Managing business travel in the age of the climate imperative

10 April 2024

Source: Managing business travel in the age of the climate imperative, Financial Times

Photo credit: Financial Times’s website

Business leaders are under increasing pressure to reduce their organisations’ carbon footprints – and to account for climate change impacts accurately and openly

Time is running short for thousands of businesses to put new systems in place to monitor and report on their climate change impacts – including the emissions created by business travel. But climate change advisers say that new regulations worldwide also represent an opportunity to respond to demands from multiple stakeholders for business travel to become more sustainable. That will be critical, with 93 per cent of organisations needing to double the pace of emissions reduction by 2030 to hit their environmental targets.

The EU’s new Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD), for example, came into effect earlier this year and will, over the next two years, increase the number of companies subject to sustainability reporting requirements from 11,700 to around 49,000. Businesses covered by the CSRD will be required to measure and report on every aspect of their carbon footprint, including the emissions generated by business travel. Elsewhere, the US’s Securities and Exchange Commission is putting the final touches on its Climate Disclosure rules for listed companies. Asia is moving forward with similar initiatives.

With visibility set to increase, many organisations are thinking hard about the carbon footprint of their travel. Research published by leading travel and expense management company SAP Concur suggests 37 per cent of travel managers expect their company’s travel policies to change in the next 12 months to better comply with their internal and external sustainability goals. And 28 per cent say they face growing pressure to increase reporting on their company’s travel emissions.

Data matters more than ever

Against this backdrop, business leaders will have to work much harder at measuring the environmental impacts of their business travel. They will need detailed and accurate data on the emissions generated by every element of employees’ trips. “Measurement is the baseline,” says Kit Aspen, founder of carbon intelligence platform Thrust Carbon. “You need to know who is travelling too much, because in most organisations 10 per cent of the people are doing 90 per cent of the travel, but you also need to understand why and how your people are travelling.”

In most organisations 10 per cent of the people are doing 90 per cent of the travel

While businesses still believe in the value of travel, attitudes are shifting rapidly, says Christopher Juneau, Head of SAP Concur Market Strategy. “Some meetings will be better done virtually and, when we do decide to travel, perhaps it makes sense to take a longer trip to see more people, rather than making repeated visits,” he says. “We are also at a tipping point in terms of prioritising sustainability – opting for rail travel, for example, over a flight, even if it costs more or takes longer.”


It is not simply the regulatory imperative that is driving change. Companies’ key stakeholder groups are also determined to hold businesses to account. Research shows that almost three quarters of consumers are now looking for more sustainable companies. Similarly, 85 per cent of investors say sustainability is now an important factor in their decision-making process. And perhaps most important of all in a marketplace where the battle for talent is fiercer than ever, employees increasingly want to work for sustainable companies.

The battle for talent is fiercer than ever – and employees increasingly want to work for sustainable companies

This is particularly true for younger members of staff. One recent report found that 40 per cent of Gen Z and Millennial workers would switch jobs over climate change concerns. With these cohorts already accounting for 38 per cent of the global workforce – rising to 58 per cent by 2030 – businesses cannot ignore such strongly held views.

Measure to mitigate

Improved sustainability data on business travel is the key to identifying opportunities to reduce its environmental impacts, argues Aspen. “When you start measuring the emissions your travel is creating, you can start identifying the behaviours you want to change,” he says. “Plus, you can analyse your entire travel programme from this specific perspective.”

When you start measuring your travel emissions, you can start identifying the behaviours you want to change

For example, a particular employee might be travelling more frequently than the company thinks is necessary. Or there may be opportunities to travel with less of an impact. Could the business switch to airlines, car rental agencies and hotel operators that offer lower emissions? Perhaps staff could be supported towards making more use of electric vehicles when they’re booking taxis; maybe rail travel makes more sense than a flight.


The goal should be to have data that is sufficiently robust and consistent to inform such judgements, says Juneau of SAP Concur. “It’s no different to financial reporting,” he says. “Companies are looking to leverage high-quality data on the sustainability impacts of their business travel to give them the insights necessary to reduce those impacts.”

Power of technology

The good news is that new tools and technologies increasingly make that more straightforward. It helps that travel companies – particularly airlines and hotel operators – are now able to provide much more detailed data on the emissions generated by their activities, which businesses can incorporate into their own reporting.

In addition, companies are finding new ways to collect sustainability data from staff as they travel. Expense tools, for example, can be used to provide a read-out of the environmental cost of every part of a business trip, as well as its financial cost. “The combination of travel data and expense data is very rich,” adds Juneau. “Ultimately, it will enable both the organisation and the individual to make the right choices.”

Some organisations are now moving towards setting carbon budgets, which cap the emissions that particular departments – or even individuals – are allowed to incur. Armed with the data they need to stay within those budgets, business travel managers will play their part in helping organisations hit their crucial emissions targets.

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