4 steps to create a greener business travel programme

Travel procurement heads at two global financial companies share their organisations' best practices on sustainable travel.

Embedding climate sustainability into corporate culture is a step towards sustainable travel practices.
Embedding climate sustainability into corporate culture is a step towards sustainable travel practices. Photo Credit: Unsplash/MillyVueti

With travel picking up pace post-pandemic, business travel and its environmental impact are under the spotlight. How are net zero carbon commitments influencing policies and what challenges are travel buyers facing?

The extent to which climate sustainability has been embedded in these organisations’ company culture, whether carbon reductions are part of company policy and the importance of travel analytics were among the topics discussed at The Mechanics of Sustainable Travel webinar, which was recently hosted by Business Travel News, part of Northstar Travel Group.

The lively discussion featured contributions from Ann Dery, director, Global Travel & Meetings at S&P Global and Elizabeth Sullivan, senior vice president, business operations executive at Bank of America, responsible for Travel and Aviation Operations and Meetings/Events.

1. Look at travel as a benefit and focus on the carbon footprint

Rather than taking the ‘we need to cut down on business travel’ view, Sullivan spoke about the importance of making travel more meaningful and more value-based.

“We want to minimise our travel impact, particularly coming out of Covid, we want to tread lightly and make it worthwhile rather than just travelling because we can,” she said.

While Bank of America has traditionally focused on pricing to ensure employees book ahead to get optimum prices, it is now encouraging staff to opt for trips that generate a lower carbon footprint, according to Sullivan.

She acknowledged that this approach would need to be supported with technology tools and also envisaged offering "some form of incentive" to encourage this mindset.

2. Meetings and business travel buyers can influence the supply chain

Sullivan highlighted how Bank of America is not only exploring sustainable products, it is also examining how it can influence the travel supply chain.

She referenced an agreement between Bank of America and American Airlines, announced earlier this year, supporting the purchase of one million gallons of SAF (sustainable aviation fuel) annually for 2021-2023.

On the other hand, S&P’s Dery contended that it is more complicated to effect change on the supply chain side compared to the business travel side. “How much influence does an organisation have on their supplier?” she asked. “Your supply base doesn’t stay stagnant, it changes weekly, monthly, quarterly.”

3. Look at making carbon reductions part of your travel policy

Dery highlighted that S&P has made changes at policy level with regards to business class travel, following a study showing that 70% of its carbon footprint is generated by this.

“We raised our threshold for eligibility to take flights in business class from six hours to eight hours [travel time]. Now, flights between six to eight hours must be flown in premium economy."

Dery added that the organisation has recently established an automated process to ensure compliance.

4. Behavioural notifications can have an impact

Dery spoke about how S&P is developing a very easy "layman’s term-style" communication that is delivered quarterly to everyone who travels.

“It shows what their individual carbon footprint was for that quarter and how it relates to other travellers in the business and will show our enterprise-level carbon footprint.

This is to drive home the point that we can get analytics around carbon footprint and then we can build the business case. These notifications give travellers more insight into how we are reducing our footprint on a quarterly basis.”