Sustainable Corporate Travel: Action You Can Take Right Now

Sustainable Corporate Travel: Action You Can Take Right Now


Consider this:

  • TripAdvisor, Booking Holdings, Visa and other major players in the travel industry have joined Britain’s Prince Harry in an effort to identify global green travel best practices. The endeavor is called Travalyst, as the group hopes to serve as a catalyst for change within travel and tourism that will protect people as well as places.
  • KLM recently introduced their “Fly Responsibly” campaign, to “make the world aware of our shared responsibility” to encourage more sustainable aviation.
  • And Skift has just launched a new magazine, Greening of Travel, which explores how travel providers can “embrace their responsibility to the world.”

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While these entities are taking a big-picture approach to addressing sustainability, down here at ground level there are things even small and mid-size companies can do within their corporate travel program to effect positive environmental change. It’s simple:

  • Don’t do business with wasteful providers.
  • Don’t be wasteful in your own travel-related decisions and practices.

But let’s be more specific. What can your company do, right now, to leave a lighter travel footprint?

Create policies and procedures with the environment in mind

Book hotels that adhere to high sustainability standards themselves. Formalize a policy to do business with the greenest possible suppliers of all kinds, and build that into RFPs and negotiations. If your company has a Corporate Social Responsibility vision or plan, sustainable travel policies and procedures can put that plan into action.

It is essential to take a holistic approach to corporate travel sustainability. One of the simplest, but most comprehensively effective, steps you can take is adopting a digital corporate travel management platform that serves your entire team — travel managers, finance, admins, management and travelers themselves (like!)

With a corporate travel management platform, like Lola, you can streamline and manage travel like the big guys — even as an SMB — saving your company time and money. Plus, going digital virtually eliminates paper, from tickets and boarding passes to expense receipts and reports. Even better, with a tool like Lola, employees can easily indicate a preference for and book the eco-friendly hotels, flights, etc. your policies call for.

Fly only when necessary

Air travel is one of the worst global polluters, so every flight your team does not take is a win for the environment. But, travel is vital for your business. One tip that benefits your company as well as the environment is to book direct flights whenever possible, since take-offs and landings emit the most noxious chemicals into the air. You’re likely already doing this, though, because direct flights are far more efficient for your busy travelers. It's a win-win!

In Europe, it’s a lot easier to skip flying because the train service is superb, and often super-fast. But we hear you saying, “Take the train? What train?” Up till now, except in a few highly urbanized parts of the country, Americans haven’t had access to business-friendly inter-town train service. However, Amtrak has seen the future, and they’re moving full steam ahead to get on board with the “fly less” movement.

Amtrak’s CEO, Richard Anderson, says Amtrak intends to become a major player in short-haul transportation, picking up customers left behind as airlines rush to eliminate non-lucrative short haul flights that are increasingly unpopular for environmental reasons. Anderson also cites the fact that millennials tend to be urbanites who don’t even own a car.

Is this trip really necessary?

Taking the train may be more sustainable than flying, but staying home is the greenest way to go. It’s also a great way to trim your T&E spend and conserve that most valuable resource: time. For client meetings, board meetings, etc. consider getting together electronically instead. We’re all familiar with video conferencing, but are you using tools like this to best advantage?

If a digital meeting isn’t feasible, pick a location that requires the least attendee travel. Schedule multiple meetings during each trip to a given destination to optimize productivity. Fewer, slightly longer trips will cost less than many short trips.

For corporate events and conferences hosted by you, consider ways to reduce travel for attendees as well as on-site sustainability measures you can take (especially including the venue you choose).

Use greener ground transport

Encourage travelers to skip the rental car and use public transportation or ride-sharing whenever possible. This can also save on parking, tolls, and other expenses. If a rental car is necessary, mandate employees choose a hybrid or another fuel-efficient option.

At home, encourage all employees to commute sustainably by carpooling, using public transportation, or biking. After all, commuting is another form of business travel. And if your company owns one or a fleet of vehicles, choose the most eco-friendly model.

Just say no to plastic

There are myriad eco-friendly choices your employees can make while traveling. One of the most obvious – and most valuable – is to avoid plastic. Water bottles, in particular, have now captured worldwide attention for their “top of the trash heap” polluter status.

One marketer has noted that travel providers can boost loyalty and encourage travelers to avoid plastic by offering discounts for using their branded reusable containers. Why not take the initiative yourself and score points with your own travelers? Purchase lightweight, reusable, non-plastic water bottles with built-in filters and emblazon them with your own corporate branding. Distribute them to your travelers — or, better yet, all your employees.

Develop metrics so you can measure and celebrate your progress

What’s the point of “doing something” if you don’t know your efforts are, in fact, doing something positive to improve environmental sustainability? Pick a few specific goals (or just one or two to start), match them up with appropriate KPIs, and use what you learn to make your sustainability program progressively broader and more effective. Learn how to calculate your travel CO2 footprint and use that data as a jumping off point for goal creation.

Communicate sustainable practices

Tell employees what the company is doing and why. Teach them tips to make sustainable choices on the road, whether they’re on assignment for the company of off on vacation.

And make it fun. Each of the tips presented here represents an opportunity to put your own corporate twist on the sustainability measures you take. So challenge everyone to get involved. Who can think up the best way to boost greenness in your company’s travel program? Who has the best light packing tip? Host roundtables, lunch sessions, and contests so travelers can share their own tips on traveling sustainably.

Heed the call to action

Sarah Enelow-Snyder suggests that “guests, not government mandates, apply stronger pressure for companies to change their practices.” So be a voice for change toward greater sustainability. The travel providers you use, especially airlines and hotels, need to please customers and provide the best possible experience (as defined by the consumer) in order to stay in business and grow. That puts you in the driver’s seat.

Collectively, companies and their corporate travel managers and individual travelers have a loud, meaningful voice. Make your expectations known, and vote with your dollars when you book.

Remember, making your corporate travel program greener won’t happen overnight. And it will always be a work in progress, as the travel industry, our global environment, and your own company continue to evolve. Yes, there is a definite sense of urgency, as the effects of climate change are more dramatically revealed every day. But implementing sustainable travel policies, processes, and behaviors incrementally will make your efforts seem more doable, so you can be more successful.

Small successes add up to big change. And isn’t that the point?

About the Author: Jeanne Hopkins
Jeanne was the CMO of from 2018-20.