If there is one clear takeaway from COP 26, the international summit on climate change held in Glasgow in 2021, it’s that we are standing at a crossroads. The event, which was attended by nation and business leaders and representatives of dozens of multinational corporations, was largely viewed as our last chance for a greener future.
While some have felt that on the final day of COP 26 commitments may have fallen a little short, the bottom line is that we are closer than ever to the closure of the fossil fuel era. We find ourselves at the dawn of an exciting new phase where we will see governments and corporations working together to eradicate man-made climate change.
Recently, James Dent, TravelPerk’s ESG and Sustainability Analyst, got together with Fabio Griemens, the Director of Strategy and Operations at FREE NOW for Business to discuss why, in the face of increased consumer demand and greater corporate responsibility, sustainability will be bigger than ever for business in 2023.
You can watch the entire webinar here or read on the main points.
Accelerated awareness bolsters corporate transparency
While COP26 displayed an unprecedented sense of urgency, it was not the first time world leaders had gotten together to agree on emission targets. At the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015, nations recognized that climate change was man-made, and corporate responsibility came onto the agenda. Since then, other initiatives such as the UN’s Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and third-party certifications such as B Corporations are holding businesses accountable for sustainable business practices. They are, by default, obliging them to favor renewable energies and disclose their current environmental impact and future reduction goals.
CDP, the non-profit organization that provides the framework for disclosing environmental impacts to companies, investors, and governments, reports that corporate disclosures are doubling year on year along with more ambitious emissions targets. If current goals are reached by 2050, 14 trillion US$ worth of goods and services will be have been sold with zero impact on the environment according to Reuters. In addition, companies now firmly recognize that ambitious corporate social responsibility policies are not only essential to the planet but have the power to attract and retain top talent, like-minded investors, and new customers. In short, a robust net-zero strategy enhances a company’s profile and gives them a competitive advantage.
Data is key to build sustainable travel policies
When setting a sustainable business model and travel policies, travel managers need to go beyond the promises made by their providers, consider all the supply chains and calculate emissions using a reputable ‘carbon calculator’. Companies whose executives frequently fly the same route should compare C02 emissions and energy efficiency between direct and indirect flights. Other factors would be the type of aircraft, and the airline’s company’s own green policy.
But no matter how much we can adjust these variables, there will always be a point when the reductions ‘flat line’ – after all, it’s impossible to travel efficiently without leaving some degree of carbon footprint.
At this point, companies ambitious in their sustainability efforts can choose to offset their ‘leftover’ emissions with a carbon offsetting travel program like GreenPerk. For an extra fee of around €10, Green Perk will invest in different sustainable carbon offsetting projects around the world, from the construction of household biogas plants in rural Nepal to a Solar Home System project in Ethiopia.
GreenPerk lets you offset emissions for anything you book on the TravelPerk platform, so any flights, hotels, trains, and hire cars you book can be carbon-neutral too. At present, the criteria for calculating the carbon footprint of hotel accommodation lacks a globally agreed methodology. Large hotel chains may make the sustainable strategies public; others can be estimated on location and star ratings. In these scenarios, programs like GreenPerk can give travel managers a clear, conscious, and workable tool for creating data-based reports.
What travelers want
Over 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide are belched into the atmosphere every year. In Europe, 27% of this amount comes from land transport. As Fabio Griemens of the mobility service provider FREE NOW for Business, an on-demand taxi service for the corporate sphere, says, “We are part of the problem, but also part of the solution.”
With a predicted ten billion people living on the planet by 2050, access to clean, reliable, and affordable mobility is one of our most urgent priorities. Major cities across the globe are investing in smart, green, and integrated public transport systems, elevating the quality of life for residents and travelers alike. According to Griemens, 30% of travel managers and buyers value sustainability over cost when it comes to choosing a travel provider, and 67% consider sustainability policies and performance when choosing a travel supplier.
More and more people are holding suppliers accountable, and sustainability has taken a big leap when it comes to influencing travel buyers.Fabio Griemens, FreeNow
On the ground
While the upheaval in air travel has grabbed most of the media headlines of late, let's take a moment to ponder how ground travel has also had to adjust during the pandemic and the challenges that lie ahead as people return to the office and start to schedule face-to-face meetings.
Flexibility is a key trend. Business travelers today want ground transportation services that are fast, on-demand, and can respond to last-minute changes. They need to sense duty of care with hand sanitizer and passenger-driver distancing. For practical or personal reasons, business travelers may prefer a hybrid of ground transport options when visiting a foreign city or getting to the workplace, combining a private taxi with public transport, car share with cycle share, or e-scooter with an e-bike.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our perception of choice. Our research says that 40% of respondents would like to use something such as bikes and e-scooters or car-sharing to commute to work, and when travelling abroad they would like the same.Fabio Griemens, FreeNow
Safe, sustainable… and flexible
So how can travel managers provide assurance that they are ticking all right boxes?
As we have already mentioned, businesses with net-zero ambitions need to invest in a carbon calculator that will analyze the data of business trips and commutes to find out how much carbon dioxide they are producing, where this can be reduced. For full transparency, data and reports should be made available to all employees and stakeholders.
Frequent PCR testing, COVID passports, masks, and onboard distancing probably make the travel ecosystem safer than it ever was to airborne diseases. But even so, travel managers are advised to work with partners fully committed to prioritizing safety and sustainability.
They should seek out ground transport providers who can provide full C02 tracking, have an electric fleet of vehicles of at least 60%, and a growing train inventory. Of course, expectations must be kept realistic. Destinations in developing countries are unlikely to have advanced systems of green transport, in which case alternative methods such as scooter taxis could be sought out.
Power to the people
Going forward, companies should start to investigate and invest in flexible, ownable, and green transport packages for their employees.
Commuting has a real impact on our well-being and performance capabilities. Hybrid remote/in-office work schedules are the new normal, and companies must reflect this reality in their company transport policies.
Research conducted by FREE NOW concluded that 4 out of 5 workers were unhappy with spending an hour or more in their daily commute and that a large majority wished for more car share and mixed mobility options from their company’s travel policies.
In response, FREE NOW launched a pilot scheme that put mobility choices into employees’ own hands. They were provided with their own mobility budget, so could make their own choices on how to get around on company time. With increased flexibility, choice, and a sense of empowerment, the scheme showed that employee motivation increased by 44%. “These days, employers are expected to invest in employee mobility,” summarises Griemens. “And it provides companies with the perfect opportunity to steer them in the sustainable and green direction.”
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