How to make your business travel more sustainable

Sagar Chandaria
VP Sales & Director UK

The turbulence of the Covid-19 outbreak is an understandably pressing and urgent global issue. Amongst a sea of uncertainty, people, governments, and businesses have been forced to rapidly adjust their traditional beliefs and operating and communication models. One silver lining is that, as we put the breaks on the global economy, we also reduced our impact on the environment. Experts expect 2020 to have the largest ever annual fall in CO2 emissions and many organisations want to build on this by setting clear objectives and actions to reduce their carbon footprint going forward. Whether folks are making individual bookings, you make lots of group bookings, or have a need to organise travel for conferences, introducing sustainable business travel in your organisation is a logical next step. How can you make travel in your organisation more carbon-friendly?

Simply asking travellers to reduce their travel carbon footprint isn’t enough. In order to develop a green business travel policy, you need to develop a rigorous process to bring a carbon mindset to the forefront. We encourage a 4-step approach that is simple to implement and will drive results:

  1. Measure your past and current business travel CO² emissions
  2. Set objectives and communicate your intent
  3. Reduce your travel carbon consumption
  4. Offset what you were not able to reduce

1. Measure

Just as you would track results of any other significant metric in your organisation, you need to measure your travel carbon footprint on an ongoing basis to bring it under control. Start by taking stock of your historical consumption across your flights, hotel bookings, and train travel over the past year. This will cover the bulk of your carbon consumption and set a baseline for the future. Once complete, you should shift to using an online booking tool (OBT) that tracks carbon as you travel, giving you real-time travel carbon impact. Carbon reporting and tracking are key to promoting sustainable business travel.

We built a simple tool to help you measure your travel-related carbon footprint. You can it access here.

2. Set objectives and communicate

One of the most important steps that organisations take for granted is setting concrete reduction targets and cascading them throughout the organisation. A carbon reduction program in travel must be effectively and consistently communicated. The tone, intent, medium, message, and the audience will depend on your individual circumstances but err on the side of over-investing in this step.

3. Reduce

Eco-friendly travel policies driven by carbon reduction levers typically come in two flavours: top-down or bottom-up. Top-down approaches implement broad-based cuts and let travellers deal with the underlying nuances. Bottom-up changes work to change behaviour at an activity level. The two can run in parallel, but a top-down approach that lets travellers own their commitments with bottom-up levers as suggestions is likely to be most effective.

Examples of top-down approaches

  • Introduce carbon budgets for travellers (e.g., 500 tons equivalent CO2/year)
  • Implement annual carbon reduction schemes (e.g. 10% year-over-year reductions)
  • Apply across-the-board travel restrictions (least preferred)
  • Introduce carbon reduction awards for your employees

The above approaches need not be uniform across your organisation: for example, a 500-ton CO2/year budget may suit management but may be too high for a member of your technical sales team. Remember that effective top-down approaches rely on a carbon footprint baseline — measure, measure, measure!

Examples of bottom-up approaches

  • Select travel options based on emissions, not only price
  • Avoid short-haul or use trains instead of flights
  • Shift in-person meetings to videoconferencing (videoconferencing tools are all unique in their own way — check out some reviews here and here to decide the best fit for your organisation)
  • Limit who can travel (e.g., management vs. sales vs. development) — this will depend on your unique setup
  • Downgrade class of service where possible

4. Offset

Although reduction activities and targets should be aggressive, they may not get you all the way there. In this case, you can further reduce your impact by complementing your program with offsetting initiatives, which compensate for emissions independently of your efforts to reduce your carbon footprint. Tree planting can cost as low as €5 to €10 per metric ton of CO2 captured — equivalent to an increase of less than €1 per ticket per passenger on the average short-haul flight. Offsetting projects can also be related to resource recovery (e.g., methane capture), renewable energy production, increased energy efficiency, fuel switching, and more.

Some travel platforms allow you to offset directly in the platform during the booking process, allowing for more seamless integration. You can also implement an in-house program that can be more widely adopted throughout your organisation outside of travel. Most importantly, work with your teams to choose an offsetting program that resonates with them; employee buy-in is critical. Some carbon offsetting initiatives to consider include:

Wrapping up

An effective carbon neutral business travel strategy should be well thought-through, documented, tracked against clear targets, and disseminated to all stakeholders. A well-implemented program is within reach if you spend a bit of time detailing what this looks like for your organisation both in terms of reduction and offsetting, setting a historical baseline, and outlining an effective communication plan. Beyond helping future generations, you’ll get the added benefits of a reputation boost and an improved bottom-line. To help you travel greener, we've created a Carbon Footprint Calculator, which you can use free of charge!

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