Reducing carbon footprint: the do’s and don’ts

A patchwork strategy of uncoordinated sustainability actions can give the impression of greenwashing.

A holistic approach to sustainability will benefit the environment and maintain business bottom line.
A holistic approach to sustainability will benefit the environment and maintain business bottom line. Photo Credit: Belvera Partners

Event planners face mounting pressure to not only reduce their carbon footprint but to communicate and report their efforts in a transparent and meaningful way. As an industry that contributes 8-11% of global greenhouse gas emissions, event planners have a profound role to play in adopting greener practices, yet can easily face reputational risks in doing so: accusations of greenwashing or backlashes from those opposed to environmental policies. This can understandably leave many companies thinking they are better off not bothering.

Green hushing

Alternatively for those genuinely committed to change, this leaves many companies in the travel industry afraid to launch green campaigns publicly, instead resulting in the very opposite: ‘green-hushing’ - not communicating what they are doing. This not only means the companies lose out on the justified rewards of acting virtuously, but also that such actions do not have the full impact they deserve as engagement levels are lower due to lack of awareness.

Communication across all levels

Looking at how hotels present themselves in their sales and marketing channels, Janet Jaiswal, VP of marketing from Cloudbeds, a provider of technology to independent hotels, believed that “it's not enough to just make changes behind the scenes; companies also need to communicate these efforts to their customers in order to truly make a difference. But in a world where travellers are increasingly prioritising eco-friendliness, if you fail to follow through on sustainability initiatives once the guest is on the property then that can lead to lower guest satisfaction, cancellations and less bookings in the longer term. Companies must take a holistic approach to sustainability in order to benefit the environment and maintain their bottom line.”

Alex Gisbert CEO of FastPayhotels – a B2B platform for travel sellers and hotels globally, said that whilst much of the focus is on those who have a heavy carbon footprint, such as the airlines or the hotels, all businesses across the travel distribution ecosystem must accept that the days of saying ‘that’s not me’ are gone.

Tourism boards

Considering the challenges that tourism boards face, Carlos Cendra from travel intelligence provider Mabrian, said: “The DMOs have a unique opportunity to make meaningful contributions to sustainability, while also avoiding the risks of greenwashing or indeed backlash from those opposed to environmental policies. It is not just about the carbon footprint though, tourism sustainability goes beyond that and must be approached from different dimensions: environmental, social, economic and structural.

“The DMOs managers have the responsibility to implement a sustainable culture for both the tourism sector and the residents. That takes time and efforts to establish, but it is the only way to make a real and lasting change. By contrast, the ‘patchwork’ strategy of doing uncoordinated sustainability actions is almost useless and can give an impression of greenwashing.”

Easy access to finding solutions

Martin Eade from travel booking technology provider Vibe points out that companies could consider solutions that enable passengers to easily access only the elements they require when flying: “Think about the carbon footprint of unconsumed meals or unwanted extra legroom, for instance – or more efficient rebooking tools that help reduce the number of empty seats on a plane. As long as you can back up your claim to show a demonstrable impact, do so not just because your company benefits but because it inspires others to think the same way.”

Investors want transparency

As an investor, Morgann Lesné, from a boutique travel investment bank Cambon Partners, said: “There is a growing desire among investors to align themselves with green-related businesses. However, it's crucial to remember that authenticity is key in this arena. Attempting to greenwash investors by overselling your environmental actions or making false claims is not only unethical, but it could also land you in legal trouble.

“As part of an industry at the forefront of environmental issues, it’s imperative for travel companies to be transparent and honest about their environmental practices whatever they may be, whilst at the same time always striving for continuous improvement. Contrary to what some think, investors value honesty and trust, integrity, thinking long-term and doing the right thing.”