April 23, 2024

10 steps to help cut your business travel footprint

Check out these top tips from sustainability experts and travel buyers at ITM's Road to Net Zero Conference Summit

1 Establish what causes your biggest carbon footprint. It’s likely to be your air travel, so make that your initial focus. For PwC, 90% of its carbon emissions are from air travel so it has been the priority. However, be aware that as you reduce the footprint of your air travel, the impact of other sectors will increase, such as hotel and car rental, so then turn your attention to these.

2 Take a close look at your travel patterns. Are you flying long-haul? Are there routes where you could switch to direct flights, which are less impactful? Who is flying in premium cabins? Do they need to? Are there short-haul routes where you can switch to rail, or switch to another supplier with a newer, more efficient fleet? But be aware that the way your organisation travels now might not be the same in five or 10 years. “You don’t know what you’re trying to solve unless you look at the trajectory of your business,” says Phillip Charm, co-Founder of Clarasight. “You need to understand historical emissions and costs, understand the key drivers of emissions and costs and then understand what they are projected to look like and test different scenarios to find the best path forward.”

3 When assessing and selecting suppliers, split the weighting so that it’s not all about commercials. Accenture, for example, bases its RFPs on 20% people (the traveller experience), 30% planet (sustainability credentials) and 50% commercial. “This immediately changes the narrative,” says Jan Jacobsen, Accenture Travel & Mobility Procurement Director.” Give preference to more responsible suppliers and remove those that don’t meet your ESG criteria. When asking for information from suppliers, make sure you ask them for their sustainability roadmap or vision.

4 When choosing suppliers, look beyond just carbon, advises Glenn Thorsen, Global Sustainability Lead at FCM Consulting. For hotels, for example, look at their F&B, cleaning, in-room amenities, bike and scooter rentals, micro-farming, and the availability of water refill in common areas. For airlines, do they invest in SAF, what are their in-flight amenities, how are they packaged, are their lounges operated in a responsible way, what kind of furniture do they have? Consider other factors, such as community initiatives, how they tackle poverty and their treatment of employees.

5 Get champions on board, whether that’s at a senior management level or among your executive assistants. “There will be people in your organisation who are more passionate about sustainability. Use these people to influence behaviour,” says Sally Higgs, Climate Reality Leader, Travel and Events Sustainability Manager at Festive Road. Have off-the-cuff conversations with your people, who will often have very personal convictions about sustainability in their private and work lives.

6 Make sure you’re speaking to the right audience. Who is making the decisions that will influence the carbon footprint of your organisation’s travel? Is it the C-suite, managers, the travellers, or the PA who is making the booking? Acknowledge that with any changes in your travel policy, they will want to know what’s in it for them. “It’s hard to implement policies that work for all people,” says Charm. “One of the one things organisations have struggled with most is how to close the gap between intention and action.”

7 Encourage competitiveness among teams or divisions. Sales people, who are often the most frequent travellers, are naturally competitive so challenge them to be the best at cutting their carbon footprint. “This can also work with marketing, business development and finance teams,” says Higgs.  “If you can get rid of the low value trips, where they don’t think twice because they’ve always done them, you’re going in the right direction. You don’t even need to reward them. They will be driven just by the healthy competition.”

8 Divide your travellers into types to establish their travel needs. Don’t mistakenly think that your older or more senior travellers will be the most confident. It’s more related to how frequently they travel. This might influence whether they are happy to fly in a lower class of cabin, or stay in a serviced apartment instead of a hotel, or take public transport instead of a taxi.

9 Set carbon budgets as you would set financial budgets, and review these on a regular basis. Set them on a divisional, team, project or even an individual basis, depending on your company’s travel patterns and culture. Sometimes it’s best to leave it to those within the division to decide how to allocate it. “Treat emissions with the same rigour as you treat financials,” says Charm at Clarasight.

10 Get good data and use it to show your C-suite and travellers what action needs to be taken. But don’t overload them with information and don’t get bogged down with details. Even basic emissions data is a starting point. “Your audience will be interested to know what’s driving your sustainability initiatives. Show them a peek behind the curtain. Tell them that a change is happening and how it will impact them,” says Eve Smith Communication and Change Management Lead, Global at FCM. But keep it simple and choose your communication channels wisely. On average, organisations already use six different channels to communicate with their employees. Don’t add a seventh!

And, finally, one key piece of from Sally Higgs at Festive Road: “Don’t be scared of failure, but learn quickly from those failures. The industry is on uncharted territory and there is no quick fix or silver bullet, so get cracking.”