And how travel managers can respond.

Business travel remains a vital part of the economic landscape, offering more than just personal interaction; it strengthens customer relationships and trust between business partners. It also encourages team collaboration and a deeper understanding of various global market conditions. The significant return on investment (ROI) from business travel underscores its importance1. Yet, these journeys come with a downside: In 2022, business travel was responsible for approximately 148.4 million tons of CO2 emissions globally, equivalent to the total emissions of all Scandinavian countries – Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland – combined. In this context, adopting a sustainable approach that reduces environmental impact without undermining the benefits of in-person meetings and global connectivity is essential. 

Many companies have recognized the ecological impact of business travel and are more and subject to regulatory pressure, thus increasingly focusing on sustainability. Not only for their success, but also to remain appealing to potential applicants. A popular approach to minimizing the ecological footprint of travel is ‘offsetting’, where emissions are compensated for by investing in climate-positive projects. The basic idea: Emissions generated in one place are offset elsewhere. But is this the solution we need? 

EU: Companies mandated to actively reduce emissions by 2026 

It is increasingly recognized that offsetting merely treats symptoms and does not combat the climate crisis – making sustainability promises based on compensation untenable2. The European Union is sending a clear signal with its ban on ‘carbon-neutral’ claims based on offsetting from 2026: Active emission reduction must replace passive compensation to make business travel sustainable for the future. 

How Can Business Travel Become More Sustainable? 

In reality, achieving the desired reduction can be challenging, often making offsetting a more convenient choice. However, the principle of ‘Avoid, Reduce, Compensate’ suggests that the first step should be replacing business trips with digital alternatives, saving both time and money for companies, and allowing employees to use their time more efficiently. While eliminating business travel entirely is unrealistic, we can strive to make necessary trips as environmentally friendly as possible. Here are some approaches: 

  • Purposeful travel planning: Each trip must have a clear business value. Companies can introduce strict travel policies that determine when physical meetings are necessary and thus approved. 
  • Promoting sustainable modes of transport: When travel is unavoidable, alternatives to air travel should be considered. The train is often an effective alternative, especially for distances up to four hours. 
  • Sustainable accommodations: There are many environmentally friendly hotels and accommodations that offer the same amenities and services as their less sustainable counterparts3

Some firms are implementing bans to enforce stricter travel guidelines and mandate more sustainable choices. However, in a challenging talent recruitment market, it’s crucial to find a balanced approach. Imposing additional restrictions and reducing comfort might be perceived negatively and lead to employee dissatisfaction. Therefore, most companies aim to raise employees’ awareness and commitment to sustainability. 

Employee engagement in three steps 

But how do you get travelers to switch from plane to train and be motivated to choose the environmentally friendlier, but potentially less comfortable, option? 

  1. Corporate culture must support the change. Longer travel times must be planned in work organization and processes. Buffers in processes and work sharing for offline work on the train significantly reduce stress for travelers. 
  1. Communication is key. Management must clearly communicate why these changes are necessary and how everyone can contribute. 
  1. Incentives can help bridge the gap between less comfort and more sustainability. The sustainable travel option is more likely to be chosen if one is rewarded for it. 

Ultimately, it’s the employees who make the difference. While companies can create the framework and raise awareness, it’s the individual’s choice at booking that counts. Our eco.mio plug-in for booking tools merges incentives and in-process communication, promoting a culture of sustainability. Through nudging techniques like visual cues, incentives, etc., employees are encouraged to opt for the green alternative. 

We bring sustainability to your travel management. With eco.mio, companies save 20% of emissions from business travel – sound interesting? 

Explore which potential lies within your travel program.