How to make business travel more sustainable 

Business travel is a vital part of the global economy, as it enables companies to connect with clients, partners, and markets around the world. However, business travel also has a significant environmental impact, as it contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution. 

This presents a challenge – how to maintain the business travel that is necessary, whilst also limiting its environmental impact.  

It’s also difficult because whilst there are an increasing number of lower carbon solutions for ground transportation, driven by the growth in electric vehicles, aviation has no clear plan and 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. 

However, the positive news is that many companies, and employees, understand the importance of making a change and have started to look for ways to make business travel more sustainable.   

How important are business travel emissions? 

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. Worth an incredible $1.4 trillion every year, a number which is expected to grow strongly, it’s a sector which can make an important contribution to our collective goal of reducing emissions. 

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

The main sources for 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 big, growing, and for some companies an area where they simply cannot hit their sustainability goals unless they find ways to do things differently.  

What role can an individual play in reducing travel emissions? 

We all have an opportunity to make business travel greener. Both individuals and companies can take steps to reduce the carbon footprint of their travel activities, and to support the transition to a low-carbon economy. Here are some tips and examples of how to do that as an employee: 

Think about your own business travel. 

Understanding why we need to save on travel emissions, and the many different ways you can do it, is a key first step to finding ways to reduce business travel which don’t impact your ability to do your job. Start by thinking about all stages of your next trip and the different options you can take. Travel emissions are a major contributor to climate change, and often a material part of company emissions too, so travelling more sustainably will help to cut costs and cut emissions supporting your company’s sustainability commitments.  

Swap a flight for a virtual meeting.

By swapping a flight for a virtual meeting, you can reduce your environmental impact, save time and money. Virtual meetings allow you to communicate and collaborate with people from anywhere in the world, without the hassle and expense of travelling. You can also enjoy more flexibility and convenience, as you can join a virtual meeting from your home or office.  

Choose a more efficient class of travel for flying and combine trips to take fewer flights.

Not all flights are equally polluting. The class of travel you choose can make a big difference in your carbon footprint with business class emitting 3 times the carbon compared to economy. By choosing a more efficient class of travel, such as economy or premium economy, you can reduce the amount of emissions per passenger per kilometre travelled. This is because these classes have more seats and less space than business or first class, which means they can carry more passengers with the same amount of fuel.  

You can also combine trips, so you do 2 trips worth of meetings and work in one longer single trip and look for flights which are direct and those which are operated by the most efficient airlines. 

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

Choose a sustainable hotel.

A sustainable hotel is one that minimises its environmental impact by adopting more sustainable practices including: using renewable electricity, reducing waste, saving energy and conserving water. By choosing a sustainable hotel on a work trip, you can contribute to the global efforts to combat climate change whilst also supporting your company’s sustainability commitments.  

Take public transport on work trips.

Public transport is more energy efficient and less polluting than driving in a car or taxi, as it can carry more people with fewer vehicles and less fuel. By choosing public transport, you can contribute to cleaner air, less greenhouse gas emissions, and less traffic congestion. You can also read, work or just relax which you cannot do if you’re driving. 

Calculate the carbon emissions from a business trip.

By calculating your business travel carbon emissions, you can measure your environmental impact and understand more about the relative impact of different modes of transport. Together this will help you think about ways you can reduce the impact of each trip or think about wider changes you can make in your work travel. You can use online tools to help you such as Giki’s business travel carbon calculator found here

What about offsetting? 

Carbon offsetting allows a company, or individual, to compensate for (i.e. 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 that they offer companies a way to reach Net Zero whilst 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 practice 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, those offsets should be focused on permanent removal. 

Whilst individuals and companies are different, we share the same climate goals. Don’t let the fact that you cannot do everything stop you from doing something and we hope this article has provided you with new ideas to do something new today! 

If you have been inspired to take some steps to cut carbon then you can sign up to Giki Zero to find more steps and discover your carbon footprint. Or get in touch to talk about how we can help engage your colleagues on making your business travel more sustainable.