Sustainable business travel can be a competitive advantage

29 November 2023

Source: Sustainable business travel can be a competitive advantage, Christopher Juneau, Web in Travel, November 28th, 2023


Christopher Juneau is the Head of Market Strategy, SAP Concur

Sustainability continues to rise in prominence in the business world, increasing the spotlight on sustainable travel practices. According to a recent Gartner survey, CEOs say that environmental and social changes are a top-three priority for investors, and CEOs consider sustainability a competitive differentiator.

Gartner has also found that investing in sustainable business practices can help protect companies from economic and political disruptions. One of the top operations-related costs being mitigated through sustainability programs is business travel.

As 2024 continues to bring challenges testing leaders’ abilities to commit to sustainability while doing more with less, prioritizing sustainability in the corporate travel agenda may be the right step to make progress toward environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) goals and stay ahead of the competition.

Rising demand for sustainability

A misguided sentiment is that sustainability is a cost—not an asset—for an organization, but most business leaders are changing their tune. Four out of five surveyed (83%) say that sustainability program activities directly created short- and long-term value for their organization. Additionally, 80% say that sustainability has helped their organization optimize and reduce costs, while 57% noted a strong connection between the enterprise sustainability program and results on the income statement.

Organizations are also feeling employee-driven pressure to commit to sustainability. Forty percent of APAC business travelers expect their company to allow them to make travel choices outside of company policy to accommodate booking more sustainable options, and 24% would decline a business trip due to concern over its environmental impact. Ninety percent plan to take extra steps to reduce their environmental impact while traveling for business over the next 12 months. Nearly a quarter (24%) would take a more direct approach and decline a business trip if they had concerns about the environmental impact of the travel, on par with the 27% of APAC business travelers who said they would decline a trip that required using non-sustainable travel options last year.

Sustainability is critical to attracting and retaining high-performing talent as well. A survey by Esker found that 80% of workers said it is at least somewhat important for businesses to prioritize sustainability practices and values in today’s society. Fifty-eight percent said they planned to factor in a company’s commitment to sustainability when choosing a future employer—including 71% of workers under 25.

Sustainable travel policies in practice

One organization that has made a substantial commitment to sustainability through travel and expense (T&E) is Standard Chartered Bank.

Standard Chartered Bank is a leading international financial institution serving customers in 120-plus markets throughout Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. The organization has a strong commitment to sustainable social and economic development, with the goals of reaching net-zero carbon emissions in its operations by 2025 and in its financing activity by 2050.

Encouraging sustainable behaviors among its 83,000 employees is critical to achieving these goals. As part of its financial transformation effort — dubbed “Project Aspire” — Standard Chartered Bank dramatically simplified its T&E policies and adopted integrated technology to empower employees’ sustainable decision-making.

For instance, to nudge employees toward the most sustainable business travel decisions, the organization has activated messaging alerts in its Travel and Expense (T&E) tools. These pop-up notifications remind employees about their impact when booking flights. Additionally, Standard Chartered Bank has implemented a “taxi tax,” which allows employees to opt in to contribute a percentage of their reimbursement to a central fund for sustainability initiatives when they take ground transportation. The organization also plans to expand these efforts based on suggestions from its workforce according to the sustainable choices that matter most to them.

Strategies to drive sustainable business travel

A handful of critical learnings can be gleaned from Standard Chartered Bank’s experience in enhancing its sustainable business travel efforts.

  1. Don’t underestimate the value of integrated solutions. For instance, the majority of global travel managers (61%) said that managing all travel through one system creates efficiency and convenience in their role — the top-selected reason that they prefer employees book travel using the company’s tools rather than supplier sites. Integrated solutions can serve as a single source of truth for T&E, with functionality that can help travelers make more sustainable choices and data analysis to ensure the organization is meeting its sustainability goals.
  2. Consider everyone a stakeholder in sustainability efforts. This isn’t something that plays out at the top of an organization and trickles down to the broader workforce; everyone has a stake and plays a role. Source employee feedback at each step, from ensuring tools function optimally for their T&E workflows to making sure that policies adequately meet their needs. Surveys, town halls, and even quick, conversational touch bases can help strengthen organizational efforts and encourage engagement in the initiative.
  3. Give employees what they need to be successful. Consider what travelers might need to facilitate more sustainable business travel throughout the process. If the company adopted a new, integrated solution, offer training sessions to walk employees through it. If new sustainability KPIs were put into place, activate functionality within the booking tool to show sustainability information for travel options, and set up messaging to remind employees of any newly instituted policies while booking a trip.

In conclusion

Sustainability can no longer be an afterthought in business travel. Rather, organizations should take proactive steps to implement sustainable travel initiatives, adjust policies accordingly, and use technology to help achieve their goals. Doing so has the potential to improve employee experience, attraction, and retention, while also future proofing the corporate travel program to minimize disruptions and maximize employee safety and productivity.

Organizations that make travel an integral part of their approach to sustainability will not only reduce their environmental impact but also get a leg up on the competition.

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