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What is sustainable travel?

Posted: 19 November 2021
Corporate sustainability programmes

Many businesses are conscious of their impact on the environment and are looking at ways to address sustainability issues within the workplace.

While improving sustainability within a business is often seen as a worthy goal, it doesn't come without a range of issues and problems that need to be addressed. Typical situations that businesses face relate to efficiency, profitability and market competitiveness. A business may want to improve its presence when it comes to sustainable development, but the financials need to be viable too.

There is often a perception that reducing a business’s carbon emissions, fossil fuel usage and improving its overall environmental impact can be costly, bad for profitability and take a lot of time to implement. This isn't always the case, as there are environmental drives that can be made that are quick to implement and can even be profitable.

It's true that examining all the processes of the business in order to assess sustainability levels can take a lot of time and effort—not only to assess areas where sustainability may be a problem, but also where and how sustainability improvements can be made.

Ultimately, a business needs to work towards an overarching sustainability programme that runs throughout the organisation. A business will also need the ability to set a target to aim for and in turn, be actively able to track their sustainability savings.

Most corporate sustainability programmes will need to encompass many different teams, business units and processes. It can be a daunting task to make improvements, from reducing single-use plastic in the staff canteen to implementing a more sustainable business travel programme.

So, where do you start?

One area of a business that can often have a big impact on the environment is business travel. Staff members may need to travel regularly for business meetings, which can be local, elsewhere in the country or further afield, as many corporations are now global.

There can be a number of different reasons why staff members need to travel—to attend inter-office meetings, go to seminars or trade shows, or simply to visit clients. While business travel is often planned well in advance, there's also a need for last-minute and dynamic travel, as plans can and do change.

The good news is that a sustainable travel programme can be quick to implement and can also have a positive impact, without impeding how a business operates or its bottom line. In many instances, implementing a sustainable travel programme can actually save a business money, making it more profitable.

Understanding travel sustainability

Firstly, what is sustainable travel? The goal of sustainable travel is to reduce or negate the harming of natural environments and cultural heritage.

Challenges in the area of sustainable travel are often directly related to sustainable tourism, with issues such as over-tourism and how the travel industry can negatively impact local culture and host communities.

Such challenges have prompted some travel companies to look for more positive incentives such as sustainable destinations, and a whole industry has grown that supports this form of ecotourism. New tour operators that specialise in this area are now promoting both trips to ecolodges and activities that support local businesses.

These aren't necessarily direct concerns for a business, unless they operate in the tourism industry themselves, but that's not to say that sustainable business travel isn't an issue that can and should be addressed.

When it comes to business travel, the issues often relate to the frequency of such travel and the fact that it often involves picking the most convenient and fastest method of getting from A to B, negating public transport options that are considered ‘slow travel’.

How can business travel become more sustainable?

How can a business travel policy be sustainable? A company may think that much of the talk around sustainable travel is greenwashing, but in reality, although many travel options do have a negative impact on ecosystems, there are important improvements that can be made that will make a significant difference.

On a global scale, a lot of business travel involves travelling by air, and this travel method can contribute a large amount of carbon to the environment.

For a business looking for a quick win, examining how air travel is used in the organisation can be an important starting point. There are a number of procedures that can be implemented in an organisation to help significantly reduce the carbon costs of air travel.

Reducing the total number of flights needed is a good starting point, but not always practical. However, evaluating each trip to see if it's really necessary can help. For example, if you have a team of people travelling to a business meeting, is it critical that they're all there? Reducing the size of each travel party can have a big impact on the carbon use of a business. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it's that there are other options available to businesses that can, in some situations, reduce the need to travel.

Choosing direct flights instead of multi-leg options can help to reduce the use of natural resources, as non-stop flights tend to take a more direct route and take-offs/landings can use up more fuel than flying at cruising altitude. Reducing stopovers also reduces the need to book hotel rooms, which saves both time and expense while further helping to improve sustainability.

Reducing or even stopping flights that travel a short distance and replacing them with more cost-effective travel methods, such as rail travel, can actually save a business time and expense. It can be quicker to take the train over a short distance, as they run more frequently and there's less need for an individual to arrive at a station hours in advance. It's also possible to work just as effectively on a train as it is on a plane, meaning that employee productivity can be maintained and downtime reduced.

