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Sustainable Business Travel Policy and Best Practices

Sustainability in the scope of travel comes up most frequently in the context of “sustainable tourism,” minimizing the negative and maximizing the positive impact. On the corporate side of travel, business needs to drive destination and timing, and focus has long been on minimizing other concerns, such as cost and traveler inconvenience.

However, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, sustainable business travel began emerging as a very strong topic of interest for both companies and vendors. While sustainability took a backseat to more immediate concerns in 2020, as business travel swells back, more and more corporate travel programs are looking to not only engage with sustainable business travel policies but for concrete data and actions.

Vendors, anticipating this need, have likewise been taking steps to showcase sustainability data. There is a substantial gap, though, between the data companies are looking for and what vendors have available—in many cases coming down to estimate versus actuality.

What Is Sustainable Business Travel Policy?

Sustainable business travel policies often start with Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emission reporting and whether a company discloses theirs, for example, in annual sustainability reports, industry updates. Increasingly, KesselRun’s clients are reporting that their employees find it important to work for a company that prioritizes sustainability and that their own customers or clients have sustainability goals they expect these organizations to meet. Sustainability has become a talking point in sales and customer conversations, as well as part of a business’s social and environmental role in their community. 

The new expectation for vendors is to be able to provide total CO2lbs and miles, but traditional data is in fact providing estimatesTMC data, both at time of booking and post-trip, reflects these estimates, never reconciling what actually occurred during the flight. The estimates provided may or may not take into account aircraft type or class of service, but will not take into account actual load factors of the flight and/or seasonality and wind speeds. 

When turning to the airline themselves to provide more specifics, generally, these reports exist more on an on-request basis, many in beta or in summary form, and often still ‘estimate only’. Airline partners should expect more sustainability report availability over the next few years.

Hotel emission information remains even more elusive. Preferred hotel chains may be able to provide a certain level of insight for an organization’s preferred stays but are unlikely to offer further detail, and 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 right now, as actual mileage driven can be provided by rental car partners. With that said, organizations should still be aware even car 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 be, skewing even that picture.

Amid this ongoing ambiguity on the data remains uncertainty on actions. Are corporations going to try to prohibit charters or first-class flights, particularly for travelers already accustomed to either, to lower emissions?  

A sustainable business travel policy is where companies’ intentions and reality should meet. We are seeing organizations look to add sustainability guidelines into their official travel policies, recognizing that it may require more development across the industry to be able to enforce these policies or make the language stronger surrounding sustainability goals.

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, for example ‘are you focused on Scope 1, 2, or 3 emissions?’, and then to look at whether these goals are public within your organization and if travelers understand how their travel relates to those goals.

Travel education around sustainability is key to achieving these policy goals, but in order to reach that stage, companies need to address wide-scoping 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 2019 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 2022 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.

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