December 6, 2023

Five steps to sustainable travel

Karen Abbot from ATPI shares five top tips for making your corporate travel policies more environmentally responsible 

In order to achieve your organisation’s sustainability goals, how you plan your corporate travel going forward will be a crucial element of your broader strategy, given the significant contribution that extensive travel can have on emissions output. 

Here are five considerations to make when planning your corporate travel through a sustainability-tinted lens.

Stakeholder engagement 

Pooling the collective knowledge and experience of those who are most familiar with your travel programme is essential. This includes travel managers, bookers and frequent travellers, and of course, your sustainability team, if you have one. They will have the clearest and deepest insight into where the inefficiencies and opportunities lie and will be able to support the introduction of new, realistic and environmentally responsible policies. 


Conduct a needs-based analysis of your existing corporate travel. How essential is each aspect of your current travel portfolio? Can certain meetings be conducted to a satisfactory degree via virtual alternatives, or can they be successful with fewer attendees? Or can the frequency of certain trips be reduced, either by simply travelling less often or reducing repeat visits, or even by increasing the duration of a trip so that fewer subsequent individual trips are necessary? 

All roads lead to Rome 

Once you have decided which types of travel are essential to the success of your business, think about how best to conduct this travel. Are flights, which are the most carbon intensive mode of transport per mile, necessary for each trip? Or are there equally acceptable alternatives such as rail travel? Where flights are essential, make sure to consider direct-only routings to reduce the carbon impact of multiple journey legs. These decisions will depend on the distance of the journeys, the infrastructure in the regions that your employees are travelling to and from, as well as important considerations regarding costs. 

Supply chain appraisal 

Choosing travel providers that make efforts to reduce their own environmental impact is crucial. For example, over 30 IATA member airlines have pledged to invest in carbon offset programmes to work towards neutralising their emissions. Do your homework on the latest marketing buzz and be clear about what policies are already in place and what are vague commitments for the future. Work with your TMC to check the science and data behind new buzzwords to see if they are really making a difference today to reducing your travel carbon emissions – or whether they’re just the latest form of greenwashing. 

Carbon offsetting 

For the foreseeable future, it will not be possible to eliminate all corporate travel-related emissions, therefore, the inclusion of a compensation method to offset those emissions in order to achieve net-zero will be necessary. Carbon offsetting is becoming an increasingly popular choice. It involves counterbalancing unavoidable emissions by investing in projects such as reforestation or renewable energy infrastructure through accredited third-party carbon credit providers. Do your homework carefully on any partners in this area to ensure that you are truly investing in meaningful projects that make a difference. This is by no means a perfect solution and should not take away from efforts to achieve carbon reduction as much as possible. 

Developing corporate travel policies that are consistent with sustainability targets doesn’t mean cancelling corporate travel altogether. But it does mean taking a pragmatic approach to its evaluation, working closely with partners and stakeholders, finding a trusted supplier to offset unavoidable travel-related emissions, conducting thorough research, and getting creative in order to find more environmentally responsible alternatives that allow your business to function successfully and for your employees to still travel comfortably.