Five ways to build a sustainable business travel policy

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Five ways to build a sustainable business travel policy

By Paljor Lama, Senior Consultant

A sustainability-focused business travel policy can be a powerful tool – not only to influence your organization’s carbon footprint but also to provide your employees with the support they need to be able to carry out their responsibilities safely and effectively.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on the global economy have taken sustainable business travel practices from being an important consideration to an essential one. Building a sustainable business travel program encompasses everything from reducing overall emissions and working with sustainable suppliers and carbon offset partners, to ensuring the right communications strategy is in place to secure traveler buy-in.

Here are five ways to incorporate sustainability into your travel policy to make sure you’re ready as the landscape continues to evolve rapidly, and we enter into the new future of travel.

Provide guidance on how to access virtual collaboration tools and who to reach out to for support.

Employees want to do the right thing. Better equip them to replace travel with virtual alternatives. In your policy, detail the communications tools that are available and provide relevant links to access them as well as any training materials that may be available.

This is also an opportunity to provide guidelines on how to create an engaging virtual meeting experience and maximize participant engagement. Provide tips like learning everyone’s names and using them, waiting longer for input, and listening actively. Finally, provide clear guidelines on reimbursable communications expenses to empower employees to encourage them to utilize technology and teleconferencing in lieu of travel.

Strongly discourage one or two-day trips.

Short trips and internal travel are the most easily replaced by virtual tools. Limiting travel to essential trips that are several days long or combining several trips into one will minimize your traveler’s risk and fulfilling your duty of care requirements, while also helping to reduce emissions and increase productivity. Because travel is typically the biggest contributor to an organization’s environmental footprint, reducing the number of trips will contribute to achieving overall sustainability and corporate social responsibility goals.

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Include a “stay or go” decision tree in the policy and ensure that the logic permeates all facets of the guidelines.

This provides travelers with guidance on sustainable options while keeping them engaged in the decision-making process. Include guidance on selecting meeting venues with considerations of optimum locations and routing. Consider reinforcing this tactic with some statistics throughout the year. Communicate with relatable numbers, like “If we reduce travel by X%, we could save $$$, X in carbon emissions and X time spent on the road.”

Put employee well-being front-and-center.

Elevate the traveler experience by making their best interests the priority. Actively educate that travel alternatives will not only generate savings but also improve employee work-life balance, along with their overall well-being. Consider targeting road warriors, educating them on the negative effects of frequent travel.

Influence travelers to make lower carbon emission choices.

Integrating sustainability messaging into your employee engagement strategy is the best way to give them the information they need at the right time in the decisions making process. Consider creating assets to communicate messaging like:

  • Consider trains before planes. Trains are more energy-efficient per passenger mile than planes or cars, making them one of the most eco-friendly transportation options (outside of walking or riding bikes).
  • If you do need to fly, choose a newer aircraft, and fly direct instead of connecting. Newer aircrafts burn significantly lower fuel (look for Boeing 787, Airbus 321 NEO or the Airbus 350) and so do direct flights. Choosing both will mitigate your carbon impact.
  • When possible, utilize public transport or rent electrical vehicles.
  • Look for green-certified accommodations.

Incorporating these sustainability elements into your travel policy will not only improve employee and public affinity to your organization, but also future fit your program to minimize disruptions and maximize employee safety and productivity. Make travel an integral part of achieving your organization’s sustainability goals.

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