Empowering Employees to Make Sustainable Corporate Travel Decisions

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.

In response, we ran a roundtable webinar on Empowering Employees to Make Sustainable Corporate Travel Decisions on January 27, hosted by VP of Global Solution Consulting at SAP Concur Eric Webb. He was joined by a panel of leading voices from across the wider sustainable travel community, including Global Travel Category Manager at BNP Paribas Viviane Wolf, Senior Manager Travel and Reporting with Facebook Eric Rhode, Head of Corporate Responsibility at Lufthansa Annette Mann, and Partner at EY Seema Farazi.

First and foremost, sustainability is now a consideration for all parts of a business and at organizations such as Facebook it comes with policies and performance targets to match.

Eric explained: “We have been tracking and reporting on greenhouse-gas emissions for some years now. However, with our company's recent announcement of a net-zero 2030 goal, plus corporate travel-specific details to be publicly announced later this quarter, this has become a much bigger focus area for our team.”

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In banking, as in tech, sustainability has become part of the daily routine, Viviane agreed. “In my daily job, I see sustainability getting more and more important. And, in procurement, the target is not only now to reach savings, but also to help our company transition to more sustainable travel,” she said.

The greatest assets of a business, though, are still its employees and so placing them at the centre of sustainable travel policy is critical to addressing environmental concerns.

This was why the recent SAP Concur research report Solving the Puzzle of Sustainable Corporate Travel adopted the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profit as its defining metric. In total, we surveyed not only 2,450 corporate travel decision-makers, but a further 2,000 corporate travellers too. The results therefore captured both the professional perspective and the user experience.


Information is power

Fundamental to any notion of empowerment is the issue of control. Therefore, it was a concern to learn from the survey that while 85% of corporate travellers felt they had control over their arrangements, almost half (46%) said they lacked the information needed to make an educated choice about the relative sustainability merits of different booking options.

Taking onboard the views of the corporate travellers themselves is crucial to success, said Viviane. “I think the figures here are really interesting because it shows that travellers have the control, but they are missing information on sustainability. 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, and maybe HR or CSR could help with that,” she said.

Facebook's Eric Rhode and BNP Paribas' Viviane Wolf


In fact, one of the learnings to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic is around the need for greater corporate agility and flexibility regarding collaboration between multiple teams and departments, Seema suggested.

“I think part of the challenge is that there are a number of stakeholders involved in corporate travel within a business so HR, mobility, immigration, tax, social security, and the stakeholders are often using different tech or different data. And those data silos have meant that integration has historically been quite challenging. But to some extent, the pandemic has really kickstarted that integration journey,” she said.


Changing behaviours and attitudes

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%). The survey statistic that gave the panel pause, however, was that 39% of individuals say the sustainability of their corporate travel has never even occurred to them.

For Eric, while there are a lot of challenges, there are also many opportunities. “There’s work we can do whether it's aligning incentives or improved vetting and normalization of emissions data. Key opportunities here might include developing new progressive metrics that better reflect the balance of experience, productivity and sustainability,” he said.


HR as sustainability change-agents

Exploring opportunities for HR to become more engaged, the panel were interested to learn what the most motivating incentives might be for getting corporate travellers focused on sustainability. 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%).

On sustainability, corporate values matter to staff, especially younger hires, Annette explained. “We do a once-a-year feedback study with all our employees and the people are really asking for us to become more sustainable as an airline company. Nobody wants to be ashamed to work for Lufthansa Group because everyone is thinking ‘Oh, you're like, yeah, the bad CO2 guys’,” she said.

EY's Seema Farazi and Lufthansa's Annette Mann


Therefore, while it is valuable for all concerned to be seen to be green, credibility is key, she added. “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.

In all this, success is a combination of communication and culture. “It really starts at the top with leadership defining social purpose and articulating policies and goals, and then, of course, the practical steps you’re taking,” said Seema. “Ultimately, you're asking people to break habits. Explaining that rationale means people understand the positive contribution they're making. Once they understand, you foster the kind of culture around social purpose and the rest starts to fall into place.”


Sustainability: if not now, when?

Taking the pandemic as an opportunity to reset, corporate travel is facing a period of transition. In conclusion, then, the panel talked of a seismic realignment of value in prospect, with 2020 having waved goodbye to some of the old ways and much corporate excess.

The question is: Can sustainability become part of the new normal?

Start by assessing your current state with our sustainability benchmarking tool.

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