Since 2018, reducing the environmental impact of your company’s business travel has been an issue, and companies have been under increasing pressure to address their travel-related carbon footprints and act more sustainably. Today, many businesses recognize the benefits of sustainable travel. This understanding – paired with an increased demands for sustainability metrics and travel changes resulting from the pandemic – has made NOW the perfect time for every business to get serious about sustainability and going green.
Prior to the global outbreak of COVID-19, data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) showed that more British people flew abroad in 2018 than any other nationality. Roughly one in every dozen air passengers was British: They simply took to the skies 126.2 million times in 2018, beating the Americans and Chinese into seconds and third place.
Needless to say, the above figures come at an environmental price, making it increasingly more paramount for businesses to create programmes that are both good for the environment and their respective businesses.
Another pre-pandemic example from Sweden illustrates how the number of passengers flying from Swedish airports fell every month in the year to July 2019. The chief executive of SAS directly linked the drop in air traffic to ‘flygskam’ or ‘flight shame’: A movement originating in Sweden in which people pledged to stop flying in order to help reduce the harmful greenhouse gas emissions driving the global climate emergency.
CREATING PROGRAMMES THAT ARE GOOD FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AS WELL AS FOR YOUR BUSINESS
However, regardless of many or few passengers taking to the skies, it seems as if businesses are rethinking and rebuilding their travel programmes for a post-pandemic world. Additionally, it seems as if NOW is the perfect time for travel managers to establish new practices and metrics to embrace the right blend of sustainability, safety, and convenience.
As business travel resumed after COVID-19 and business travelers started to peer out from behind the pandemic, sustainability has been top of mind. From prioritizing fuel-efficient flights to electric ground transportation to opting for virtual meetings, travelers are rethinking their travel habits and looking at travel through sustainability lenses.
Data from Sustainability Index and 2021 Global Travel Manager Report has given valuable insights into what is on business travelers’ minds, e.g., showing that they are, in fact, considering:
Getting to this level of sustainability means building policies, practices and, most importantly, choices into your travel and expense programme. By digitally connecting your data across the entire spending process – simply making non-strategic procurement simple! – the TPE solutions will help refine that exact strategy: Making sustainability foundational to your business and a critical part of your broader social responsibility plans.
UNDER PRESSURE: SOME BACKGROUND FACTS & FIGURES
Aviation is by no means the only contributor to greenhouse gases (of which carbon-dioxide is one), but it is particularly problematic. According to the UK Committee on Climate Change, the volume of greenhouse gases caused by aviation has doubled since 1990, whereas most other sources of these gases have stayed flat. And where efforts to reduce those other sources are showing signs of success, the explosive growth of aviation worldwide means aircraft is likely to be the #1 or #2 polluter globally by 2050.
Environmental activism against aviation means companies increasingly risk reputational damage if perceived not to be curbing their business travel related emissions. However, aside from groups like Extinction Rebellion, we see other kinds of pressure mounting to become more sustainable about travel:
At EU and local level, increasing requirements pressure businesses to report on the emissions for which they are responsible – both directly and indirectly – and to outline their sustainability strategies.
Environmental responsibility is playing a growing part in recruitment and retention of talent, with potential and existing employees wanting to work for businesses that have a reputation for being green.
European governments are increasing taxation on air travel. France announced an ‘eco-contribution’ of EUR 1.50 – 18.00, depending on destination and cabin class from the beginning of 2020. In Denmark, SAS and Copenhagen’s airport authority proposed a small departure tax to fund environmental research.
WHAT YOU AND YOUR ORGANIZATION CAN DO TO ACT MORE SUSTAINABLY
There are three main options:
The only true way to go carbon-free is to stop traveling completely – and, in all likelihood, that is not realistic. According to the aviation industry lobbying organization ‘The Air Transport Action Group’, 25% of all company sales are dependent upon air transport, in some way. The obvious answer is to eliminate non-essential trips, yet surely businesspeople already avoid traveling unless they really need to. – Even so, there could still be opportunities to cut down.
Focus on non-client travel
PwC’s UK business reduced its total travel-related CO2 emissions by 4% between 2007 and 2017 – in spite of the firm doubling its business. Travel-related emissions per employee feel another 2% in 2019, and key to PwC’s success was a 90% reduction in travel that did not involve meeting clients.
Make travelers give a reason
It is mandatory for PwC employees to state the reason for any trip that does not involve clients. This makes them think both long and hard about whether they can actually justify traveling.
PwC has given direct training to 5,000 business travelers about how they can reduce emissions through only traveling when necessary.
Reduce even if you cannot eliminate
Regular client or team meetings can be very important. However, there are still ways to travel less, e.g., meet twice a year instead of four times, or send only one person to see a client instead of two. If team members from multiple sites need to meet, always choose the location that involves the shortest aggregated distance to travel instead of rotating locations each time.
Offer good virtual alternatives
Make sure the conference options you offer are easily accessible and very reliable. Coordinate travel and virtual meeting options, e.g., on the same booking portal, so that employees can make better choices.
Use the train
The Swedish mobile operator Telia’s travel policy states that all journeys under 500 km must be by rail instead of by air.
Minimize emissions when flying
There is no such thing as flying greener; however, some trips produce fewer emissions than others:
Reduce ground transportation emissions
This is a contentious way to go greener. Although tree-planting and other initiatives are very helpful in reducing net emissions, critics complain offsetting encourages companies to take a complacent view that they are already tackling sustainability and, thus, do not need to cut back on the travel.
Take a close look at potential schemes to ensure that their carbon-reduction projects are valid and do not create problems of their own, such as using land that breaches indigenous rights, etc. Also bear in mind that some airlines are beginning to offset flights themselves, so there is no need to make offset contributions for booking with those carriers.
WHEN EMBRACING TRAVEL SUSTAINABILITY, DO IT SINCERELY AND COHERENTLY
We see great success stories of companies shrinking their travel-related carbon footprints, e.g., the Norwegian bank Nordea has reduced air travel between its Nordic offices by 21% since 2017.
A clear pattern has emerged of which companies win at sustainability. They have a genuine commitment throughout their lines of businesses to improving environmental performance, and they conceive and execute a comprehensive carbon-reduction strategy. The strategy includes making commitments and meeting them – not only by setting, but also by monitoring relevant key performance indicators, writing clear policy rules, and investing in extension education and communication. In other words: To succeed, sustainability needs to be sustained – and genuine.
AND LAST, BUT CERTAINLY NOT LEAST
From a TPE perspective, you don’t have to get there overnight! Sustainable travel is a significant and ongoing endeavour that is not going to happen immediately. The TPE solutions in place help you move at a pace that is right for you, and you can create different settings for each country, region, or user group. In short, we help make it work how you need it to, when you need it to, and where you need it to.