July 25, 2024

Team work

TMCs are providing vital support to corporates on the long and bumpy road to greener business travel, says Gill Upton

When Eloise Ferrara-Neched, Procurement Manager at the Royal Mail Group, began the company’s sustainability journey, she sought help from her TMC, Agiito, which has a dedicated sustainability team.

They worked through the contract extension, policy simplification, communication campaigns around travel and traveller behaviour, technology enhancements and CO2 filtering in the booking tool, so travellers could make more sustainable choices. 

“It was absolutely a team effort and without a great TMC team and all their knowledge and experience it would have been a much harder journey,” she says. Sustainability is a common thread across all travel, accommodation, meetings and events at Royal Mail.

“The TMC should be looking at things like what are suppliers’ green credentials, for example airlines that are working towards sustainable aviation fuel (SAF); hotel groups that are working towards green leaf accreditation; ground transportation provision of green fleets etc.

“A good TMC needs to be able to report back progress on CO2 reduction across the programme and present good management information and dashboard, as well as their own social value and sustainability targets, as these will also be incorporated into ours.”

“We want to do the right thing now, while we’re free to do so, before legislation comes in”

TMCs are already fulfilling this vital role, with separate divisions or dedicated staff, supported by partnerships with specialist companies such as Thrust Carbon, CHOOSE and Trees4Travel. Reed & Mackay recently partnered with Berlin-based SQUAKE.

These partners aggregate data to set carbon reduction targets or, increasingly, carbon budgets, when a flat fee is assigned to every aspect of travel. There are also eco-focused TMCs, such as COCO+, providing offsets through Climate Care and a corporate fuel card, targeting SMEs and unmanaged space.

Travel Planet’s Click & Control proprietary platform, available online and via mobile, presents carbon data at the point of sale. In addition the TMC pays for carbon offsetting on behalf of its customers.

Agiito’s Leanne Fowler, Director of Account Management, says the basic services buyers should expect from a TMC are reporting, technology that compares modes of travel, an accreditation filter, a human element to drive compliance, plus consultancy. She also advises buyers to know their sustainability objective before calling their TMC.

ATPI launched a division called Halo in 2021. “The appetite is definitely there; buyers want to have the right credentials to present to investors,” says Pippa Ganderton, Director at Halo, adding: “We want to do the right thing now, while we’re free to do so, before legislation comes in.”

American Express GBT has a Green Marketplace providing dedicated support from beginning to end with a suite of solutions. Partners include CHOOSE.

Nicole Sautter, Amex GBT Manager Global Sustainability, believes: “The biggest challenge is a granular understanding of carbon calculations and the availability of SAF. If we wait until SAF is available we’ll never achieve net zero so we need to scale it via our corporate SAF programme.”

Lack of standards

The fact that there can be as much as a 50% difference in emissions calculations on a single flight calculation points to the need for a more reliable carbon calculator. Defra and ICAO data are only based on mileage and radiating forcing (the impact of creating emissions at high altitude) and must be augmented by other data sources for a more comprehensive calculation.

“It’s now at a point where financial reward and sustainability are the same and not seen as separate things”

Thrust Carbon builds on the Defra and ICAO database with multiple points of emissions, by distance, class of travel, aircraft type, percentage of freight, configuration and passenger load factor.

“It’s a nascent industry so there will continue to be evolution in measurement,” says Ami Taylor, Head of Channels at Thrust Carbon. “There is talk about a need for a global standard but it’s not coming any time soon, at least not for another 10 years; what is coming are vast amounts of legislation, the latest being the EU’s CSRD policy which will force large organisations to report emissions in their entire value chain. The legal and compliance component of sustainability will continue to grow.”

Andreas Slettvoll, founder and CEO of CHOOSE, believes more regulation and a younger workforce will accelerate change and advises using post-trip calculations for a more accurate dataset. “In advance is always a prediction but we offer pre- and post-trip,” he says.

The process

Best practice involves calculating carbon first; a baseline can be achieved from historic data. Averages are used for hotels as they are a far more fragmented product.

Greengage is an independent accreditation provider with 500 corporate UK properties and some internationally, and Green Tourism is another with a wider spread of properties including B&Bs. Green Leaf majors on hotels across Africa. Hilton is arguably ahead of the curve when it comes to sustainability.

Understanding the data is stage two, allowing buyers to decide what travel can be avoided, to set a reduction target and integrate it into the user experience with green choices in the booking process. The filter should be carbon first, before price point or distance. Most travel buyers are encouraging rather than mandating green choices. “They want to raise awareness and push visual guilt,” says ATPI’s Ganderton. 

“TMCs can give buyers the level of confidence required in having the greenest supply chain and offsetting travel that can’t be avoided or reduced”

Amex GBT’s Sautter believes the higher cost of sustainable travel is no longer a barrier. “It’s now at a point where financial reward and sustainability are the same and not seen as separate things,” she says.

Greening the policy and adapting the authorisation process follows, the former best undertaken at budgeting time with suppliers to switch to those airlines investing in greener aircraft, in non-plastics, in SAF biofuel, in hydrogen planes.

SAF availability and cost is problematic, with less than 5% of flight operations currently on SAF-fuelled aircraft, which means offsetting still needs to be part of any carbon reduction programme, but no more than 10% of the total.

Dubious tree-planting schemes have given offsets a bad name in what is an unregulated market. The trend is for more nature-based or socially-beneficial projects, like protecting mango groves or helping indigenous people.

VERRA and The Gold Standard are respected accreditation standards.

Trees4Travel co-founder Nico Nicholas recognises that regulation is needed and praises the launch this month (March) of The Integrity Council’s report to set out standards for offsets. He stresses that all Trees4Travel offsets are verified to give a level of confidence. “There are a lot of carbon cowboys out there,” he observes.

Trees4Travel is rumoured to be launching a shared ownership product later this year to accelerate change.

Change is certainly a constant in the sustainability market and TMCs can give buyers the level of confidence required in having the greenest supply chain and offsetting travel that can’t be avoided or reduced. This new service also represents a useful additional revenue stream at a time when it’s really needed.

Shining lights in the buyer community – such as The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) – are sure to be added to as new legislation forces buyers to manage travel more responsibly.