The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) says its 2023 Climate Action Report shows the “stepping up to the challenge,” but questions remain about how much companies are cutting unnecessary travel.
“While the study breaks down types of sustainable travel practices that are in place and the extent of their adoption, questions do not appear to assess the extent to which individuals are being asked to avoid travel where possible by taking advantage of hybrid or virtual meetings when suitable,” writes Clear Current Consulting principal Shawna McKinley, principal for Clear Current Consulting, a specialist in green meetings, ethics, sustainability, and corporate responsibility (and former Energy Mix staff member).
According to GBTA, the business travel industry is at a “critical juncture” as it struggles to recover from the pandemic while also facing up to its role in a mounting climate emergency. GBTA’s first State of Sustainability Survey in 2022 cited climate change as “the most material issue for business travel among the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.”
That survey informed the latest report by bringing together 863 responses from business travel professionals across North America, Europe, Latin America, the Asia Pacific, Africa, and the Middle East. The self-reported results show the industry moving toward more sustainable practices, with 92% of respondents—up from 89% in the previous year—saying sustainability is a priority for their organization.
Perhaps more significantly, 64% of travel buyers are now tracking emissions from their business travel programs, up from 55% in 2022, with another 15% planning to do so in the future.
GBTA says there is also “clear momentum” among travel managers to set targets for cutting Scope 3 emissions—including those associated with travel—with 54% having done so already and another 23% planning to.
The report says key drivers of this shift are concerns about reputational risk, alongside a genuine interest in having a positive impact. Barriers to more sustainable business travel include higher costs, lack of measurement and accounting standards for emissions, and limited access to data and transparent information.
The survey also showed that public disclosure of business travel emissions is still a voluntary effort, and only 20% of respondents said their companies report all their emissions, including those from business travel. Only 10% of the group said the organizations used carbon budgets or fees, with another 23% saying they planned to.
While GBTA is encouraging business travel professionals to use their buying power “as a lever for change,” that message focuses on relatively green travel alternatives, rather than alternatives to travel.
And while travel managers are increasingly looking to “maximize travel’s return on emissions” by encouraging or mandating employees to combine multiple business trips into one, company policies are less likely to grapple with the purpose of travel: Only 38% currently ask for any justification for same-day business trips based on return on investment and available alternatives.