LP Sustainability

Six ways to put sustainability at the heart of your travel programme

Discussions around climate change and sustainability have intensified over the last year, and the IPCC’s (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) latest report, released in August 2021, didn’t pull any punches. The planet is facing a climate catastrophe – unless there is immediate action. Governments, industries, sectors, organisations and individuals around the world all have a role to play. 

Including the aviation, travel and tourism sectors which, due to the carbon emissions associated with local, regional and global travel, have a heavy footprint. And lip service or handy greenwashing tactics are no longer going to cut it.

Lives have changed as a result of the pandemic. Priorities have changed. Travellers today are determined to make travel decisions that support their chosen destination’s post-COVID recovery efforts, and they expect the travel industry to offer greener, more sustainable travel options.

According to Bonnie Smith, General Manager at FCM, this shift will impact leisure and business travel alike, with travel management companies (TMCs), travel managers and bookers playing an increasingly important role in responsible travel and the implementation of real, measurable solutions:

Recent research by international hospitality group Accor showed that 85% of guests said it was important for a hotel group to protect the environment and the local economy. In addition, 67% of guests, including business travellers, said they would pay more for a hotel that has taken steps to protect the environment.

“Hotel programmes are just one example. Whether you’re relooking your supplier base, exploring carbon-offsetting projects or tracking your impact, corporate travel needs to respond. Responsible for thousands upon thousands of travellers’ travel plans, TMCs are in a position to change the carbon footprint of travel in South Africa.”

From reducing carbon emissions and saving water, to supporting local businesses, there are opportunities to build sustainability into every business trip. But where to start?

Smith says there are 6 ways companies can put sustainability at the heart of their travel programme:

1. Make sustainable travel a goal – and track it

Do you want to reduce your company’s total carbon emissions by a defined percentage? Do you want to reduce single-use plastic, encourage more eco-conscious behaviours, or support local? If so, align your corporate travel policy to your sustainability goals. Your TMC can help you calculate your travel footprint and assist with building sustainability goals into your corporate travel programme.

Importantly, says Smith, you have to use data to measure your progress. “The first step is to assess your travel emissions, so you can reduce what you can and offset what you can’t. Then you need to set up a dashboard with key sustainability indicators so you are very clear about your progress – a TMC can help with sustainability assessments, implementation, reporting and forecasting.”

2. Create and communicate your responsible travel policy

If you haven’t updated your travel policy, now’s the time. Establish a responsible travel policy and communicate your mission to adopt more eco-friendly travel practices. Your policy should include a purpose statement, scope, authorisation processes, and travel arrangement processes.

3. Stay in control of your business travel

A TMC’s online booking platform should allow you to have full visibility over your travel programme. This will help streamline approvals, ensure that all bookings fall in line with your policy (for example, the use of modern, more fuel-efficient fleets and low-carbon transport providers or green-certified hotels), and prevent leakage.

4. Prioritise carbon offsetting

Offsetting your carbon emissions can add further impetus to your sustainable travel goals. Carbon offset programmes allow companies to invest in environmental projects to balance their own carbon emissions – and according to Smith, carbon offset schemes have really come into their own.

“Once predominantly associated with tree planting initiatives, many carbon offset projects now include clean water projects, clean energy projects, and community and enterprise development – especially for companies who have ‘mission critical travel’ to far-flung, rural communities, where they can partner with local NGOs on the ground around projects of benefit to local residents.”

5. Green your travel supply chain

Choose environmentally-conscious hotel and transport partners. There are standards and certifications for sustainable hotels and resorts such as Green Globe and Green Key. Look out for these and ISO14001 accreditations, and consider booking exclusively green-conscious providers. Some airlines, like British Airways, offer carbon-neutral flying by offsetting the greenhouse gases from a flight by investing in verified carbon-reduction projects.

6. Make sustainability part of the conversation

Your responsible corporate travel efforts must have buy-in from the people who count – your travellers. Empower them with the tools and information to help them make informed decisions and travel responsibly. Tell them your goals, what you are doing to achieve them, and the role they play.

This will help to nurture a culture across the organisation where employees and travel managers are encouraged – and know how – to make more sustainable travel choices such as taking direct flights where possible, choosing hotels with green certification, flying with low emission providers, hiring fuel-efficient rental cars, and reusing towels and bed linen in their hotel rooms.

“By implementing a responsible corporate travel policy and encouraging more mindful travel practices, you can build sustainability into corporate travel and reduce your company’s carbon footprint,” concludes Smith. “Ask your TMC to assist with developing responsible policies and practices, traveller incentives, goal setting, CO2 reporting, and carbon offsetting.”

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