Serving up a sustainable corporate travel strategy – around half travellers lack information on relative sustainability merits of booking options

24 February, 2021

While a high majority (85%) of corporate travellers feel they have control over their travel arrangements, almost half (46%) said they lacked the information needed to make an educated choice about the relative sustainability merits of different booking options in a recent survey from travel and expense management services specialist SAP Concur.

Sustainability is now a consideration for all parts of a business and at many organisations comes with policies and performance targets to match. Still, the software as a service (SaaS) company's 'Solving the Puzzle of Sustainable Corporate Travel' survey report found that around two in five (39%) of individuals even acknowledged that the sustainability of their corporate travel has never even occurred to them.

The research surveyed 2,450 corporate travel decision-makers, and a further 2,000 corporate travellers to capture the professional perspective and the user experience, adopting people, planet, and profit as its defining metric. When it comes to shifting behaviours, the survey identified the three most impactful awareness activities as the offering of incentives (25%), closely followed by formal training and education (24%), plus a role for Sustainable Travel Ambassadors (13%).

Sustainability and improved corporate values matter to all staff, but especially younger hires. The COVID-19 pandemic has provided an opportunity to reset, and corporate travel is facing a period of transition. Whether this is a tweak or more of a seismic realignment is down to the industry.

There are some clear insights into changing corporate traveller mindset, but thoughts on the most motivating incentives for getting corporate travellers focused on sustainability remain varied. The survey found that while options to carbon offset topped the list with 48%, tied in joint second place with financial incentives were better hospitality options, plus opportunity to celebrate and share success and best practices (47%).

Sustainability is certainly now a key consideration for all parts of a business. With accelerated climate action rising up the business agenda, sustainable corporate travel was already a hot topic prior to COVID-19, but it seems especially important in a post-pandemic world.

A roundtable webinar hosted by SAP Concur in late Jan-2021 discussed empowering employees to make sustainable corporate travel decisions. The discussion with leading voices from across the wider sustainable travel community, including representatives of BNP Paribas, Facebook, Lufthansa and EY, highlighted that employees are the greatest assets of a business, so placing them at the centre of sustainable travel policy is critical to addressing environmental concerns.

To overcome this disconnect between business travellers and the sustainability of travel choices, it is clear that businesses need to have sustainability guidelines at the heart of travel policies. "In my daily job, I see sustainability getting more and more important," said Viviane Wolf, global travel category manager at BNP Paribas. "Travellers today get really confused during the booking process. They have to make a decision between the schedule, the price, the airline, the sustainability and so on. I think they really get lost and need guidance here," she explained.

There has also been the belief that many businesses have been adopting a 'green sheen' than actually really seriously building sustainable policies. Ambiguous carbon offset promises is perhaps one area that highlights such programmes most clearly.

"Many travellers are suspicious about whether this is greenwashing or if it's really making a difference. So it's really important for corporates, but also for airlines, to make this more transparent," said Annette Mann, head of corporate responsibility at Lufthansa.

Sustainability has become part of the daily routine in sectors such as technology and banking. In travel buying, objectives are not purely cost based but increasingly now need to transition to more sustainable travel. It is clear that placing employees at the centre of sustainable travel policy is critical to addressing environmental concerns and taking onboard the views of the corporate travellers themselves is crucial to its successful delivery.