in recent years. But what does it entail, and how exactly do you practise sustainability in business travel?

Understanding sustainable business travel

A guide by Transport for London explains sustainable business travel as “managing the costs, social impacts and environmental consequences” which come with business travel.

We usually think of sustainability in environmental terms, but a successful sustainable business travel policy also helps your company’s performance, reputation, and bottom line.

Encouraging employees to travel responsibly saves time and money. Reducing your company’s carbon emissions improves your reputation. All in all, it leads to better operational performance and boosts your competitive advantage.

3 key factors in sustainable business travel

Many companies are re-examining the necessity of business travel. | Credit: Brianna Tozour on Unsplash

To take a holistic approach to sustainability in business travel, let’s look at it in these 3 key aspects. 

1. Financial sustainability

The 2 years of lockdowns worldwide have prompted a shift to virtual meetings, leading many companies to re-examine the necessity of business travel. With the world reopening and business travel resumed, its operational costs and time costs are a serious financial consideration.

2. Social sustainability

Many employees have also adapted to the drop in commuting, the rise in work-from-home arrangements, and a newfound awareness of mental health. Accordingly, your business travel policy will need to address employee health and wellbeing and consider the inherent stress that travelling will place upon them.

3. Environmental sustainability

Carbon emissions are a necessary by-product of travelling. A common example of mitigating your environmental impact is considering how a train ride may emit less carbon dioxide than a short-haul flight. Different modes of transport and indeed, different airlines too, will affect the sustainability factor of your business travel arrangements.

Direct benefits which are immediately evident

Companies that implement a successful sustainable corporate travel policy stand to reap tangible benefits, chief among which are cost and time savings.

Let’s start with time costs. With the widespread change of working remotely, it’s easy to phase out old practices like flying halfway around the world for a single meeting. It may be common before for high-level executives, but is increasingly coming under scrutiny.

Take into account the duration of the flight, as well as hours spent waiting in airport lounges and queues and transits. Multiply for a return trip. All for a meeting that lasts a couple of hours. You’ll find that travelling time costs add up quite rapidly.

This translates directly to operational costs. Time is money, as the old adage goes. And time saved travelling is otherwise invested immediately in actual work. Long trips notwithstanding, this also holds true for smaller-scale travelling, like commuting.

A work-from-home study reports that remote employees spent an additional 20 minutes for each hour saved from commuting. Furthermore, 86% of respondents report working more efficiently from home.

Indirect benefits which manifest over time

The social factor in a good sustainable business travel policy serves to protect employees’ well-being. | Credit: Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

With continued implementation, a sustainable business travel policy yields much intangible value as well. You can think of these in terms of employee motivation, company perception, and even brand equity.

Many younger members of the workforce like to feel that they have a part in driving positive change in the world. Understanding this mindset, and being environmentally conscious is certainly helpful to your company.

Furthermore, the social factor in a good sustainable business travel policy serves to protect employees’ well-being. And when employees feel that they’re treated fairly, better motivation and stronger loyalty tend to follow.

All this in turn influences how the public perceives your company, and signal to millennials and Gen Z employees your values as an employer.

Finally, there’s the advantage of aligning your company with government mandates and global movements. It puts you in a default favourable position to external parties such as foreign investors.

How to get started on a sustainable business travel programme

Start by contributing funds to sustainability projects around the world. | Credit: Noah Buscher on Unsplash

In 2019, Uber published a guide on reducing your carbon footprint. In line with how ridesharing is accepted as a greener commuting option, the guide also suggests choosing eco-friendly suppliers.

Business travel is an intersection of many industries. Due to this interlinked nature, your suppliers play a big part in your sustainable business travel programme.

  • Consider transport options
    Transport options such as flights and rental cars can offer measurable and certifiable information on CO2 emissions. These data can be found in reports like the S&P Global Corporate Sustainability Assessment, which highlights such efforts across organisations and industries. As an example, Air France-KLM was noted as the most sustainable airline in 2019.
  • Be selective with accommodation
    When you take a flight, it’s common practice to also book accommodations. Thus it becomes unavoidable for energy and water consumption to be factored into your business trip. Reputable hotels today are forward with their sustainability practices and eco-friendly initiatives. Otherwise, you can look up certifications via the Global Sustainable Tourism Council.
  • Contribute to a carbon offset programme
    Carbon offsetting is an opportunity to neutralise the carbon footprint of your business travels. This is done by contributing funds to sustainability projects around the world. You can do this via NativeEnergy, which supports verified projects, including wind farms, clean water, and tree-planting efforts.
  • Implement internal practices
    Change comes from within, and you can kickstart things in your own company. Some examples are issuing e-tickets in place of printed materials, choosing only rental electric vehicles, or providing frequent travellers in your company with reusable utensils. These small actions ultimately motivate employees to get behind your company’s sustainability goals.

Be prepared for consumers of the future

Global tourism is estimated to return to pre-pandemic levels in 2023, according to Reuters. More than that, it is at a projected growth rate that outpaces global gross domestic product (GDP) growth.

To meet this expected boost in travel, companies would do well to relook at their business travel programme. The lull of the pandemic has given consumers ample time to reconsider priorities, and sustainability is more than just a topical hot-button issue now.

Hopefully, with this guide, you’ll be able to identify the strengths and weaknesses in your business travel programme, and target opportunities for improvement.

As is evident, the benefits of sustainable business travel are many, and most importantly, an area where companies can gain a ready edge over their competitors.


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