How retail brands can create a sustainable business travel programme
Any retail brand that wants to stay relevant should think about sustainable choices. Managing your retail business’s carbon footprint is trending. And it could soon be mandatory.
Pending legislation in the US will require businesses to report greenhouse gas emissions.[i] The number of companies sharing climate data with CDP, the world’s leading disclosure platform, increased by almost 40 percent in 2021.[ii] Intended regulations would require all publicly traded companies to include climate change risk evaluations in their annual financial analysis, and retail companies will need to adapt their business models quickly to remain compliant.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, corporations in the EU are required to report CO₂ emissions resulting from business travel. This requirement is part of paying carbon-based taxes and complying with EU laws aimed at reducing carbon emissions. The EU’s overall goal, based on the Paris Agreement, is for European companies to reduce emissions by 43 percent by 2030 for future generations.
Retail brands that prepare a business case for monitoring, reducing and reporting on corporate travel emissions will avoid scrambling around when it comes to gathering climate-related information in the future. As you review your business sustainability reporting, it is important not to overlook your corporate travel as part of your overall carbon footprint.
The good news is that a sustainable travel programme can be quick to implement and can also have a positive impact, without impeding how a business operates or its bottom line. In many cases, implementing a sustainable travel programme can actually save your business money, making it more profitable.
Here are four steps for including sustainable business practices in your corporate travel programme.
Step 1: Outline the reasons for travel before setting new corporate sustainability goals
Focusing on corporate social responsibility is not only important for proposed policy changes but also a crucial strategy for attracting younger generations of consumers and driving long-term brand loyalty. As a retailer, you may have already audited your entire supply chain, from materials and waste reduction to the packaging and delivery service you use. However, corporate travel is one of the business world’s greatest contributors to carbon emissions. Research shows that most retail companies are not taking real action to make these programmes any greener.[iii]
The first step to setting goals for your business travel programme is meeting with internal stakeholders, such as budget holders, department leaders and regular travellers. It is important to ask questions to understand your current corporate travel culture before implementing new corporate governance. Here are a few examples of questions that will help you understand the value of travel for the organisation:
- When has business travel been invaluable to you and your department?
- What has surprised you and your team about working virtually? What have been the benefits and what habits will you keep?
- Travel has an impact on personal time, budgets and the environment. As travel returns, how will you choose when to invest in travel to drive the most value?
Talking to your internal stakeholders will determine the different types of travel for each department and how much value it adds to the business.
According to Reuters, ‘Flights account for about 90 percent of business travel emissions. That makes it the lowest-hanging fruit for companies setting reductions targets’.[iv] Reducing the total number of flights needed is a good starting point, but not always practical. However, evaluating each trip to see if it is necessary can help.
For example, if you have a team of people travelling to a business meeting, is it critical that they’re all there? Reducing travel party numbers can have a big impact on a business’s carbon use. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that there are other options available to businesses that can, in some situations, reduce the need to travel.
The most important benefit of connecting with your core team is that, over time, this will help to create a culture where everyone involved feels a sense of responsibility. It’s important to gain internal support for your sustainable development goals. Don’t forget to ask for their ideas here too; you could have a passionate sustainability expert in your organisation and not even realise it.
Step 2: Implement a tool to measure your corporate travel carbon emissions
The National Retail Federation found that there are millions of retailers globally and nearly 40 top companies, such as Walmart and Ikea, that have either set science-based targets to slash their total carbon footprints in alignment with the Paris Agreement or have made a pledge to do so.[v]
Retail companies that are serious about their sustainability efforts need a way to measure their impact. Having a baseline measurement of your carbon emissions will allow you to create a mitigation strategy tied to actual figures rather than estimates. Corporate travel platforms offer full reporting on the carbon emissions that you generate for air, rail and accommodation. Your traveller’s carbon footprint is completely visible in their booking path, so you can make better, more informed choices at the booking stage. Reports can highlight top routes flown and carbon emissions by distance and cabin class.
Figure 1—Top 10 sources of air travel carbon emissions by department, traveller and route. Egencia’s proprietary carbon emissions tracker for air and hotel has easy-to-use filters.
One of Egencia’s customers, a global fitness apparel brand, relies on the data provided by the flight selection tool, which shows how much carbon dioxide is emitted by a particular flight and offers the ability to compare with other choices. The Travel Manager explains, ‘For us, it’s about driving awareness of these tools that are already available. We have robust corporate sustainability goals and expectations from shareholders that we will deliver on a reduction in carbon emissions across the supply chain, and business travel certainly plays a key role. We want to marry the idea of well-being with doing the right thing for the planet’.
