How To Make Business Travel More Sustainable

Business travel is having a resurgence as the COVID-19 pandemic slows down and in-person events have resumed. Professionals are enjoying face-to-face collaboration and networking after several years of working remotely. In fact, 32% of consumers are planning to travel for business in 2023.

As organizations resume regular business travel, it brings up questions of sustainability and ethics. How should we reduce our impact on the environment while traveling for business? How can we be mindful of the communities we’re visiting and have a positive impact?

Now is the perfect time to rethink the way we travel for work. The public is more aware of sustainability issues than ever. According to a recent report from the Global Business Travel Association, 89% of business travel industry professionals cite sustainability as a priority for their company. This cultural shift means that there are plenty of resources and tools to help your organization implement more sustainable business travel.

What is sustainable travel?

At its core, sustainable travel focuses on minimizing the negative or harmful impacts of travel while simultaneously emphasizing its positive aspects. For business travel, changes typically need to be made on both an individual and organizational level.

Reducing our impact on the environment is one of the most talked-about aspects of sustainable travel. According to the GBTA, the top three sustainability priorities for business travel professionals are emissions reduction, energy efficiency, and waste reduction. Environmentally-friendly behaviors are a key component of any sustainable travel strategy.

Social and cultural considerations are an equally important component of sustainable travel. Mass travel dramatically changes a destination’s economy and culture in both positive and negative ways. Sustainable business travel uplifts the community you’re visiting, rather than creating further challenges for the people who live there.

Ways to make business travel more sustainable

There are many ways to make your business trips more sustainable without compromising on important in-person cooperation. Even small changes to your business travel routine can make a big impact in the long run. Here are 12 of our best sustainable travel practices for business.

1. Book business travel selectively

Before planning a business trip, consider whether there are remote work alternatives. Video conferencing and digital project management tools have made it easier than ever to conduct meetings from anywhere in the world without traveling.

Of course, there will always be important meetings, conferences, and events that need to happen in person. Consider scheduling multiple meetings or events in the same trip when possible. Eliminating unnecessary business trips will give your team more time and energy to focus on essential travel and reduce your corporate carbon footprint.

When deciding whether a trip is essential or not, keep your destination in mind. Some destinations are adversely affected by high volumes of tourism, while others are encouraging travel because of its economic benefits. For example, Barcelona has long struggled with high volumes of visitors, but there are many other cities and towns nearby that work well as alternatives for conferences.

2. Book lower emissions flights

The aviation industry is a significant source of CO2 emissions globally. As of 2018, flying was responsible for 2.5% of global carbon emissions. Booking direct flights will help you reduce your business travel carbon footprint overall.

Not only do direct flights cover shorter distances, but they also reduce the number of takeoffs and landings completed during your trip. Carbon emissions are highest during takeoff and landing. Along with reducing emissions, many business professionals prefer to fly direct. You’ll spend less time in the air and have more time once you arrive at your destination.

Additionally, flying in economy class accounts for fewer emissions overall than business class. Although you’ll have a little less legroom, your individual carbon footprint will be smaller because there are more people on the flight.

When choosing an airline, opt for carriers that have a sustainability strategy in place. For example, some airlines have opted to invest in fuel-efficient planes and sustainable fuel options.

3. Consider eco-friendly transportation alternatives

When planning your trip, consider a variety of different transportation options to find the most eco-friendly choice. If your final destination isn’t too far away, consider taking a train or intercity bus instead of flying. For group trips, carpooling is also an effective way to reduce your carbon footprint, especially if you have access to an electric or hybrid vehicle.

While these alternative modes of transportation may take longer than flying, many people find them more comfortable and less stressful. For example, trains, buses, and cars offer more legroom than plane seats. In some cases, ground transportation is cheaper than flying as well.

4. Walk, bike, or use public transit at your destination

Once you arrive at your destination, skip the rental car or taxi to reduce your emissions. Look for hotels that are within walking distance to the office or event venue where you will be meeting.

Additionally, look for hotels in areas that have public transportation or bike share options and encourage your team to use them. Rideshare apps are a good alternative if public transportation isn’t available.

Look at all of the public transit options in your destination. Many travelers focus entirely on local subway systems, but buses can also be a very effective and affordable way to get from place to place. Many cities also have commuter rail systems, which are very effective if you need to travel to a nearby suburb or town.

5. Invest in carbon offsets

Virtually every form of travel will result in some carbon emissions, even if you use eco-friendly modes of transit. Investing in corporate carbon offsetting will help you balance out the CO2 you create with projects that reduce greenhouse gasses elsewhere.

Our carbon neutral corporate travel program gives businesses a straightforward way to neutralize emissions. First, we’ll calculate your total travel carbon footprint based on all of your transportation and hotel stays. Then, you’ll purchase an appropriate amount of offsets or sign up for an ongoing subscription plan. If you’d prefer to automate the process, our carbon api can be integrated with your corporate travel management software to power carbon measurement and offsetting for each booking.

If your employer doesn’t have an offset program in place, you can still balance out your own business travel emissions. Our online carbon calculator can be used to calculate and offset emissions from one or multiple trips in just a few clicks.

Regardless of how you purchase carbon offsets, the money you spend goes to our mixed portfolio of climate projects. This includes projects like maintaining forests, generating clean renewable energy, or restoring degraded wetlands. These projects fight climate change by removing CO2 from the atmosphere or preventing new emissions from happening.

Along with reducing emissions, these projects also create added benefits for communities and wildlife which can advance your broader ESG goals. Carbon offsets should be utilized alongside decarbonization tactics to minimize your negative impact on the environment and accelerate the global transition to net zero.