Changing perspectives

One of the key ways to ensure that business travel becomes more sustainable is to change employees’ attitude towards it—a changed attitude can help them to avoid the negative impacts of non-sustainable travel. Some of the changes that employees can make are to ensure that the travel they're booking is necessary and as sustainably efficient as it can be. Choosing an eco-friendly hire car (e.g. a hybrid or electric vehicle) can make a big difference to an organisation’s carbon footprint, as it burns less fossil fuel. Even looking for more sustainable hotels, or picking eco-hotels that reuse various materials and have a good track record with their environmental policies, will add incremental improvements to your overall performance as a business.

However, you need to strike a balance between picking sustainable travel options and business performance. As happy employees are more effective employees, taking their travel experience into consideration is also important. There's no point in forcing employees to choose sustainable options if it impacts negatively on their lives . So, it's really important to ensure that alternative travel options become their preferred choices.

Benefits of a sustainable business travel programme

Save time: If employees spend hours on the road and are unable to work, it results in lost productivity and work time. Ensuring that travel is necessary and efficient while also being sustainable helps your employees to become more efficient in the workplace.

Save money: Choosing cheaper, more sustainable travel options such as public transport can save you money on travel.

Reduce your company's carbon footprint: It's great for the environment and good for public relations! Especially in a world where climate change and the environment are headline news.

Empower your employees to feel like they're making a difference: Many individuals are passionate about the environment and have made changes to the way that they live their lives—from recycling to using reusable water bottles. Many people are keen to shop in local businesses as a way of supporting and investing in their own communities. Working for an employer that has adopted a sustainability programme across their entire business can bolster employees' well-being in the workplace and reinforce the idea that it is a place where they want to work.

How Egencia supports sustainable travel incentives

Egencia Analytics Studio can be used to evaluate your current travel procedures and to make improvements, such as identifying short flight routes that can be switched to trains or other forms of public transport. These other methods are often just as quick as flights. Switching to more eco-friendly travel options will not only reduce the overall environmental impact of your business, but it can also save you money.

One benefit of using Egencia's tools is that they can help to take the guesswork out of planning eco-friendly routes. You'll be able to create multiple travel plans side by side in order to compare important factors such as travel time, cost and the overall carbon impact of the journey itself.

Travel managers can group sustainable hotels together so that employees can easily identify and select hotels that have been have proven to have their own sustainability programmes.

When it comes to transport types, it's possible to select public transport booking options and also to prioritise hybrid or electric vehicles when hire cars are needed.

You can also set up travel restrictions within your travel policy so that it isn't possible to book short-haul flights that can easily be replaced with public transport.

Your carbon footprint is completely visible in your booking path, so you can make better, more informed choices at the booking stage. Egencia offers full reporting on the carbon emissions that you're generating for air, rail and accommodation, which allows you to plan more effectively and to make more responsible travel choices that help to combat climate change.

Beyond tracking and having more flexibility in the selection of eco-travel companies, we can also provide other services to help improve your overall sustainability programme—from consulting work to helping to identify gaps and opportunities that will reduce your environmental impact. Egencia can also provide you with carbon offset initiatives and opportunities via our Advantage partners service. In addition to working on sustainable travel improvements, we can also support your business by helping it to move towards becoming carbon neutral via methods such as carbon offsetting.

When it comes to analytics, reporting and policy changes, Egencia offers your business a vast array of tools to make travel more sustainable in your business. For example, we can provide travel tips and help with educating the workforce so that they make improved, eco-friendly choices when travelling. This can be at an individual travel policy level or even at departmental level.

Egencia can help you to track how individual areas of your business are utilising travel and how they're performing against the targets and goals that you've set. Travel managers can view carbon emission data in Egencia Analytics Studio on the carbon emissions dashboard.

You can monitor the effectiveness of policy changes to ensure that your travel programme remains profitable and that traveller well-being and efficiency is being maintained. There's no point in creating a sustainable travel programme if it doesn't work well for your business and it's a chore for your employees. When you strike the right balance, you'll find that profit and efficiency can actually improve.

Discover how you can promote sustainable travel in your business, with ‘5 steps to build a sustainable business travel programme’.

Egencia has been carbon neutral since 2017 and we’re very proud of it. Learn more about sustainability in business travel

Looking for better business travel solutions? Get in touch with us.