Putting environmental principles into action requires accurate data. Trying to cut your business’s carbon footprint by demanding that people take fewer flights is ineffective. One flight might generate more CO₂ than 10 others combined. With the right data presented in a meaningful format, executives can think about travel and sustainability in terms that make sense for a business’s unique situation and strategy. Focusing on reporting with defined goals will ensure every decision made and every action taken gets your company closer to its sustainability target. It will also help you to communicate your initiatives internally and externally.
Step 3: Define your carbon reduction strategies
Energy has huge environmental impacts, especially greenhouse gas emissions and hazardous air pollutants from fossil fuel use. Energy efficiency and renewable energy can significantly reduce this impact and help retail companies save money. When you can measure and visualise carbon emissions data, you can think about carbon reduction strategies. Perhaps your goal is to create a more environmentally friendly air travel programme or a green-preferred hotel policy.
Here are ways to integrate sustainability into your travel programme:
- Limit the number of travellers per trip to reduce your carbon footprint and ask for more meetings per trip to help your travellers make the most of their time on the road
- Limit the number of trips per month per traveller
- Promote the use of public transport
- Encourage the use of e-ticketing and apps to avoid paper waste
- Ask your travellers to pack lighter luggage to reduce the environmental impact
- Map your preferred airlines, accounting for a high DJSI ranking, CO₂ reporting and compensation
- Create and implement a Green-Preferred Hotel Programme
Transport and accommodation
- Air: Encourage travellers to book direct flights
- Hotel: Add custom locations and preferred hotels on your booking tool
- Rail: Ask travellers to consider rail before air for short trips
- Car hire: Encourage the use of hybrid or electric cars
Step 4: Encourage sustainable traveller and arranger behaviour
We all have to do our part to fight against climate change. Employees want to know that their employers are aligned with their values and are actively taking action. A 2020 study conducted by Censuswide found that 83 percent of respondents claim that their organisation was not engaging enough with environmental sustainability.[vi]
Once you define your sustainability goals and adopt tools to measure your progress, your last step is to inform your travellers about any changes to your travel programme. Building an environmentally conscious work culture may not happen overnight.
As you promote sustainable policies within your company’s culture, be sure to recognise employees that make greener choices. When an employee can see the impact of choosing a train over a flight or the accumulation of carbon emission savings by staying at green hotels over a year, they are more likely to continue to mitigate their carbon footprint. Acknowledging your employee’s greener choices is the key to ensuring that they form environmentally friendly habits. You may even want to create a green travel incentive programme.
Building a sustainable travel programme isn’t just good for the environment–it’s good for your company. You can use your corporate social responsibility initiatives to win new clients and promote your company culture to potential candidates. Be sure to celebrate key milestones with your teams. You may even consider sharing your reduction of carbon emissions as part of your marketing business strategy. Good stewardship can help your organisation retain customers and employees while increasing profitability.
How Egencia can help
- Track your carbon emissions: Calculate the impact of your flight emissions in real time with our carbon offset calculator. Choose a fixed price per ton of CO₂ and the compensated amount will go towards sustainability projects of your choice.
- Air: View your carbon footprint in the booking path and add restrictions to your travel policy, such as preventing air travel to specific destinations. View alternative rail options on the air search page with our air-rail comparison tool. Choose alternative train options for the same flight routes in Norway, Spain, Sweden Belgium, France, the UK, the US and more.
- Transportation: Select public transport options or search for eco-friendly car hire options, such as hybrid or electric vehicles.
- Reporting: Get up-to-date data on carbon emissions for air, rail and hotel, allowing you to create customised reports to track your carbon footprint.
- Consulting: Work with our sustainability consultants to identify gaps in your programme and travel policy, measure your environmental impact, evaluate supplier partnerships and educate your travellers.
- Carbon offset initiatives: Explore carbon offsetting opportunities through our Egencia Advantage partners, including Climate Neutral Group (CNG), Atmosfair and Climate Partner for advice on certified sustainability projects.
From defining your corporate sustainability strategy to supporting the right behaviour, you should now have enough information to start creating a more sustainable business travel programme. Start by getting your green team together to make the most of everyone’s insights and ideas. The need for retail brands both big and small to commit to business sustainability is not simply a trend—it is here to stay.Read more about how retail companies are modernising their travel programmes here.