How to encourage Sustainable Business Travel

Sustainable business travel

Business travel is a vital part of the global economy, as it enables companies to connect with clients, partners, and markets. However, business travel is a material part of global emissions accounting for 4% of all travel in the US, increasing to 15-20% for global aviation.  Worth an incredible $1.4 trillion every year, a number expected to grow strongly, it’s a sector that can make a contribution to reducing emissions if your organisation enables sustainable business travel.

The main sources of business travel emissions are: flying, train journeys, buses, cars (for business travel, this would be in rental cars, employee-owned vehicles other than employee commuting to and from work and taxis), and other modes of travel. Business travel can also include emissions from staying in hotels.

Business travel is a material part of global emissions accounting for 4% of all travel in the US and that increases to 15-20% for global aviation

We recently undertook a research project to find out what companies are doing to bridge the gap between sustainability strategies and employee action and the current best practices used by market leaders to close the gap.

Here are some real-world examples of actions taken by companies to tackle emissions and encourage sustainable business travel:

Use collaboration digital tools more

Sometimes only face-to-face will do, but often virtual meetings run well and offer a better alternative. Companies should ensure employees can access the leading collaboration tools and the training needed to use them at their best.

Create a green travel policy

Creating a green travel policy is a common action that helps employees with guidelines to make more sustainable decisions. Areas covered often include ideas to limit travel, switching to low-carbon travel options such as the train instead of short flights, providing lists of sustainable travel providers, prioritising virtual meetings, and using travel agents with sustainability expertise.

Each policy is company-specific, but a green travel policy is an important part of any carbon-cutting strategy.

Target a reduction in flight emissions

Flying is often one of the largest contributors to business travel emissions. Target reductions within a date, ideally in line with Science-based targets, which show companies how much and how quickly they must decarbonise to prevent the worst impacts of climate change. Use corporate travel policies and leading collaboration technologies to facilitate remote meetings and reduce flying. Encourage train travel for shorter distances. 

Add incentives to travel greener

This can include financial rewards such as incentives to use public transport, carpooling, or active travel (walking or cycling) for commuting. Challenges, or competitions, can also encourage employees to change travel habits by making it fun and engaging. Companies can also support schemes such as Cycle to Work in the UK, making it easier and cheaper for employees to travel greener.

Commit to 100% Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF)

Some pioneering companies have committed to 100% SAF with a target date. SAF can dramatically cut the carbon footprint of flying, although it is more expensive than higher-polluting jet fuel. More common, although still a challenge given the small amount of SAF available, is to start making small purchases for some flights only. Any flying policy should also aim to cut back on travel and especially flying where possible.

Aviation is expected to soar from 3.5% of total global emissions today to a huge 22% by 2050 as people fly more and other sectors decarbonise more quickly

Set carbon budgets

A more complex step is to set carbon budgets by the team for business travel or to use an internal carbon price. Both can require integration with financial systems, but it forces employees to allocate resources the same they would for spending.

Support public transport use

If in doubt, walk. If that’s not possible, get public transport. Everything firms can do to support these simple changes helps.

Share plans with clients

Sharing sustainability plans with clients will help them understand your objectives, allow them to share their initiatives, and build stronger relationships. It will also provide more support for other steps, flying less and using digital collaboration more.

A note on offsetting 

Carbon offsetting allows a company or individual to compensate for (offset) their own greenhouse gas emissions by supporting projects that reduce, avoid, or remove emissions elsewhere. In short, someone emitting greenhouse gases can pay someone else to pollute less. 

Supporters of offsets highlight that they funnel billions of dollars to projects in developing countries and offer companies a way to reach Net Zero while working on cutting their own emissions. They have been particularly prevalent in transportation and particularly flying.

However, offsetting has faced increasing scrutiny as many projects have hugely overstated their ability to cut emissions, and some firms have used them to continue business as usual without prioritising emissions reductions, leading to claims of greenwashing.

This is why initiatives such as the SBTi (a global organisation promoting best practices in emissions reductions) have stressed that companies must do everything they can to cut emissions first and that offsets can only be used for the residual emission, which simply cannot be eradicated, yet. Moreover, offsets should be focused on permanent removal.

What are the next steps?

Employees need to be involved for companies to hit their sustainability targets, but it can sometimes be challenging to shift mindsets and effectively engage them. To address this challenge we have created a guide that looks at how to engage employees around sustainable business travel, as well as commuting, energy usage at work, waste at work, and working from home. It includes:

  • Why employees are key to meeting Net Zero targets
  • Areas of sustainability you can focus on
  • Practical suggestions and steps you can implement today
  • How to raise awareness and engage employees to get involved

If you’re ready to start raising awareness about sustainability at work, inspiring employees, and bringing teams together to support your sustainability goals then get in touch.

How to align your team with your sustainability goals guide

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