How retail brands can create a sustainable business travel program
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 U.S. will require businesses to report greenhouse gas emissions.[i] The number of companies sharing climate data with CDP, the world's leading disclosure platform, has increased by almost 40 percent in 2021.[ii] Intended regulations would require all publicly traded companies to include climate change risk evaluations in their yearly 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 that result 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 to monitor, reduce and report on corporate travel emissions will avoid scrambling on how to gather 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 program 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 program can actually save your business money, making it more profitable.
Here are four steps to weave sustainable business practices into your corporate travel program.
Step 1: Outline the reasons for travel before you set new corporate sustainability goals
Focusing on corporate social responsibility is not only important for proposed policy changes but also a crucial strategy to attract younger generations of consumers and drive 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 such programs any greener.[iii]
The first step to defining goals for your business travel program is to meet with internal stakeholders, such as budget holders, department leaders and regular travelers. It is important to ask questions to understand your current corporate travel culture before you implement new corporate governance. Here are a few examples of questions that will help you understand the value of travel to the organization:
- 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, on budget and on the environment. As travel returns, how will you choose when to invest in travel to drive the most value?
Talking with 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 traveling to a business meeting, is it critical that they are all there? Reducing the size of each travel party can have a big impact on the carbon use of a business. 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 checking in with your core team is that over time it will help create a culture where everyone involved feels a shared sense of responsibility. It’s important to gain support internally for your sustainable development goals. Don't forget to ask for their ideas here too; you could have a passionate sustainability expert in your organization and not even realize.
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 taken a pledge.[v]
Retail companies that are serious about their sustainability efforts need a way to measure impact. Having a baseline measurement of your carbon emissions will allow you to create a mitigation strategy tied to actual figures rather than a guess. Corporate travel platforms offer full reporting on the carbon emissions that you generate for air, rail and accommodation. Your traveler’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, traveler, 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 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. It is not effective to cut the carbon footprint by demanding that people take fewer flights. 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 to a business’ 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 about 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 these impacts and help retail companies save money. When you can measure and visualize carbon emissions data, you can think about carbon reduction strategies. Perhaps your goal is to create a more environmentally friendly air travel program or a green-preferred hotel policy.
Here are ways to integrate sustainability into your travel program:
- Limit the number of travelers per trip to reduce your carbon footprint and ask for more meetings per trip to help your travelers make the most of their time on the road
- Limit the number of trips per month, per traveler
- Promote the use of public transport
- Encourage the use of e-ticketing and apps to avoid paper waste
- Ask your travelers to pack lighter luggage to reduce their environmental impact
- Map your preferred airlines, accounting for a high DJSI rank, CO2 reporting, and compensation
- Create and implement a Green-Preferred Hotel Program
Transport and accommodation
- Air: Encourage travelers to book direct flights
- Hotel: Add custom locations and preferred hotels on your booking tool
- Rail: Ask travelers to consider rail before air for short trips
- Car rental: Encourage the use of hybrid or electric cars
Step 4: Encourage sustainable traveler and arranger behavior
We all have to do our part to fight against climate change. Employees want to know their employers are aligned with their values and actively taking action. A 2020 study conducted by Censuswide found that 83 percent of respondents claim that their organization 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 travelers about any changes to your travel program. Building an environmentally conscious work culture may not happen overnight.
As you promote sustainable policies within your company’s culture be sure to recognize 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 for them to becoming habit-forming. You may even want to create a green travel incentive program.
Building a sustainable travel program 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 organization 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 U.S., and more.
- Transportation: Select public transport options or search for eco-friendly car rentals like hybrid or electric vehicles.
- Reporting: Get up-to-date data on carbon emissions for air, rail and hotel, allowing you to create customized reports to track your carbon footprint.
- Consulting: Work with our sustainability consultants to identify gaps in your program and travel policy, measure your environmental impact, evaluate supplier partnerships, and educate your travelers.
- 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 behaviors, you should now have enough information to start creating a more sustainable business travel program. 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.