Top 11 Tips for Sustainable Business Travel
Updated: Sep 6
As we begin to see business travel cautiously resume in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, incorporating sustainability has never been more important for any individual or company where travel is necessary.
Before we dive into the depths of how to formulate a sustainable travel policy, there are some easy actions you can start with to meaningfully reduce your carbon emissions from traveling.
Here are a few tips on how to immediately take sustainability into account before, during and after your business trip.
1. Choose to fly direct flights and lower seating classes
The shorter distances of direct flights generate significantly less carbon emissions than connecting flights, and a study by The World Bank estimates that emissions per passenger in Business class can be three times as high as those in Economy class.
2. Replacing short flights with rail journeys
Traveling by train emits much less emissions than flying. Taking the popular route of Tokyo to Osaka for example, the carbon emissions per seat on the shinkansen (bullet train) traveling between the two cities is approximately 1/8th of that of an aircraft.
3. Choose travel providers wisely
Choose business travel providers who will give you the information and option to help you and your company make more sustainable choices through, for example, sourcing greener hotels and lower emissions transport options. Local tour operators at the destination are even better positioned to know how your trip can further minimize environmental damages while maximising social benefits to local communities.
4. Carbon offsetting
Purchase carbon offsets that are verified and certified by global bodies such as the UN to offset the unavoidable emissions of the trip. Funds from offsets generally contribute to projects around the world that help reduce future emissions, mainly in reforestation, renewable energy, and supporting undeveloped communities to become more energy-efficient.
5. Know before you go
Though you may be busy preparing pitches and presentations to meet your business objectives of the trip, there’s also great value in understanding the people and the places you’ll be working with and in. Taking some time to understand the broader cultural and environmental context of your destination will also help you become a more responsible, respectful traveler.
ON THE ROAD
6. Use public transport and car-sharing apps
Taking public transport in place of renting a car will significantly reduce your emissions. Car-sharing through apps (e.g. Uber, Lyft, Grab) can also help lower emissions, while letting you enjoy the comforts and conveniences of a private car without the hassles like dealing with rental agencies and worrying about parking.
7. Drive electric
If public transport or ride-sharing options aren’t available, try to rent an electric vehicle to reduce your carbon footprint. Charging stations are becoming increasingly common, and there are now a number of apps to help you find them.
8. Reduce plastic waste
Avoid single-use plastics and bring a reusable water bottle wherever you go, and fill up your bottle in your hotel, at restaurants, or find a water refill spot with an app. Might as well throw in a foldable reusable coffee cup to ensure those caffeine fixes are also plastic-free - it won’t take up much space anyway.
9. Act responsibly in hotels
Small, simple actions go a long way. Switch off lights and air-conditioning when you go out, reuse your towels, and consider bringing your own toiletries instead of using ones provided by hotels which usually come in small containers of single-use plastic.
10. Eat local AND seasonal, and support small businesses
Food production accounts for 26% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, with transport, packaging and processing making up 6% of emissions from rich countries. Therefore local, seasonal food means lower emissions. And if possible, avoid all-you-can-eat buffets as they result in a high amount of food waste, which is also a huge contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions.
Furthermore, by supporting a small business, you’re also supporting the local community by directly helping to stimulate the local economy, while money spent on large businesses tends to be absorbed further away.
11. Keep in touch and spread the word
If your trip involved visiting or staying in places that are actively advancing sustainable development with efforts like supporting regional revitalization or enhancing ecological preservation, try to stay connected with their development, continue to support them from home and help spread the word about their good work.
Finally, it is still essential to formalize many of these measures by establishing a robust and transparent company travel policy that encourages sustainable travel, as part of your overall company sustainability strategy. Through involving employees, setting clear targets, rewarding the most carbon-conscious travelers and inspiring employees to take these practices in their own lives, there’s a better chance of us being able to achieve net-zero emissions sooner and slowing the climate crisis. We'll be publishing an article on policy-crafting very soon, so stay tuned!