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Is sustainable business travel possible?

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David Chapple

Business Travel Show Portfolio Director

Workforces are changing. Increasing numbers of us are working remotely and flexibly. Virtual teams are now a reality thanks to technology like Skype, Zoom and Google Hangouts, which make it possible to hold ‘face to face’ meetings with colleagues and partners in multiple locations.

You would think this would have killed business travel. But, it hasn’t. Far from it. Why? Because, sometimes, a video call is just not enough.

Sometimes, we have to do things in person – whether it’s a supplier meeting, factory visit or to attend a global conference, for example.

Recently, this has left travel managers, business owners and road warriors with a huge dilemma: is it possible to keep travelling, but sustainably?

Green travel is a priority for 2020

The concept of green travel has been a ‘thing’ for well over a decade – do you remember when airlines introduced the option to pay a surcharge to offset our carbon emissions? Well, now we’ve reached such a serious tipping point when it comes to climate change and sustainability that green travel has rocketed up the business travel agenda.

Awareness is at an all-time high thanks to champions like Greta Thunberg, and the UK Government’s Net Zero legislation (to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050) will be a huge instigator for change within travel.

71% of travel managers don’t currently offset aviation-related carbon emissions.

76% of European travel managers in this year’s annual Business Travel Show poll said they welcome the new law. They also voted climate change as the biggest challenge facing the business travel industry.

However, the same poll revealed that 71% of travel managers don’t currently offset aviation-related carbon emissions and just 26% offer information to travellers about their carbon footprint. There are many reasons for this, including cost, of course, yet the time has come for travellers, travel managers and organisations to re-think how their business travel affects the environment and human rights.

Can you be sustainable and cost efficient?

Given the continued pressure on buyers to cut costs and make budgets work harder, the million-dollar question is whether it is possible to introduce a sustainable travel policy cost-effectively?

Thankfully, technology can now allow more suppliers to commit to offering sustainable solutions, allowing travel managers to review their travel programmes, ensuring they hit sustainability targets, while still providing an exceptional travel experience for travellers.

Airlines working to decrease carbon emissions

Qantas and International Airlines Group (IAG) (British Airways’ parent company) have signed up to the Net Zero pledge through more fuel-efficient aircraft, smarter operational techniques and switching to biofuel.

United Airlines has also committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2050 and Virgin Atlantic’s target is a 30% reduction by 2021.

Rail services support charities through green practices

It would appear that little can beat the sustainability results of rail service providers. The percentage of passengers travelling between London and Glasgow by rail over air has just reached an all-time high.

This year, Eurostar will plant a tree for every train departure – an estimated 20,000, or 55 per day – and will donate all un-bought food from its on-board cafes to charity, and all left-behind blankets to animal shelters.

Car rental can also offer a green alternative for travel programmes, thanks to major innovations like telematics, car sharing, car clubs and electric vehicles transforming pricing, operations, sustainability and duty of care priorities.

Car transportation company Carey is tackling CO2 by investing in electric fleets. The company has seen an 18% fuel reduction since arming its drivers with environmentally friendly driving techniques.

Hotels dispense with single-use toiletries

And finally, in the hotel space, Marriott has pledged to stop using single-use toiletry bottles, and Travelodge, Accor and IHG have committed to eliminating single-use plastics in bathrooms, food items and packaging.

Wyndham Hotels is also incentivising guests to be more sustainable by offering bonus reward points for reducing towels, bedding and electricity use.

The Business Travel Show takes place at Olympia London from 26-27 February 2020. More than 260 exhibitors will be at the show making it easier for travel managers to discover green solutions for their future travel programmes.

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