We can’t talk about what business travel will look like after COVID-19 without thinking about sustainability. All over the world, companies are committing to achieving the 2030 Agenda, and travel is no different. In fact, travel has a direct link to each of the goals.
Most often, when we think about sustainability in the travel and tourism sector, we link it straight to sustainable tourism. However, business travel and its stakeholders (like travelers and travel managers) play a key role in helping achieve these goals.
3 spheres of sustainable development
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals established by the United Nations can generally be integrated across three “buckets” - the economy, society, and the biosphere. Let’s take a look at what that means, and how business travel can have a positive impact on each realm.
A new paper out of Harvard Kennedy School’s Growth Lab shows direct causation between business travel and the growth of the global economy. It revealed that the higher the rate of incoming business travel to a certain country, the higher that country’s GDP was. The researchers of the study stated that it isn’t so much the movement of information that drives economic growth. Instead, it is more about the sharing of “know-how from brain to brain”. Following that logic, business travel empowers the diversification of economies. It helps empower them to add and grow new products and services.
SDG 8: Decent work & economic growth
The travel industry that encompasses business travel and tourism promotes job creation. Research indicates that 1 in every 10 jobs before the coronavirus pandemic was based on travel. Business travel accounts for 20% of the global travel sector (WTTC).
SDG 9: Industry, innovation, and infrastructure
Travel and tourism have long been at the forefront of innovation and digitization (World Tourism Organization), since the boom of dotcoms and OTAs in the 90s. In fact, 80% of the sector is actually comprised of SMEs (WTTC)! The sector will continue to support entrepreneurship during and after COVID-19.
SDG 10: Reduced inequalities
Business travel from wealthier countries to emerging markets encourages sustainable economic growth. The benefits of these exchanges are most visible when business travelers from countries with industry expertise travel to other countries and share that knowledge (Mastercard). This applies to companies operating within both the public and private sectors.
No, “there is no Planet B”. The travel industry needs to contribute to the mitigation of climate change. With business travel specifically, companies can have a positive environmental impact simply by incorporating sustainability into their travel policies.
SDG 6: Clean water and sanitation
Business travelers are growing more environmentally conscious. Small adjustments in travel routines can go a long way towards the efficient use of water and pollution control. The sustainable use of water like limiting how often we change hotel amenities, such as towels and bedsheets, can have a great impact. Companies should implement policies to do with green travel straight into their business travel management processes.
SDG 7: Affordable & clean energy
Travel is an energy-heavy sector. As such, it can play an important role in the shift towards the prevalence of responsible consumption and production, and renewable and clean energies. Travel management companies, hotels, and airlines are working towards a more sustainable consumption of energy.
SDG 13: Climate action
Responsible behavior at a company level is essential in the fight against climate change. Offsetting your business travel CO2 emissions and working with environmentally-conscious service providers can help companies bring “green travel” into their corporate travel policy.
SDG 14: Life below water
Coastal and maritime businesses, particularly in Small Island Developing States (SIDS), rely greatly on healthy sea and ocean ecosystems. Business travel, like tourism, needs to support the conservation of these ecosystems and help promote a “blue economy”.
SDG 15: Life on land
New trends in business travel, company retreats, and team offsites show a shift in interest towards more eco-friendly options in the future. Environmentally-conscious travel in business can have a great impact on preserving biodiversity. A little can go a long way.
World travel has a huge effect on our society. The ability for us to move around this planet, and exchange thoughts and ideas is one that enriches our existence here. From cultural interactions to business interactions, we as a society are shaped by our connectedness to others from all around the world. By its very nature, this sector is a social entity. It can contribute significantly to the goals we hope to achieve.
SDG 1: No poverty
Travel brings widespread economic benefits and is in a unique position to foster sustainable growth. Even in the least developed countries, travel is labor-intensive. It provides employment for the local population and creates entrepreneurship opportunities for travel and tourism businesses to flourish.
SDG 2: Zero hunger
As mentioned above, the sector greatly contributes to the creation of jobs. That can be clearly linked to national poverty reduction goals. It provides local communities with opportunities to spur agricultural productivity through its integration into the travel value chain.
SDG 3: Good health & wellbeing
Foreign earnings and income from business travel contribute to healthcare investments on a national level. Companies also have a duty of care to ensure the health and well-being of their employees, through financial support, health insurance options, mental wellness initiatives, and more.
SDG 4: Quality education
Since the sector is one of the world’s leading employers, it also provides vocational training for its workforce. It promotes inclusiveness and is a sector that works to provide equal opportunity for all walks of life.
SDG 5: Gender equality
The travel industry is a renowned employer of minorities, youths, and women. In tourism, for example, women account for 54% of the workforce (UNWTO). An ongoing commitment to inclusive employment in business travel and tourism is helping achieve this goal.
Food for thought
The sustainable development goals are here to help the world achieve a more sustainable future. They were set in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly and outlined ambitious objectives for a collective tomorrow. The responsibility to do good and contribute positively to our planet, society, and economy doesn't just fall on NGOs. The onus is on us all to do what we can to contribute. Companies need to implement tools into their corporate travel policies that empower employees traveling for business to do so sustainably.
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