7 ways to improve the sustainability of corporate travel

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Kate Fletcher

January 22 ∙ 5 minutes read

Face-to-face contact is an essential part of good business. There’s no escaping it, especially in a technologically driven world where so many of us spend our days basking in screen light. Ultimately, human interaction is more meaningful than ever and vital to the success of growing a business. So it’s no wonder that business travel shows no sign of slowing down.

Meanwhile, sustainability is increasingly important to consumers and employees, especially as the ethos-driven younger generations dominate the workplace. 40% of European and American corporations have witnessed the tangible benefits of improving sustainability when it comes to engaging their workforces, increasing productivity and boosting employee morale in the long run.

So with the topic of climate change unavoidable – tourism, including corporate travel accounts for 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions – and businesses needing to stay on the move, forward-thinking companies are honing in on how to better their organisations’ approach to managing travel.

Here are seven ways your business can commit to creating a more sustainable corporate travel strategy – some obvious, some you may not have considered before:

1. Use public transportation

Taking public transport more often could reduce carbon emissions by 37 million metric tons yearly in the US alone, so imagine the impact if this was encouraged globally. Suggesting your employees take trains and buses on business trips rather than using taxis is a key way to make corporate travel more eco-friendly.

As an added bonus many employees will find that commuting via subway or bus, particularly in larger metropolitan areas, can actually save time that would be spent in standstill traffic.

If taxis must be used, encourage group trips from the hotel or office in order to cut down on individuals and therefore the company’s overall carbon footprint.

2. Go economy 

Travelling economy rather than business class to reduce emissions is simple maths. Economy caters for the most amount of people to be on one plane, the more people on the plane, the fewer emissions overall.

Particularly for large gatherings like conferences, where a high number of people might be flying to one location, enforcing that your individual employees book economy flights will not only reduce their individual carbon footprint but the company-wide one.

3. Encourage low-carbon driving

Electric vehicles are responsible for a quarter of the amount of CO2 that conventionally powered cars produce. If employees are renting cars, give them the option of electric or hybrid instead of traditional gas or diesel vehicles in order to reduce their carbon footprint. Although it may cost more initially to hire these types of cars, the savings from the lack of fuel will reduce that burden. 

4. Book eco-friendly hotels 

There are now a number of eco-friendly hotels at all ends of the budget spectrum. Encouraging your employees to stay in this type of accommodation not only reduces your business’s carbon footprint but also supports another sustainable business. 

You can assist hospitality businesses further by persuading your employees to become green guests – reusing towels rather than having them changed every day, sleeping on sheets for several nights before having them laundered, turning off air conditioning and lights when leaving the room, and being mindful of your water usage. 

More often than not boutique or region-specific hotels are likely to be the eco-friendly option, but some larger chains such as the Hilton where 94% of energy is green energy have also made a commitment to sustainable business practices.  

5. Eat green 

Research by the Waste and Resources Action Programme has revealed that the food industry in the UK alone discards 1.3 million tonnes of packaging and 0.66 million tonnes of other ‘non-food’ wastes annually – over half of which are not recycled. 

Simply encouraging your travelling representatives to eat meals in cafes or restaurants instead of taking them to-go or having them delivered, will cut down on plastic, napkins, cups, other disposable materials and packaging that comes with to-go orders, whilst also reducing pollution. 

6. Minimise transport between locations 

Many travel bookings secure hotels and book group dinners at a city-level but going one layer deeper to the post-code or neighbourhood level can reduce the need for taxis, shuttles, or even a commute. By ensuring that where employees eat, rest and work are all in the same area, businesses can help them save both time and carbon output.

7. Measure your footprint and progress

Measuring travel as part of your company’s wider carbon footprint will enable you to see its true impact and define the steps you need to take to reduce this. For example, by conducting research into their carbon emissions, PWC has found that air travel accounts for most of their emissions and so focus their efforts on reducing it. 

Calculating each employee’s carbon footprint based on real-time data insight into their travelling behaviours can also help. Rewarding those with smaller carbon footprints but who still achieve the same goals, could also be an incentive for your employees to make an effort when travelling to focus on sustainability.

By using technology solutions to manage employee travel in a way that can support adoption of these seven areas, you’ll increase the sustainability of your corporate travel strategy at both the business and employee level. By encouraging employees to make greener choices, you’ll not only help the efficiency of travel but reduce your company’s environmental impact. And by becoming more sustainable, companies can make both a positive impact on the environment and a positive holistic impact on their business.

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Kate Fletcher