How Business Travel Can Go Green
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the travel industry was responsible for about five percent of global carbon emissions, and according to Statistica, business travel represented almost a third of all trips in countries such as the United States. These numbers are similar when taking a look at Germany’s largest airport, Frankfurt International, for example, with 35-40% of business travel-related flight volume between 2012 and 2019.
Business travel is good for the global economy and produces over a trillion dollars in economic activity in a typical year, which provides jobs and tax revenue for local governments. But as economies recover, and business travel ramps up again, we need to be mindful of the impact on the environment. It is important for organisations to help their employees travel more sustainably and for individual travelers to take more responsibility for their carbon footprints. Here are a few ways to do that.
Tips for Employers
Some employees respond predictably when they know someone else is paying the bill. When planning a business trip, they may not always select the least expensive flight or hotel, unless prompted to do so by their company’s policies and travel-booking tools. Just as organisations put cost and compliance controls in place, they should also integrate sustainability into their guidelines for employees, and when feasible, tune their travel and expense (T&E) technologies to encourage more sustainable selections.
When an employee logs on to their organisation’s travel booking tool, a note can appear that elevates their employer’s approach to sustainability, such as “Please book sustainably.” As the employee explores their options, they can receive information about the estimated carbon impact of various choices. A direct flight, for example, produces less CO2 than a connecting flight. They can receive a reminder that, in some cases, a teleconference might be an alternative. When they are considering a trip across a continent with robust rail service, they can be alerted that, if time permits, a train is a cleaner mode of transport. Travel booking technologies can also be programmed to identify rental cars that are easier on the environment, such as hybrid vehicles. At the end of an employee’s travel booking experience, a message can be displayed that congratulates them for making the right choices.
Employers can also use technology to monitor, analyse and adjust their approach to sustainable travel. One great way to do that is to set a carbon budget for travel. Using analytical tools increasingly built into T&E platforms, you can review how many carbons are released in a typical quarter and use that information to set lower, combined targets. You can then hold your team accountable for hitting your goal – just as your teams are accountable for sales, revenue, recruiting, or other performance metrics.
How true is the statement “You can’t manage what you can’t measure?” The SAP Concur EMEA Corporate Travel Sustainability Index 2020 showed those corporate travel decision makers who rate themselves "exceptional" users of data and information being almost five times more likely to be proficient in sustainable corporate travel practices.
The Role of Travellers and Consumers
Employees also need to play a more active role and share in the responsibility to conduct business sustainably. Choosing economy seats on airplanes, sharing Uber or Lyft rides, using public transit, borrowing bikes or scooters, and/or walking more during your trips all make an impact. Fortunately, technology makes it easier to travel sustainably. For example, the popular travel-organising app TripIt now shows you the carbon emissions for your air travel and provides ideas on how to reduce or offset the impact like purchasing carbon credits or planting trees.
Here's another thing all travelers can do to protect the environment: say “no” to paper receipts. In 2018, approximately 11 billion receipts were printed in Great Britain – the equivalent of 53,000 trees, or the annual destruction of Sherwood Forest. According to the nonprofit Green America, up to 10 million trees, and 21 billion gallons of water, are used every year to create receipts in the U.S. alone. Those receipts generate 686 million pounds of waste, and 12 billion pounds of CO2, equivalent to the carbon released by one million cars on the road.
Thankfully, from a business perspective, the days of being required to hold on to receipts are ending. The people of the SAP Concur organisation have hastened that natural evolution in two ways. First, we’ve arranged for countless travel partners to distribute e-receipts, instead of paper, that flow seamlessly from the point of purchase directly into expense reports – no receipts to save or file. And second, we lobby governments around the world to accept data, instead of paper, as evidence of taxable transactions. China, Japan, Mexico, and the United Kingdom are among the nations taking lead roles in this policy shift, but more needs to be done. In the meantime, each time you are given the option to receive a transaction record by text or email, take it. It’s a small step that adds up to a brighter future for our planet.
Technology is the Key
Advanced technologies have sped up and simplified so many parts of our daily lives. But technology can sometimes obscure the impact that immediacy has on the environment. For instance, the temptation to have a small item delivered the next day sometimes overwhelms our analysis of the environmental costs of shipping one item at a time. The same is true for using technology to book travel. It may be faster, for example, to speed through your travel planning without bigger issues, such as the needs of future generations in mind. Each of us should slow down a little bit to plan our travel more sustainability. And organisations should think about technology as a solution to sustainability, pulling every lever available to incent employees to select the cleanest modes of travel. Providing visibility into the environmental impact of travel options being booked or leading by example are just a few options how companies can support their travelling employees in making greener choices.