Sustainability in Travel: How to Make a Positive Impact

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For many years now, our environmental footprint and the impact we have on our travel destinations have been important considerations for both business and leisure travelers. There has also been an increasing expectation that companies operating in the travel industry – and those contributing to the growing impact – are doing more to support sustainability.

So, what is sustainability in travel, and why is it important? What is the industry doing to address issues and growing concerns? And, importantly, how can your business implement sustainable practices into your travel program? Let’s take a look.

What is sustainability in travel?

From preserving nature to respecting cultures and supporting local businesses, every trip has an impact, whether it be positive, negative, or both. Sustainable tourism is about taking responsibility and action for the current and future environmental, social and economic impacts of travel.

When we talk about sustainability in travel, we mean more than opting to offset the carbon emissions of your flight or using your towels more than once. While every small action is essential – especially when taken by the majority of people – they aren't enough.

Establishing sustainable travel practices can form part of your corporate social responsibility (CSR), which is a framework that incorporates social accountability into your business model. CSR is more than lip-service; it is specific and targeted and, importantly, valued by employees and customers alike.

Why is sustainable travel important?

With the number of passengers departing from the U.S. monthly, comes significant impacts on the world's resources and its sustainability. Fuel emissions from your air and ground transport, food waste, water usage and the use of disposable containers are apparent and often tangible impacts of travel. But travelers and businesses alike are increasingly aware of aspects like over-tourism. Also known as overcrowding, this can congest a destination, leading to environmental damage, cultural conflicts, increased demands on resources and higher costs of living for locals. And the industry is responding through concepts like managing growth at popular destinations and establishing development plans around sustainability.

Growing expectations for more sustainable travel options are driving many industries to offer responsible products and implement sustainable practices into operations. From a business point of view, this means:

  • Your customers want to know that they are buying products that have been sustainably sourced and transported or services that are supporting local cultures and businesses;
  • Your employees want to travel sustainably and know that they are working for a company that promotes these values; and
  • People local to your origin and destination want to see what you have done to ensure that your travel is not negatively impacting their way of life.

Organizations that are embracing sustainability as an integral part of their business practices and travel programs are experiencing a range of positive outcomes, including:

  • Positive publicity;
  • Employee retention;
  • Improved relationships with customers;
  • Increased sales; and
  • Better financial results.

Holding businesses accountable for sustainability

Accor’s research highlighted the importance of a robust CSR program, not only for the benefit of sustainability but to demonstrate the business' values and practices to employees, customers and suppliers.

According to the results of the study:

  • 75% said they have a responsible purchasing policy prioritizing sustainability;
  • 50% of companies said that CSR would be a deciding factor between two otherwise competitive options; and
  • 33% would terminate a supplier if they were not happy with their CSR performance. 

“Importantly, this survey included business-to-business clients and found that the (Accor) group's CSR credentials certainly help to win more business from a client base that is increasingly conscious about corporate responsibility,” says Simon.

So, what does this look like in practice? Respected supplement company and Corporate Traveler customer, Blackmores, recently implemented a supplier Code of Conduct, which provides a framework outlining their expectations for sustainable sourcing, social responsibilities and business transparency.

The company works through their Code of Conduct with all their suppliers to assess and understand where they’re meeting the requirements of the Code and where they could make improvements.

“We’re a values-based business, and we strive to make a positive difference to the world. But we’re limited in our impact if our suppliers aren’t doing it too. Our code takes a holistic view and considers key values such as employee conditions, community, ethics and sustainability. Our investors, our consumers and the community expect us to behave and operate with integrity, and the consequences can be significant if we don’t,” says Gemma Edwards, Category Manager Indirects at Blackmores.

As a supplier to Blackmores, Corporate Traveler was assessed as part of their Code of Conduct supplier review. As an organization with a strong sense of corporate social responsibility and being part of the Flight Centre Travel Group’s Brighter Futures program, the assessment was welcomed.

“When the Blackmores team first spoke to us about the Code, we were excited straight away. In our assessment, we were able to demonstrate how Corporate Traveler cares about treating people well. We showed how we give back to the community, we talked a lot about ethics and good governance, as well as our commitment to sustainability and reducing our environmental impact. Caring about people is in our culture, so working on the Code and answering all of the questions was a task we really believed in,” says Sally King, National Account Management Leader for Corporate Traveler.

How to implement sustainable practices into your travel program

Companies domestically and internationally are incorporating sustainability into their business travel programs, regardless of their size. A study by the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) found that, of the companies surveyed:

  • 37% track the carbon footprint of their travelers;
  • 23% use a sustainability index or scorecard system to understand the sustainability practices of key suppliers; and
  • 7% set carbon emission reduction targets.

So, how can you introduce sustainable practices into your business travel program? Here are our top tips:

  • Choose airlines that offer the option to offset carbon emissions, and add it to bookings;
  • Choose hotels that have sustainable practices;
  • Encourage your travelers to stay close to meetings so they can walk, ride or catch public transport to and from;
  • Provide tips to your travelers on being environmentally responsible hotel guests: reuse towels, turn off the aircon and lights when out, avoid dry cleaning, and sleep in the same sheets for more than one night;
  • Encourage travelers to forego single-use plastics by supplying reusable water bottles and keep cups;
  • Provide digital or tech-based processes to reduce paper waste, including expense management systems; and
  • Partner with suppliers who have solid sustainability programs and practices in place.

The best way to achieve up-take with these practices and make a real difference is through education. Provide your employees and your customers with the tools and information to help them make informed decisions and travel responsibly.

Start today for a better tomorrow

Even the smallest of changes to travelling habits can have significant impacts. By introducing more conscious practices, you’ll not only be supporting the sustainability of the world but also benefiting your bottom line.

As part of the Flight Centre Travel Group, Corporate Traveler is proud to support and advocate responsible travel, positive diversity practices, empowered giving, and conservation of natural resources and sustainability. We established our CSR program by consolidating these pillars into the FCTG Brighter Futures program.

Contact us today to find out how you can be a more sustainable traveler.