Rethinking business travel can help achieve 2024 sustainability goals

10 January 2024

Source: Rethinking business travel can help achieve 2024 sustainability goals. An Uber exec explains how, by Susan Anderson, Fastcompany, January 3rd, 2024

[Illustration: FC]
4 tangible ways that businesses can take action on sustainability today.

As the global climate crisis intensifies, people around the world are turning to their leaders to see the sustainability lessons they’ve gleaned from the past year and how they plan to incorporate them in 2024.

My plea to business leaders: let’s not wait to implement these strategies. Let’s take action now. While government and individual action is needed, corporations also have the power to propel change, through a unique combination of speed and impact at scale. 

If this alone isn’t compelling enough, the business case is. Many consumers now value product sustainability over brand name, and are willing to pay more for it. Plus, twothirds of Americans say large corporations aren’t doing enough when it comes to climate change. Sustainability is increasingly becoming a business imperative and consumer demand. 

As a business leader, it’s easy to feel paralyzed by just how massive the climate crisis is. But we can break the challenge down into smaller pieces that are easier to act on. 

Take business travel as an example, an area that I’m particularly attuned to at Uber. It’s something that almost every company relies on in some capacity—whether that means flying employees to an annual corporate retreat, or taking a rideshare to a client meeting. No matter the mode of transportation, corporate travel is a common denominator across industries. It’s also an incredible area to focus on when it comes to making sustainable choices and encouraging eco-conscious behaviors at scale. Let’s start there, today, with these small steps. 

Make sustainable choices frictionless

Employees can drive meaningful progress if you empower them with the right resources, as 94% intend to take steps to reduce the environmental impact of their business trips this year. But we do need to help turn that intention into action; a staggering 92% of business travelers want sustainability information embedded into corporate booking tools, including displaying the impact of each travel option and ranking eco-friendly options first. 

We experimented with something like this at Uber; we price matched low-emission Uber Green trips with UberX trips, our most popular ride type, to make sustainable choices a no-brainer and saw a considerable increase in the number of low-emission trips taken. In fact, from June 2022 to June 2023, low-emission trips just from corporate travelers increased over 70%. With the global business travel market expected to surpass $1 trillion in 2023, even small adjustments can add up to real impact at this scale. 

Create a sustainability ecosystem

Fighting climate change is a team sport. No company will achieve ambitious sustainability goals on its own; it’s vital that businesses prioritize partnerships with like-minded organizations. 

For example, Delta recently outlined a new sustainability roadmap that states 100% of its preferred vendors need to have carbon tracking systems in place by 2025 and net-zero plans in place by 2030. In another example, McDonald’s partnered with the Environmental Defense Fund to eliminate more than 300 million pounds of packaging, reducing restaurant waste by 30%. Some companies are thinking even bigger. Patagonia was one of the founding members of 1% for the Planet, an alliance of businesses that pledge to donate 1% of their sales to environmental causes. 

Business travel specifically is seeing similar trends toward ecosystem collaboration. Recently, American Express Global Business Travel developed Green Compass to help their clients develop sustainable travel strategies. They work with green partners to help clients shift to cleaner aircrafts or move to a hotel brand with lower CO2 emissions, for example. When it comes to sustainability, the more we can pool resources and expertise, the more progress we can make. 

Measure progress and adapt accordingly

Despite initial efforts, emissions reporting has not yet been standardized. Misalignment around reporting has created significant barriers to progress, because you can’t change what you can’t see. 

It’s critical that companies leverage tools to gauge where their company stands and what realistic next steps look like. For example, Oracle announced new capabilities to help track emissions from shipping activities. United Airlines added a new category to its reporting to measure greenhouse gas emissions from jet fuel production, fully capturing lifecycle emissions. Uber for Business rolled out a sustainability insights dashboard, giving clients the highly requested capability to track ground travel emissions. Forty-seven thousand organizations have used this dashboard to date—4,000 new clients each month since launch.

Implementing the right tools to monitor your company’s carbon footprint is imperative to better understand environmental impact, learn where you can adjust, and hold your company accountable.

Align policies with proclamations

By the end of 2022, companies representing over a third of the global economy had set or committed to set science-based targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These goals are important, but too often, progress stalls there. Our recent study on business travel, for example, found that while corporate leaders emphasize the importance of sustainability, just 6% of travel managers consider it a top priority day-to-day. Follow-through matters. Companies must go beyond posturing for good PR, posting on Earth Day, and appealing to the eco-friendly consumer. We must put action behind our words, and develop attainable sustainability goals, even if that means starting small. 

It’s OK not to have all the answers or the most comprehensive climate plan right now. Be realistic about the change you can begin to make at your company, and start there, today. That might look like interviewing travel managers to better understand your organization’s business travel policies. A few months later, that small step could turn into tracking and reporting on business travel emissions, even including the data as part of a formal report and sharing findings, tools, and best practices with industry peers. 

All that to say, achieving major sustainability goals won’t happen overnight, but making inroads is up to leadership. Start small, be consistent, and help lead the way toward a more sustainable future.

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