May 28, 2024

Come rain or shine

Will the current cost challenges distract businesses from their sustainable travel targets or could it actually speed up the road to Net Zero, asks Scott Davies at ITM

The conversation around making business travel more sustainable first gathered pace back at the turn of the century. Every buyer-supplier meeting in the Noughties seemed to include the emerging topic.

Then the Lehman’s crash happened, and attention swiftly switched to corporate survival and re-aligning supply and demand as airfares and hotel rates tumbled alarmingly. It’s uncomfortable to acknowledge that when times are tough, insufficient attention tends to be placed upon making business travel tread as lightly as possible.

The current cost-of-living crisis and period of relative austerity feels like it could have similar potential to challenge our collective focus on delivering responsible travel programmes. Cost management, resourcing and general market uncertainties are extremely challenging for all businesses. ITM’s buyer members report that the volatile trading environment is placing downward pressure on their travel budgets, at a time when business travel costs have risen by the highest levels any of us can remember.

At the same time buyer members are under pressure to deliver on their organisation’s sustainability targets. There is a real sense of urgency due to the accelerated global focus on climate change, companies setting commitments to net zero emissions and legislation that will tighten up their disclosure of carbon emissions. Hence ITM recently established a Sustainability Taskforce to provide buyers with practical guidance for shaping a responsible travel programme.

So we find ourselves in a peculiar time with regards to sustainable business travel. Booking the most responsible travel option often means more cost (or more inconvenience), and this has frequently been a barrier to embracing responsible travel practices. 

Right now though, trips are likely being justified – or not – primarily on the question of cost, with few unnecessary trips being made. The net effect of tighter budgets and higher travel costs can only lead to one thing – less business travel. But it could also unwittingly lead the way towards buyers building net-zero travel programmes.

It certainly puts a different spin on the age-old cost versus carbon conundrum of sustainable business travel.

See our Sustainability Special for more essential reading on sustainable business travel