Decarbonizing Business Travel: EcoVadis’ Approach For Sustainable Travel

January 11, 2023 EcoVadis EN

Reducing emissions from business travel by 50% per employee 

For a long time, traveling was considered a business necessity. In pre-covid times, business travels represented about 30% of EcoVadis total GHG emissions. But the COVID-19 pandemic proved companies could still function and grow without it. Now, companies are in the process of bringing back business travel in a thoughtful manner to combine reduction of GHG emissions with the creation of a sense of belonging, collaboration and socialization in a context of high company growth & remote working. 

EcoVadis has implemented a Sustainable Business Travel Policy as part of its commitment to reduce the GHG emissions. The target is to reduce employee business travel emissions linked to business travel by 50% in 2023 from a 2019 base year. 

The EcoVadis’ Sustainable Business Travel Policy includes a yearly carbon budget that is reviewed every month to analyze carbon spending. Additionally, Sustainable Travel Champions from each business unit act as ambassadors for the program to ensure targets are met and act as a point of contact to other EcoVadians. Below are the general guidelines provided in the EcoVadis Sustainable Travel Policy, which help guide employees:

Company-wide initiatives of this kind are crucial in reducing GHG emissions, and require involvement of all. There are many ways employees can adapt their travel habits to make the most out of business trips while also reducing environmental footprint. Readers can find a variety of tips below on how employees can plan their trips to make a positive impact. 

Planning is key to make the most of trips

As is outlined in the EcoVadis sustainable travel guidelines, reducing the frequency of trips is crucial to lowering GHG emissions. Before taking a business trip, employees should assess the value of the trip. Can the planned events be done virtually while maintaining productivity and a sense of community and collaboration? If yes, ones should consider keeping these events virtual. If not, a business trip is worthwhile. 

Once an employee decides to take a trip, they should start booking long before their departure date. Early bookings mean cheaper transportation and accommodation costs; this leaves more flexibility to book more sustainable options (ex: trains and green hotels) that might be more expensive otherwise. 

Additionally, employees should try to group meetings and events together to get the most out of one trip. Employees should also take longer trips to maximize the number of events they can attend. If multiple regional teams must convene, finding a meeting ground between these locations reduces transportation fees and GHG emissions. With the right planning, employees can take business trips that are more efficient for them, which decreases the need for frequent travel. There is an unavoidable carbon footprint of business travel, so the best practice is to decrease traveling by planning trips intentionally. 

Transportation: hop on the sustainability train!

The main culprits of travel’s hefty carbon footprint are planes. Aviation alone accounts for 2.4% of global CO2 emissions. Because of this, EcoVadis’ sustainable travel policy bans domestic flights in Europe, and prioritizes trains over flights whenever possible, globally. Depending on the country and model, taking the train instead of a plane can cut a trip’s carbon footprint by up to 96%. But trains aren’t just better for the planet; they have many benefits for travelers.

Accommodations vary per train company and model, but trains are likely to have less rules about baggage and more legroom than planes, access to data or free Wi-Fi, and much more. Some trains have beds available to purchase for overnight rides so employees will be well-rested and fully present upon arrival. The absence of lengthy security procedures usually found at airports means less stress and less time at the station. Train stations also tend to be located within cities rather than on the outskirts like airports so employees will not need to spend as much time and money on transportation. Once aboard, travelers can relax while enjoying the beautiful scenery passing by.

Unfortunately, rail infrastructure varies from region to region, and trains aren’t an option for many people. But if taking the plane is necessary, there are many other ways to consider sustainability. 

What about my vacation?

Employees might be wondering how they could implement sustainability into their leisurely traveling. If that’s the case, here are some simple tips to help out:

1. The word ‘vacation’ usually inspires images of far away lands filled with adventure or at least a change of scenery. But this is possible without traveling long distances. Ones can pick destinations closer to them and discover the cultural and natural diversity of the surrounding regions that they may not have considered, whilst reducing transportation emissions and costs. 

2. Just like with business traveling, taking a train instead of a flight makes a huge difference. For example, carbon emissions of a flight from Paris to Barcelona are 12x higher than the same trip by train. If there are train routes available to their destination, employees can consider making the switch from a plane as it’s one of the best ways to reduce their carbon footprint!

3. For accommodation, employees can look for hotels that have sustainability certifications such as an EcoVadis medal (a list included in EcoVadis Sustainable Travel policy). They can also stay at ecolodges, such as for an immersive experience with a small environmental footprint. 

4. Maximize the fun while minimizing emissions: generally, simply seeking out ways to experience the natural beauty of a destination will have a low carbon footprint. Hiking, snorkeling, visiting a park, renting a bicycle, going to a beach: these activities all allow travelers to explore the location more fully and authentically while having virtually no carbon footprint.  

5. To avoid waste, travelers can pack a reusable water bottle and some snacks in tupperware which can come in handy to stay hydrated and nourished while out and about. Otherwise, eating at local restaurants allows one to enjoy authentic cuisine made from ingredients that are more likely to be sourced locally than a chain restaurant.

6. For souvenirs, travelers can think about buying some locally handmade goods to get a more unique and memorable memento that has a smaller environmental footprint. 

Ready to start packing?

Climate change requires urgent and bold action from every individual, company, and government. To resolve this global crisis, companies must undergo a complete mindset change that will spur innovation and sustainable transformation. This means rethinking habits that have long been “business as usual”. 

At EcoVadis, we’re all working to answer the tough question: how can we still develop authentic human connection with international teams and clients while working to lower GHG emissions? This article highlights both the action EcoVadis is taking as a whole, and the impact individual employees can make. 

Decarbonizing travel is a complex process, but - as highlighted in this article - there are many ways to adjust travel habits to reduce its carbon footprint:  from prioritizing trains over flight and staying at accommodations with EcoVadis sustainability medals, to exploring the diverse landscapes nearby. The shift to sustainability requires global participation, but little steps add up to big changes. That means anything makes a difference.

So when employees are planning their next business trip (or vacation), they can consider these tips to get a more fulfilling experience while reducing their environmental footprint. 

Written by Emily Ternynck and Julie de Mony-Pajol.

About the Author

EcoVadis EN

EcoVadis is a purpose-driven company whose mission is to provide the world's most trusted business sustainability ratings. Businesses of all sizes rely on EcoVadis’ expert intelligence and evidence-based ratings to manage risk and compliance, drive decarbonization, and improve the sustainability performance of their business and value chain. Its AI-powered risk mapping, actionable scorecards, benchmarks, carbon action tools, and insights guide a resilience and improvement journey for environmental, social and ethical practices across 200 industry categories and 175 countries.

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