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How to Build a Sustainable Business Travel Program

3 Mins read

Small business employees are ready to return to business travel to build relationships. Our recent Global Business Travel Survey found that two-thirds of small to medium-sized business (SMB) travelers are very willing to travel for business in the next 12 months. Two out of five say business travel is critical for maintaining and establishing client relationships.

At the same time, there’s greater consideration around the environmental impact of travel. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that transportation contributes 29% of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.

Small business leaders are caught in the middle. Luckily, there are achievable ways to build a greener program while nurturing those crucial business relationships.

Step 1: Collect Data

You can’t manage what you can’t measure. SMB leaders should begin by looking into available travel and expense data. They should consult booking tools to understand how many hotels employees stayed at and how many miles their employees traveled by air, rail, and car for business in a year. Companies that don’t use booking tools can also consult expense reports to get a sense of the number of flights or fuel purchases they reimburse annually.

With this information, SMB leaders can start to understand the current environmental impact of their business travel program. The number of miles traveled or trips taken can serve as a baseline to improve upon for future sustainability goals.

Step 2: Set and Communicate Goals

Business travel contributes to global carbon emissions, energy and water usage, and waste through jet fuel, airport energy, water consumption, hotels, and conference centers. Once SMB leaders have collected data and established a baseline, they can set goals to guide their sustainability initiatives.

Let’s say a small business learned that its employees drove 5,000 miles the previous year, contributing about 16.91 metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) to the atmosphere. It could obtain this information by working with a sustainability and carbon intelligence solution, like our partner Thrust Carbon, which analyses every travel emission, including flights, hotels, car hires, taxis, rail journeys, ferries, and coach journeys.

A goal for the following year could be reducing mileage by 10% to limit CO2 emissions by traveling 500 fewer miles by car in the next year. This goal could be achieved through using ridesharing programs, taking the bus or subway, or prioritizing rail transportation. Rail, for example, can reduce emissions by around 80%.

Goals should be communicated to the workforce during every step of the journey. For instance, employees should receive alerts and reminders when they book flights or hotels or submit travel expenses. And this is a welcome change; employees are willing to adjust their travel habits to reduce their impact. Business travelers are willing to use public transportation, combine nearby trips into one longer trip, prioritize alternatives to air travel, and prioritize trips with shorter distances.

Step 3: Measure Results

Finally, SMB leaders should measure progress because sustainability can directly impact revenue. It can help attract investors interested in organizations aligned with their environmental impact goals. Regulations also are starting to appear as governments track progress toward the Paris Agreement.

Another benefit: Sustainability initiatives help to attract and retain talent as employees prepare to take a greener approach to business travel. Most business travelers at small businesses say they plan to take steps to reduce the environmental impact of their business trip in the next year.

Small businesses can easily report progress by enlisting travel management solutions. These tools centralize business travel in one platform that collects data from all itineraries, including sustainability metrics. Without technology, leaders are forced to manually track business trips and their associated carbon emissions, waste contributions, etc. They also must manually vet partners to determine the most environmentally friendly rental cars or hotels. The latest technology can make the process much simpler.

Start Small

Achieving sustainability goals may seem daunting, but you don’t eat the elephant all in one bite. Sustainability doesn’t have to mean reinventing a supply chain or ripping up internal processes.

Instead, start small. Seek to understand what the business and employees are doing now through data analysis. Make a realistic plan, enlisting partners, employees, and tools to help make progress against goals. Then, measure and adjust as needed.

Ryan Demaray is the Global Head of Sales SMB at SAP Concur.

Sustainable travel stock image by Mino Surkala/Shutterstock

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