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Sustainability is the trending topic when it comes to travel. Tourists are looking for eco-friendly options, and corporations are looking at ways to lessen the impact of their business travel footprint. Many clients and potential employees are prioritizing working with a company that has demonstrable sustainability goals and corporations are taking notice. Maybe they want to attract top tier recruits, or they want to present an environmentally responsible corporate image, or perhaps they have real concerns about the environment. Sustainability has become a frequent topic in sales and customer conversations. It’s a part of a business’s social and environmental role in their community. 

Corporate travel programs face unique challenges when developing a sustainability policy. KesselRun is here to help develop a policy that is both economically viable and easily adaptable.

What Is Sustainable Business Travel Policy?

In short, it’s a policy that helps guide and optimize corporate travel planning towards the goal of reducing the carbon footprint of the company.

Sustainable business travel policies often start with Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emission reporting. Does the company disclose theirs, whether in annual reports or with industry updates?

The new expectation is for vendors to provide total CO2lbs and miles, but traditional data is actually estimates—which often don’t take into account other factors like actual load, wind speed, and seasonality. Airline data is almost always an estimate, but we can expect continued reporting improvement in the coming years. Companies want to provide the information, but finding accurate, science based data is a challenge. 

Accurate hotel emissions data is even more elusive. Preferred hotel chains may be able to provide some insight for an organization’s preferred stays but are unlikely to offer further detail. Any direct bookings—a particular concern for programs with high or unknown leakage—may not be on that preferred code and thereby excluded. For non-preferred, non-brand stays at individual hotels in a global program, chasing emission specifics is currently a Sisyphean task.

Car rentals provide the clearest picture, as actual mileage driven can be provided by rental partners. That said, organizations should still be aware that even partner-provided information may be incomplete. Business rentals made outside the corporate agreement would not be included; leisure rentals made on the corporate agreement would also skew that data. The ambiguity of the information available  presents a challenge when deciding the way forward.

A sustainable business travel policy is where companies’ intentions and reality should meet. Organizations are now looking to add sustainability guidelines and strengthen the language surrounding their goals, recognizing that it may require more development across the industry to be able to fully implement these policies. 


corporate travel program

How to Create a Sustainable Business Travel Policy

The first step is to make sure your organization has clearly defined, scientific-based goals. Are you focused on Scope 1, 2, or 3 emissions? Are these goals published within your organization? Do travelers understand how their travel relates to these goals?

Education about travel sustainability is key to achieving these policy goals. People want to do the right thing, but in order to reach that stage, companies need to address a wide range of questions first, such as:

  • Do you have “sustainability travel budgets” in place per traveler? Per department?
  • Do you have offset programs in place?
  • Do you have vendor requirements relative to their sustainability initiatives on a procurement level? For example, are you asking hotels in your preferred program about their processes, if single-use plastics are being replaced by glass or compostable material? 
  • How is emission data being served up to travelers in the booking process?
  • Does your TMC have the ability to capture “sustainability” as a reason code for a more expensive booking?
  • Have you set a dollar value per kg emitted to help set company policy, tolerance levels and to help make the numbers more meaningful to travelers?
  • What tolerance for cost does your organization have relative to vendor pricing? i.e. what percentage of cost increase are you willing to accept for a more sustainable travel option?
  • Does your travel policy encourage consolidation of trips/trip purposes to limit flights?
  • Are offsets reimbursable expenses?

Establishing a sustainable business travel policy involves all aspects of the business, not merely the travel department. 

How KesselRun Can Help

From KesselRun’s experience developing our clients’ sustainable business travel programs, here are our top 10 broad-spectrum tips:

  • Get un-siloed. This is a conversation that should span many departments – travel, finance, risk, CSR teams, and more.
  • Review historical data. While 2022 or 2023 is outdated, it may make sense to look at month over month or quarter over quarter for the last several years
  • Frame the discussion around projections for the remainder of 2024 travel volumes
  • Set realistic, scientific-based goals for your organization & publish them broadly
  • Update your policy with clear and specific information relative to sustainability
  • Update your OBT and other points of booking for travelers to reflect your goals and relevant data
  • Ensure travelers have meaningful, relevant and timely information relative to their travel and the organization’s sustainability goals
  • Monitor & Adapt – sustainability remains in its infancy for many, if not most, companies. Know that goals may change; data accuracy and sources will change; and technology will improve
  • Report on progress in aggregate: it is still too early to track micro-trends

Should you need assistance in building a sustainable business travel policy or program, contact KesselRun today. They can analyze historical data; help develop teams and realistic sustainability goals; write a travel policy drawing on best practices but specific to your business culture and needs; optimize booking processes and in-line information; and help set up future reporting and metrics, to prepare for changes yet to come.

corporate travel review guide

*This blog was originally published in 2021 and has been updated for 2024