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Sustainable business travel: how to thrive with a new model

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Sustainable Business Travel: How to Thrive With a New Model

By Amelie Losanes, Senior Consultant, Sustainable Collaboration

There’s no denying that we are already feeling the impacts of climate change across the world. The travel industry specifically, as an important emissions contributor, faces large implications.

With warming temperatures, traveling will become more challenging over time and now is a perfect time to act and rethink the future of our industry.

As climate anxiety is becoming more prevalent, many of us feel that we don’t have the tools to change course while still maintaining a thriving industry. Tools, however, do exist and with a renewed mindset and a little bit of inspiration taken from existing models, we can find a new approach to bring sustainability to the heart of travel and make an impact.

Today, our main focus is around greenhouse gas emissions. While this is an essential piece of the puzzle, sustainability is far greater than this and we need to incorporate more aspects of our activities to truly capture our impact on the environment and to develop a holistic and proactive model to combat climate change. The general fear that I am sensing is that rethinking our views will impact our growth. The question I’d like to pose then is the following: Should we keep aiming for economic growth at the expense of the planet and its people, or could we thrive?

Introducing the doughnut model

A great example of a holistic solution is the doughnut economics model developed by English economist Kate Raworth. This model aims to find a balance between our needs to thrive as human beings and the needs of our planet. It encompasses several areas (both environmental and social) that can help us expand our vision of sustainability and of the future.

Such a model could help us to understand the impacts of our industry, consider how to mitigate them, and create a future economy based on balance and respect for people and planet, rather than our typical conception of exponential growth. It can be done and cities like Amsterdam are effectively paving the way forward by applying this model and making different decisions about city amenities as a result.

The chart below shows how we are doing at a global scale with the model:

Advito Doughnut Theory

How to use the doughnut model for business travel

The beauty of the doughnut model is that it’s not a one-size-fits-all model, meaning any industry or individual can use this model to focus on the areas that to them. For travel managers, there are several ways to start incorporating the doughnut model into your business to create a culture of care and respect (both from a social and environmental standpoint). Here are four key areas to explore:

  1. The decision to travel
  2. Selecting suppliers that care
  3. Education for travelers
  4. Innovation

1. The decision to travel

For some time now, we have encouraged clients to have a “stay or go” framework to assess when a trip is necessary and if it supports the business goals. By considering the doughnut model, the decision to travel can take an additional dimension. The question of whether a trip supports your business goals remains central but encouraging travelers and managers to look at the full picture can bring additional questions:

  • Traveler health and air pollution: Is the trip happening in a destination where air pollution is high? Is the health of the traveler potentially at risk?
  • Climate change and contribution to emissions: Could this trip be done by a local colleague or could this trip be done closer to home or replaced by video conferencing?

By considering these additional aspects, travelers and managers alike can look at heath, wellbeing and sustainability through a different lens, and decide to take different actions.

2. Selecting suppliers that care

Once the decision is made that a trip should happen, there are additional areas where travel managers can apply the doughnut model. This includes thinking carefully about the suppliers you work with to understand the impact your business can have on a larger scale and who you should support and work with.

  • For airline partners, focus on choosing suppliers who are putting efforts in renewing their fleet and have active plans to reduce emissions.
  • For accommodation providers, many things can be done to embrace sustainable practices. Here are a few ideas:
  • Food: improving sourcing to include seasonal and vegetarian or vegan options, and support for local businesses. This enhances the traveler’s wellbeing while supporting the local economy and respecting the seasons.
  • Reducing chemical pollution: Working with hotels that have eco-certifications and use sustainable cleaning supplies is one way to tackle this aspect.
  • Minimize land conversion and protect biodiversity: work with hotel groups that expand their businesses by renting or buying existing properties instead of building from scratch and consider hotels that are actively working on solutions to protect the local biodiversity where they operate.

Here again, by taking a step back and looking at the full picture, travel managers can make sustainable decisions that will benefit the travelers and the environment long-term.

3. Traveler education

Engaging and educating travelers is truly key to the doughnut approach as it puts the employees at the heart of the decision-making process and gives them an understanding of their impact and the keys to act. For example, on the issue of water, travelers use twice as much water when staying in a hotel than at home on average, and that can have a huge impact on water resources, particularly at hotels in water-stressed areas. By allowing the travelers to choose a hotel with amenities that they truly need and by providing them that education, they can act and cut down on excessive consumption. The same can be said about the choice of aircraft at the time of booking or the decision to effectively not travel.

Your travelers can be the biggest advocate of your sustainable travel program but that can only be achieved through education and by showing them how they can contribute to your sustainability goals and success.

4. Innovation

The doughnut model requires us to think differently and beyond carbon. There are a number of ways to fund projects internally to assist with decarbonization and contribute positively to the environment. For example, you could choose to implement a carbon pricing strategy that could fund decarbonizing projects or projects supporting biodiversity. While these projects will not necessarily provide carbon offsetting credits, they have a tangible impact on our environment. For instance, investing in our oceans or “Blue Carbon” projects support oceanic health. As a recent WDC report points out, the ocean constitutes 99% of habitable space on the planet, provides a home for at least 250,000 species, captures 25% of all carbon dioxide emissions, absorbs 90% of excess heat, and creates 50% of the oxygen produced by plants.

As an industry, we need to move to a more holistic approach that’s not just about counting carbon. We are already seeing challenges with the operation of airplanes and trains in extreme heat conditions, and this will only worsen if we do not rethink our ways of operating. We believe the doughnut model gives us a viable framework to implement truly sustainable change while allowing the industry to thrive. By making changes in the present together, we can have a real impact for the future. Want to learn more? Contact us today!

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