A multitude of factors are prompting corporations, corporate travel buyers, business travelers and suppliers to focus on sustainability and the carbon footprint of business travel like never before.

Companies Intensify Sustainability Targets  

From the top down, corporations are increasingly adopting and reporting sustainability initiatives and seeking the same from those in their value chains. In the Race to Zero—or reducing greenhouse gas emissions to as close to zero as possible—more than 1,200 companies have committed to science-based net zero emission targets, according to the United Nations Climate Action.

Many companies are reporting their green commitments and progress, often following third-party frameworks such as the Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Discloses. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission earlier this year proposed long-awaited rules that would require public companies to disclose climate change data, perhaps including emissions from business travel, typically called Scope 3. Regulators are currently reviewing thousands of pages of public comments, including those from the Global Business Travel Association.

“GBTA believes that reporting business travel emissions as part of scope 3 emissions when they are material will create a sense of ownership over travel-related emissions and incentivize companies to work with travel providers on solutions for decarbonizing the industry,” GBTA CEO Suzanne Neufang stated in comments filed. While overall supportive of the SEC rulemaking, she suggested some improvements. She encouraged the SEC to work closely with the European Union, which proposed such rules in 2021, and efforts of the International Sustainability Standards Board.

How These Targets are Impacting Corporate Travel

Nearly 90% of the business travel sector worldwide “views addressing climate change as the number one priority area for action,” according to “The State of Sustainability in the Global Business Travel Sector” by the Global Business Travel Association. It also found that “76% of travel buyers have either already incorporated or are planning to incorporate sustainability objectives in their travel policies.” GBTA surveyed 762 global business travel industry professionals from four regions-- Europe, North America, Latin America and Asia-Pacific. It also surveyed 100 external stakeholders, including policymakers, think tanks and non-profit organizations.

In a special issue on “The Mechanics of Sustainable Business Travel” Business Travel News noted that “In companies where sustainability is a top-down initiative, travel managers can feel empowered to drive positive change. This was the case for S&P Global’s director of global travel and meetings, Ann Dery, who said the company’s net zero initiative challenged her to create a plan to reach its science-based targets.”

S&P Global has been offsetting carbon output for more than a decade, Dery said during a BTN webinar in August.  But science-based targets started in early 2021 when the company announced net zero targets. “Our science-based target commitment for Scope 3 for business travel is that we will reduce our carbon footprint by the 2019 baseline by 24% by 2025,” Dery said on the webinar.

To craft their own green travel strategies, corporations are turning to their internal sustainability experts, consultants and partners. They also are trying to educate their travelers about sustainability and build into booking tools data on the output of choices they make. For example, according to a Carbonfund report, economy to midscale US-based hotel property stays result in lower emissions than upscale properties. Air travel represents the most carbon intensive aspect of business travel with business-class and first-class with the highest metrics, according to a World Bank report cited by Thrust Carbon. About 1% of total global carbon emissions come from the hotel sector, according to the SHA. 

A few companies, including Microsoft, are using self-imposed carbon taxes as a means to force travelers and managers to consider whether the cost of business travel is worth the trip. Most others are focused on education and internal and supplier partnerships to drive new collaborations and ideas on the best ways to reduce output without reducing travel. Most agree that the industry is now on a new journey to chart a greener future.

Travelers Want Sustainable Options

From the bottom up, 81% of travelers surveyed in 2022 by Booking.com reported that sustainable travel is important to them. In this study of 30,000 travelers across 32 countries, 71% said they want to make more effort in the next year to travel more sustainably. “Half of all respondents (50%) cited that recent news about climate change has influenced them to make more sustainable travel choices. To that end, over a third (35%) of global travelers say that the sustainability efforts of accommodations and transport providers play a strong role in their property and transport decisions respectively. In fact, 70% of global travelers say they would be more likely to choose a sustainable accommodation - whether they were looking specifically for one or not,” the company said.

“More and more, people want to work for an organization whose values align with their own—and they want to see these sustainable values integrated across different functions, including travel,” Kathy Jackson, BCD Travel vice president and executive chain of sustainability, told Business Travel News in June.

How are Hotel Companies Stepping Up?

As they work to measure and reduce carbon output from business travel, some corporations are stymied by conflicting measurement approaches of suppliers and calling for more industry standards so they can benchmark progress. In fact, according to a GBTA study, nearly 70% of travel buyers cite lack of data and access to transparent information as a key concern.

Hotel companies and industry groups are stepping up with measurement tools, commitments and other solutions.

The Sustainable Hospitality Alliance, of which Wyndham Hotels & Resorts is one of 18 hotel company members, offers measurement tools to help hotels calculate carbon and waste output, along with water usage. For example, the Hotel Carbon Measurement Initiative began in 2012 and today helps hotels calculate carbon footprint per occupied room on a daily basis, and per area of meeting space on an hourly basis to provide a carbon footprint for a specific client’s hotel usage.

Various industry groups and suppliers have put forth sustainability metrics and benchmarks. In lodging, sustainability standards have been proposed not only by SHA but by the World Travel & Tourism Council, Global Sustainable Tourism Council and others. For corporations and their own sustainability experts, the challenge is to identify metrics and data that align with their own tracking or programs.  

Wyndham Is Among Companies Offering Sustainable Travel Solutions

At the company level, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts developed the Wyndham Green Program which is designed to help environmentally conscious travelers select hotels that focus on sustainability, and assure corporate travel managers that they are working with a company that can quantify how it is reducing impact. “We are guided by the philosophy that you can do well by doing good. The Wyndham Green Program’s combination of industry best practices and stakeholder engagement helps demonstrate how committed we are to operating our business in a way that is socially, ethically and environmentally responsible,” said Wyndham Senior Vice President of Environmental, Social and Governance, Pete Hernandez.  Wyndham accelerated its efforts in operating sustainably In April when the company announced that all Wyndham branded hotels across the world will be required, as part of their brand standard compliance, to attain certification in Wyndham Green.

Recognized as one of American’s Most Responsible Companies for 2022 by Newsweek, which honors those with superior environment and social responsibility practices, Wyndham remains “committed to reducing the energy and carbon footprint of all Wyndham hotels” as part of its vision to operate in a socially, ethically and environmentally responsible manner.

Business travel suppliers will increasingly be challenged on emission reductions, energy efficiency and waste reduction, according to the GBTA study, which ranked those three as highest importance for the business travel industry as identified in the chart here.

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