A road amongst trees and solo panels

Is wiping the slate “green” the next logical step for corporate travel?

The Earth is already 1.1°C / 33.98°F warmer than it was in the 1800s. As attendees at the November 2022 COP27 gathering in Sharm el-Sheikh made abundantly clear: global carbon emissions need to be reduced by 45% by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050 if we’re to avoid an irreversible climate disaster.

It’s a daunting picture, and a real challenge for the travel industry where most carbon emissions are due to air travel.

It’s also given organisations around the world (many who rely on business travel) a lot to think about. While airlines are working hard to develop and scale sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), it’s going to be some time before its widely available. SAF currently accounts for less than 0.1% of the aviation fuel market. Until there are viable, sustainable, and scalable alternatives to traditional jet fuel (and none is expected until at least 2030) businesses are going to have to reduce and rethink their business travel.

The good news is that there is a growing appetite for change

In a recent global survey, FCM asked clients, “Of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are implemented into your travel programme?”

  • 42% of respondents stated #13 – Climate Action;
  • 35% stated #3 – Good Health & Wellbeing; and
  • 32% stated #12 – Responsible Consumption & Production

This shows that FCM clients are becoming more serious about their company’s sustainability goals – and their travel footprint.

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

1. Make it a goal!

If, for example, your goal is to reduce your company’s emissions by 45% by 2030, you’ll need to eliminate unnecessary trips, prioritise “quality over quantity” and, most importantly, measure your progress.

There’s no doubt that certain trips can be replaced by virtual meetings, direct flights use significantly less carbon dioxide than connecting flights, and that many shorter, regional flights can be replaced by the train. According to the 2021 U.S. Department of Energy Data Book, Amtrak is 46% more energy efficient than traveling by car and 34% more energy efficient than domestic air travel in the United States, while the U.K. Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy reports Eurostar’s carbon footprint is just six grams of carbon dioxide equivalents per passenger per kilometer compared to 255 grams for a domestic airline flight.

Booking data also shows that hotel stays are getting longer, a clear sign that companies are opting to travel less but stay longer, replacing one-night jaunts with more meaningful trips. 

But in order to be successful, you need to calculate your current carbon footprint, look at your travel data to understand how and when you travel, and work closely with your Account Manager to set achievable goals.

2. Create and communicate a new, responsible travel policy

Does your current travel policy reflect your sustainability goals? It should include everything from reasons to travel to preferred supplier guidelines. For example, do you prefer your employees to use public transportation? Would you encourage renting EVs?

Importantly, your travel policy should detail your approval processes. Who must justify travel and who approves? Work closely with your Account Manager to create a comprehensive travel policy, and then communicate it to staff to ensure everyone is onboard and committed to change. 

3. Say yes to the tech

Travel technology is advancing quickly, and the right tech can support and drive your sustainability journey, including carbon calculators to measure your impact and dashboards to measure your progress.

Today’s online booking platforms also use alerts and popups to “green flag” more sustainable choices. For example, encouraging direct routes, and including new features that display CO2 emissions at every point in the itinerary, including each leg of a flight, train and car trips. These “nudges” encourage travellers to make greener, more responsible travel choices.

4. Get serious about carbon offsetting!

Carbon offset initiatives make it easy for organisations to offset their carbon footprint by investing in reforestation and renewable energy projects. In fact, companies can choose projects that match their values and ethos, be it solar, wind, biomass, or community-building projects in regions where they operate.

5. Paint your travel supply chain green

Choose environmentally conscious hotel and transportation 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.

There’s no doubt that it’s time for a new, smarter, and more responsible approach to business travel.

Some companies have set ambitious goals. In one stunning example, World Wide Fund for Nature UK is implementing strict carbon budgets, whereby a maximum carbon budget is set and divided up between departments…and once it is reached, all travel stops.

It’s time for a clean (green) slate. There are attainable ways to reduce your business travel emissions. You just need the will, and the right travel partners to help you do it.

Want to put sustainability at the heart of your travel programme?

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