February 24, 2024

Five steps to a smaller carbon footprint

With the help of sustainability experts, here’s a step-by-step guide to cutting your business travel carbon footprint and a few extra tips that will make a difference

1. Engage

“As with any significant change in business practice, senior stakeholder buy-in is crucial to delivering change,” says Paula Cullen, Associate for Growth and Sustainability at Black Box Partnerships.

“We recommend that you canvass ideas from your colleagues and travellers. Many will have knowledge to share so ignite that passion. Education is key and there are many free resources and materials online. Consider courses to upskill employees to help you on your journey.”

According to a survey by SAP Concur, many UK companies are already going down this path. Its recent poll of 700 corporate travel decision makers across the UK found 64% are offering their employees formalised training and education programmes on sustainability, 70% have internal communication campaigns in place and 68% have regular communication with business travellers about their carbon footprint for the duration of their trip.

“As demand for higher levels of sustainability grows, questions about sustainability policies will be raised more strongly, more often and by more parties, from management and employees to supply-chain partners and external stakeholders – as well as the employees themselves. It is therefore positive to see that so many UK businesses are already making great strides in their quest for green business travel programmes,” says Ami Taylor, SAP Concur Senior Director Global Product Strategy.

2. Measure

“The first step in emission reduction is to measure and get the statistics needed to formulate a plan,” says Pippa Ganderton, Product Director ATPI Halo.

Only by knowing the breakdown of your current carbon footprint can you identify where you need to change behaviours and revise your travel policy.

This is where a TMC can provide a vital helping hand, capturing emissions data throughout the booking and travel process and, crucially, presenting it in a visually engaging and easy-to-understand format to clearly show the areas to prioritise.

Many TMCs, including global players such as CWT, have drafted in the assistance of specialist start-up Thrust Carbon, which has devised a calculator to measure hundreds of data points – air, hotel, rail, car and more – to provide clients with “robust and defensible” reporting.

“We wouldn’t be satisfied with only understanding the average cost of travel, so why are we still satisfied with average and sporadic emissions numbers?” says Thrust Carbon Founder Mark Corbett.

“You can’t reduce your financial travel budget based on average prices, and you won’t be able to reduce your emissions looking at average emissions data either.”

Whichever way you measure your travel carbon emissions, don’t just look at your overall footprint. Break it down by specific category (air, hotel, rail) and by department or location. If possible, compare your emissions year-on-year or month-on- month to identify trends.

Once you have the data, share it with key stakeholders, including senior business leaders, specific departments, or your most frequent travellers, providing meaningful comparisons where relevant. Better still, display this information at the point of booking to change behaviours.

3. Rethink

Only when you’ve got your key stakeholders on board and you’ve collected and shared that all-important data can you start to analyse your travel patterns and behaviours and find ways to make reductions in your carbon footprint.

Of course, the best way to cut your travel carbon footprint is to reduce the amount of travel, perhaps by switching to virtual meetings, but when travel is essential there are other ways to make an impact.

Studies have found that over 50% of travellers are ready to reduce the amount they fly in response to climate change but only 3% do so. “There’s a key barrier: time. Afford your travellers more time to reach destinations via greener modes of travel, such as rail,” says Cullen at Black Box.

If flying is the only option, consider downgrading from premium class to economy. On long-haul routes this can more than halve the carbon impact of a flight. However, it could also impact the wellbeing of your employees. To counteract this, consider upgrading their accommodation or providing employees with a wellbeing package on arrival, which would still result in a lower carbon footprint overall.

The location of a meeting is also key, particularly with a more dispersed workforce. The company head office might no longer be the best place to convene. Look at where your employees are based and work out which locations would require the least carbon cost.

And don’t forget about that crucial last mile – getting from the airport or station to a meeting. Consider mandating the use of transfers in electric vehicles or, where available and practical, encouraging the use city bike rentals and e-scooters, or factoring in extra time for walking.

“Educate and inform travellers of local public transport options to avoid the use of taxis,” adds Cullen.

4. Offset

”Although improvements are being made, 100% sustainable travel is still a long way off, so looking at offsetting unavoidable carbon emissions is still important,” says ATPI Halo’s Ganderton.

Offsetting shouldn’t be confined to larger travel programmes, she adds. “ATPI Halo has some clients with relatively small offset projects – under 80 CO2 tonnes. Despite the small volumes, they are keen to do the right thing as part of their ESG strategy and to have the right approach in place, starting small and assuming the volume will grow as their businesses develop, and secondly they want to be able to publicly declare their greenhouse gas reduction commitments.”

But make sure you do your due diligence. It’s an unregulated industry and buying into unaccredited projects, if not properly monitored, can do more harm than good and potentially put your business in a compromising position.

Working with a TMC will help ensure you’re buying into audited schemes and is also likely to reduce the cost of the offset because TMCs can buy in bulk at a lower fixed price for multiple clients.

5. Check suppliers

“Speak with suppliers to understand their sustainability plans and consider if you want to preference the suppliers who are more proactive,” says Pat McDonagh, CEO Clarity Business Travel.

Keep track of innovations. Premier Inn, for example, is trialling electric alternatives to gas and has just started work on its first all-electric hotel. It is also rolling out one of the UK’s largest EV charging point networks.

“We are unique in our operating model as we own and operate all the hotels in our portfolio, so can implement energy efficiency programmes quickly and at scale,”  says Rosana Elias, Head of Sustainability for parent company Whitbread.

“We also have the opportunity to trial new technologies before rolling them out, and, because of the size of our estate, we know even small changes can make a big impact.”

For airlines, the focus is to invest in Sustainability Aviation Fuel (SAF) and most major airlines have now committed to SAF supplies, with United Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, Lufthansa and British Airways among those leading the way.

In the meantime, prioritise airlines with newer, more fuel-efficient aircraft, direct flights and switch to rail where possible.

Little Extras

Encourage your travellers to imagine they are paying their hotel bill and use the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign if they’re happy not to have their towels or sheets replaced daily.

Recommend your travellers pack light – lighter loads are more fuel efficient for aircraft – and take along a reusable coffee cup and water bottle for their travels.

Many airlines are now offering passengers the option to pre-order meals. Not only does this ensure you don’t miss out on the chicken or fish, it allows airlines to carry fewer meals and lighten their load.

Advise travellers to use moderate temperature settings for heating or cooling their room. Setting it too high or low and having to adjust it back the other way wastes energy.