How To: Sustainable Business Travel

In 2018 alone, there were 6.6 million business trips taken to the UK and 8 million taken from the UK. As these figures show, many people are travelling as part of their job; and the number of business trips is increasing every year. Sustainable business travel is an important discussion that we all need to start having. Have you ever stopped to consider the impact of corporate travel on the environment? Business travel can amount to 50% or more of a company’s carbon footprint. These figures don’t even take into consideration the amount of domestic business travel involved in an individual’s daily commute to work. With business travel amounting to such a high percentage of a company’s carbon footprint, it’s important for organisations to take a look at other options and start implementing greener ways to travel. In this blog, we explore the various ways in which we can travel more responsibly and the benefits of doing so.

Travel & Transport

The image below from the BBC shows a great snapshot of the effects of different modes of transport. This can help you when looking at the most sustainable way to travel for your business.

Different modes of transport used for sustainable business travel

Emissions from different modes of transportation
Emissions per passenger per kilometre travelled 

Domestic flights: 133g in CO2 emissions and 121g in secondary effects from high altitude.

Long haul flights: 102g in CO2 emissions and 93g in secondary effects from high altitude.

Car (1 passender): 171g in CO2 emissions 

Bus: 104g in CO2 emissions 

Car (4 passengers): 43g in CO2 emissions 

Domestic rail: 41g in CO2 emissions 

Coach: 27g in CO2 emissions

Eurostar: 6g in CO2 emission 

Note: Care refers to average diesel car
Source: BEIS/Defra Greenhouse Gas Conversion Factors 2019

Trains

I’m sure it doesn’t come as a surprise that on average, travelling by train results in a quarter of the greenhouse gas emissions than travelling by plane. So why do so many organizations opt to send their employees by flight rather than by train? Is it because it’s quicker? Is it cheaper? Probably not.

45% of air journeys in Europe are less than 500km. This means that destinations within the UK and closer parts of continental Europe can be reached by train almost as quickly as flying (if you take into consideration the time travelling to and from airports as well as the necessary airport waiting times). The WWF-UK Policy Position Statement on Business Travel has provided a few examples with centre-to-centre travel times shown for one-way journeys, and CO2 emissions per passenger shown for the whole return journey:

JourneyAirTrain
London to Paris (346km)3.5hrs, 122kg/CO22.25 hours, 12kg/CO2
London to Edinburgh (531km)3.5hrs, 193kg/CO24.5hrs, 25kg/CO2

With journeys like the above, it’s hard to see why anyone would opt for the plane journey. Especially when you consider the additional benefits of travelling by train – for one, it is so much easier to work on a train than it is a plane. Have you ever tried to balance your laptop carefully on the table tray attached to the chair in front on a plane? It’s a nightmare! Using a train over flying can optimise the amount of work time available and especially with more and more railway networks providing WIFI on board. And if booking in advance, or using a ticket-splitting tool such as Split Your Ticket travelling by train can often be more economical too for a business.

Flying

Flying is definitely the least sustainable way to travel for business – or any other purpose. When all other options have been exhausted and the only way to get to your destination is by flying, there are still things we can do to make this have a lesser impact on the environment, for instance:

  • Choose a direct non-stop: As much as 50% of carbon emissions come from takeoff and landing, this is when planes use the most fuel. 
  • Pack light: Usually the heavier the plane, the more fuel required, therefore, taking time to pack carefully and only take what’s needed will be better for the planet.
  • Fly in economy: Your emissions will be 3 times more flying in business or first class due to the additional space this takes up compared to flying in economy. 
  • Use flight comparison sites that show you which flights have lower carbon emissions. Skyscanner recently introduced a filter to search for flights with greener airlines producing fewer emissions, making it easier to select the more sustainable option.
  • Offset your flight: You can balance out your carbon emissions by investing in environmental projects around the world, the WWF Sustainable Travel International Calculator is a great place to start.  

Driving

Currently, road transport accounts for around 20% of the UK’s C02 emissions, therefore using a bus is generally the better option than a car for comparable journeys. However, there are many times when driving is the only way to reach a destination, especially when travelling for business. So, how can we lower our impact on the environment when driving?

  • Car Share: Driving a car (based on an average diesel car) with 4 passengers is almost as environmentally per person as taking the train. So, if you have a business event to attend or an off-site meeting, see who you can share a ride with. 
  • Hiring a green car: A lot of company’s book car hire for corporate travel. Where possible book an electric car to reduce your impact. If that’s not an option book through a company that specialises in offering low emission vehicles such as Green Motion.  
  • Take an uber: If you have Uber in your area, consider taking an uber pool instead of a standard taxi. The Uber Pool will match you up with others heading in the same direction. This means it’s less carbon emissions per person, and it will save you money too!

Hotels & Accommodation

Travelling responsibly doesn’t end at transport, where we stay and what we eat can also have huge environmental impacts. Of course, it is not practical to always stay at the most eco-friendly hotels. If you are limited in accommodation choice by corporate contracts, here are a few things you can look out for:

  • Seek Out Green Policies: If you’re limited by corporate contracts or locations to the larger hotel chains you should look for those that actively encourage sustainable practices. For instance, IHG have a Greener Stay Rewards Programme
  • Support Small Businesses: Look for small family run bed and breakfasts in the area. Research suggests that spending just £10 in a local independent shop can add an additional £50 back into the local economy.
  • Be a Green Guest: There are so many ways you can choose to be a ‘green guest’. You can try turning down housekeeping and bringing your own towels and toiletries. When you take and use the little free toiletries you’re creating further demand for single-use plastic products.

Planning Ahead

This is probably the most important aspect of making business travel more sustainable and environmentally friendly. If you’re a small business, often train travel can be less cost-effective financially than driving for instance. If you know you’re schedule ahead of time, advanced tickets are always much more affordable. Larger organisations who don’t have the same budget limitations can still take advantage of planning ahead. For example, do you have multiple clients in the area who you will need to visit? Would it be more beneficial to take a few days to have multiple catch-ups in one trip – rather than making the trip 3 times in a month? It’s all about making the most out of your business travel. Whether that be travelling by train, plane, car or bus! 

Just don’t travel!

According to YouGov research, UK employees think 37% of face-to-face meetings are a waste of time. It’s probably worth employers and businesses investing in other technologies to decrease the need to travel for face-to-face meetings, especially when they’re not necessary. Alternative options to travelling for business include:

  • Invest in video conferencing technology: 85% of companies believe that videoconferencing has the potential to reduce their business flying. 89% of companies believe that videoconferencing can improve their productivity. All round, this is a great option for becoming a more sustainable business.
  • Company/Employee Training: Many businesses choose to take their employees off-site for a training day or away day, instead of utilising the space they currently have. Why not reinvent the space you have available, and bring a trainer in. Having just one person travelling for business is a much more economical option for the business. 

Something to think about

If all European companies cut their business travel by 20% it would save 22 million tonnes of CO2. That’s the equivalent to taking one-third of UK cars off the road. 

Moving forward, how will you make your business travel more environmentally friendly? Contact us or take a look at our services for business right here!

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