6. Choose hotels with environmentally friendly practices

According to the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance, hotels need to reduce per-room carbon emissions by 66% by 2030. Many major hotel chains have already implemented environmentally friendly practices to conserve energy and water and minimize waste.

Single-use plastic is one of the largest sources of waste, so many hotels have switched to bulk toiletries as well as reusable silverware and recycling whenever possible. Additionally, many hotels are using composting to reduce food waste and have altered their on-site menus to be more environmentally friendly.

When selecting hotels for your trip, look into their sustainability practices and use of renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and geothermal power. For example, many hotels will now only provide new towels and sheets upon request to reduce the amount of laundry they do each day. Many modern hotels also use smart technology that automatically shuts off the lights or turns down the thermostat to cut back on electricity usage.

Environmentally friendly hotels will usually have a detailed sustainability plan on their website. Certifications from LEED and other sustainability organizations are also a positive sign to watch for.

7. Go paperless with your travel documents

Switching from paper to digital travel documents is a simple and convenient sustainability practice. Not only does this reduce paper waste, but it makes travel planning and organizing more efficient.

Most airlines have their own apps where customers can download digital boarding passes and view details for upcoming flights. Some hotel chains also have mobile apps where you can book upcoming stays and view booking confirmations.

For group travel, use cloud-based tools to share itineraries, schedules, and other key pieces of travel information with your entire team. Paper documents often end up lost in the shuffle, while digital documents are easily accessible as long as you have a device with internet access.

8. Support local restaurants and vendors

Eating at local restaurants is one of the best ways to make sure that the community benefits from the dollars you’re spending in their city. Additionally, it’s one of the best ways to get to know the city and give your team an experience that they wouldn’t get at home.

When planning business dinners for your trip, choose restaurants that are owned and operated locally, rather than large chains. Additionally, look for restaurants that offer fair pay and good working conditions for their staff.

If possible, look for restaurants that use locally sourced ingredients, as this lowers the carbon footprint of your meal. Opting for vegetarian or vegan dishes when available is another way to minimize your impact on the planet. In general, eating a vegetarian diet results in about half the carbon emissions of a meat-heavy diet. Even if you’re not fully vegetarian or vegan, cutting meat out of your diet occasionally or eating less beef still makes a difference.

9. Offer reusable water bottles for your team

When you’re on the go, it’s easy to pick up single-use plastic water bottles to stay hydrated. However, even a few plastic water bottles per day on a trip can quickly lead to a large amount of waste.

A fun and easy way to encourage sustainability among your team members while traveling is to provide branded reusable water bottles for travel. Many airports, hotels, and conference centers have water refill stations to encourage sustainability.

Company water bottles are not only sustainable, but they’re a great way to increase your organization’s brand awareness. You can take things even further by offering other reusable branded items, such as lunchboxes or shopping bags.

10. Be respectful of the local community

When you’re traveling for business, it’s important to remember that you’re a guest in someone else’s community, so treat it with the same kindness that you would treat your own community. Avoid littering and leave any space you visit the way you found it.

Additionally, be respectful of the local culture and customs. Research the culture before you visit and make sure that your entire team is aware of the proper etiquette for both business and social situations. This way, you’ll present your organization in a positive light and avoid offending those around you.

In addition to researching etiquette and cultural norms, it’s also important to read up on the history of your destination as well as any relevant current events. Not only will this help you be a more respectful guest, but it will also help you navigate your destination more effectively.

For example, Hawaii is now limiting access to certain parks and attractions that are sacred parts of local culture. Doing some advance research will help your team understand which places are appropriate to visit and which are best left to locals.

11. Get your entire team on board

In order for your sustainability initiative to be successful, you’ll need everyone in your organization to buy in. When everyone on your team cares about sustainability and participates in your initiatives, you’ll be able to make progress more quickly.

To ensure that everyone is on the same page, implement a company-wide policy for sustainable travel. Be as specific as possible in your policy to set appropriate expectations for your team members. Your sustainability policy will serve as a helpful guide for your team members as they book travel tickets and accommodations.

Many of the world’s largest organizations are already implementing their own policies and incentives for sustainable business travel. For example, Microsoft is already buying sustainable aviation fuel credits for their team, which covers the cost of cleaner fuel for future flights. Salesforce has also implemented a strict sustainability policy which partially ties executive pay to ESG performance, including their carbon footprint. To enable their employees to make climate-friendly choices, Salesforce has a booking tool that recommends the lowest-emission modes of travel.

Once you’ve defined your travel policy, the next step is to offer sustainable travel training for your team. This will give your employees more context for why sustainability is so important and how to be more conscientious when traveling for work. We offer educational programs on responsible travel and climate action to help organizations empower and engage their staff. Get in touch if you’d like us to host a training session for your team.

12. Continuously measure your impact

As your organization works towards more eco-friendly and responsible travel, it’s important to track your progress. Actively monitor your carbon footprint to determine if your strategy is working, and look for places where you can improve even further.

You may need to adjust your sustainability strategy as your organization evolves. As your company grows, you’ll likely have access to more resources, but you’ll also have more employees and more trips to account for. Standardizing your travel policies early on and communicating clearly about any changes will help keep everyone on the same page.

In addition to calculating your organization’s carbon footprint as a whole, calculate the carbon footprint for each of your employees as they travel. This will incentivize your employees to travel more sustainably on their own. Your organization can even offer rewards for team members who reduce their carbon footprint the most.

As we move into a new era of business travel, now is the perfect time to rethink your organization’s strategy and implement new sustainability practices. Sustainable business travel is unique in that it is mutually beneficial for both your organization and the community around you.

If you’re looking to get started with your sustainability journey, be sure to check out our carbon offset program and use our carbon footprint calculator to estimate your current output.

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