Business Travelers Can Make a Bigger Environmental Impact

As awareness of sustainability issues grow, many organizations have taken greater steps to control and manage their environmental footprint. Business travel remains a weak link in many firms’ efforts to make an impact in this area.

Business travel decisions are almost always optimized for cost and time efficiency, not environmental sustainability. Travel bookings and subsequent expense claim processes today remain paper-based in many organisations.

Few travelers are aware that rail is a much more efficient mode of travel than airplanes, and actively include rail travel in their itinerary. In Asia, China and Japan have embraced train travel in business travel, particularly for congested routes, due to infrastructure and costing. The Belt-and-Road initiative for the region, and discussions for India as well as potential enhancement to the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore line may open up more options for travelers in the future.

When renting cars, not many businesses point employees to environmentally friendly rental companies or car models. When flying, many travelers chose their flights based on cost, timing, or proximity of airports. Perhaps it is time for companies, through their travel management and booking systems, to give staff an option of choosing flights based on emissions?

In some cases, there is even the option of not travelling completely. Trips between corporate offices comprise a significant portion of business travel. Some travel apps allow organizations that have invested in video conferencing, for instance the SAP group of companies, to inform staff of this option during their travel booking process.

Thoughtful capabilities like the above help firms meet their environmental obligations.

With regard to paper use, in particular, modern expense and invoicing solutions have progressed to a point where no employee need to print out paper-based forms, or attach paper receipts or paper invoices, to file their claims. But this is far from the scenario in many offices today.  

The Institute of Finance and Management (IOFM) found that the average business receives 63% of its invoices as paper. Sixty-two percent of businesses surveyed by IOFM say that they manually handle more than 75% of the invoices they receive as paper. Beyond the fact that manually processing paper invoices results in error-prone keying of invoice information, misplaced invoices, long approval and exception resolution cycles, compliance and security risks, moving to an automated system would greatly free up finance professionals’ time for more strategic work.

A study by the research firm APQC also shows that the average finance worker spends 49% of his time processing transactions, which equates to roughly half his day filling out forms and dealing with invoices.

Today, mobile and web-based apps can automate and accelerate expense management from start to finish. Besides bypassing manual, paper-driven processes, such systems provide a seamless flow of data to give CFOs and finance managers a new level of control over and visibility into business expenses. They also help companies become more productive and compliant.

The benefits accrue to employees too.

SAP Concur’s mobile apps and machine learning powered tools, for instance, enables employees to spend 49% less time on travel planning, and 70% less time on expense reports.

Such solutions can also help to organize and manage business travel. They can automatically populate expense claims using electronic receipts from airline, hotel, restaurant and ground transportation companies. They also allow employees to do virtual submission of receipts by taking pictures of those receipts with their mobile phones and uploading them from anywhere.

For business travelers, this means no more compiling expenses at the end of a trip, no more retention of paper receipts, and most importantly every traveler would save hours of time per month that could be channeled into productive work for the company.

To quote a real-life example, NEC tapped SAP Concur as part of its digital transformation exercise, and reduced time spent on T&E management by 40%. This translated to substantial savings of about $1.8 million per year.

So for firms wanting to transform their business and conserve the environment at the same time, there’s no better way than smart digitization and some technology-enabled assistance to give employees a leg-up. 

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