8 tips for sustainable business travel

Business travelers can reduce their carbon footprint in several ways, including considering eco-friendly transportation, choosing green hotels and eating locally.

Climate change is a reality, and sustainability has become a priority for many businesses.

As part of their efforts to improve sustainability, many companies are rethinking business travel. More than 40% of companies in the U.S. and Europe said they plan to optimize their corporate travel policies to reduce environmental impact, according to the 2023 Deloitte corporate travel study.

What is business sustainability?

Business sustainability -- or corporate sustainability -- is managing environmental, social and financial aspects of a business ethically to ensure future success. Social and environmental concerns can sometimes conflict with financial goals, but in the long term, going green can reduce a business's energy costs and carbon footprint.

Forty-nine percent of Gen Zers and 44% of millennials said personal ethics played a role in their career choices, according to the "Deloitte Global 2021 Millennial and Gen Z Survey." Twenty-eight percent of survey respondents said they've also started or deepened relationships with businesses whose products and services benefit the environment.

Sustainable business travel tips

Here are some sustainable travel practices that companies can implement to reduce their carbon footprint without giving up business travel.

1. Book business trips selectively

Everyone likes to get out of the office occasionally for a change of venue and to shake up the daily grind. But businesses need to question whether in-person travel is a necessity, as it can greatly contribute to an organization's environmental footprint.

Businesses can discourage short trips in favor of stringing several trips together. Companies should also consider whether virtual alternatives are a possibility. Many industry conferences offer virtual options through video conferencing tools that enable workers to attend the same sessions and hear the same speakers.

2. Consider eco-friendly transportation

If the destination isn't too far away, businesses should ask employees to take the train instead of a plane, as rail travel has lower carbon emissions than air travel, according to a study in the Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association. Trains can also provide travelers with better views and more legroom.

But sometimes trains aren't an option. If travelers need to get on a plane, businesses should encourage direct flights when possible. Carbon emissions are influenced by takeoff and landing cycles -- and the fuel burned at takeoff and climbing to cruising altitude is high, according to the same study. While flights with layovers might be more economical, they aren't doing the environment any favors.

3. Choose green hotels

Many hotels have taken steps to reduce their carbon footprint. When booking hotels, ask what steps they have taken to go green and see if they have any LEED certifications. LEED is an environmentally oriented building certification program.

Many hotels now only provide new sheets and towels upon request, helping to conserve both energy and water in the washing process. And in some hotels, single-use toiletries are a thing of the past. In their place are bulk items such as shampoo, conditioner and body wash in the shower, eliminating excess waste in the landfill.

4. Pack light

It takes more fuel to transport heavy objects, so pack only the essentials. Not only is this environmentally friendly, it is more cost-effective. Packing light eliminates the need to check a bag on a flight. It also enables travelers to move around airports and cities freely, as they're not weighed down with baggage.

5. Don't print travel documents

Printing boarding passes is a thing of the past. Most airlines today have mobile apps where passengers can view their trip details and show digital boarding passes to TSA and gate attendants.

Many hotel apps offer the same service, where travelers can view trip details and confirmation numbers. For hotels that might not have an app, travelers should save hotel confirmation emails in a folder on their phones and access the information from there.

6. Encourage reusable products

One of the easiest things businesses can do is provide reusable water bottles to employees. Many airports, hotels and conference facilities have water bottle fill stations available to travelers, and this eliminates additional single-use plastic in the landfill. And if it's a logoed bottle, it's free advertising for the company.

7. Consider green ground transportation

Travelers visiting metropolitan areas such as Boston, Chicago, New York and San Francisco should ditch the rental car and consider using public transport options such as the subway or bus while they're visiting. Better yet, travelers should make hotel reservations near the office or event venue they'll be visiting and walk, eliminating carbon emissions completely.

But if a rental car is a necessity, travelers should consider renting an electric vehicle to minimize their carbon footprint.

8. Eat locally

Eating at restaurants that source their food nearby reduces the transportation emissions associated with food production. Travelers should look for locally owned businesses and avoid chains. Farm-to-table restaurants are a great option.

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