What It Is
For most companies, travel is necessary to cultivating and maintaining new business. Travel time and its associated expenses are often a major component of overhead business costs, and can place a drain on company resources and efficiency. A simple methodology to cut both the time and financial costs of travel is to re-evaluate organizational travel policies and identify areas where travel is unnecessary or can be completed in a more efficient manner. For example, implementing alternative methods of business travel, such as limiting air travel or encouraging teleconferencing, can help ease the burden of travel costs.
Why It Matters
Re-evaluating a business’s travel policies reduces long- and short-term costs, enhances corporate image, and improves time management. The transition to more cost-effective travel requires little more than advanced planning and consideration of travel method and frequency.
Implementation of new travel policies can reduce employee travel time and cut company costs, which ultimately lessens the company’s carbon footprint. In fact, a number of companies have begun to take steps toward placing their green concerns into their travel requirements, such as incentivizing carpooling and increasing the frequency of teleconferencing, rather than face-to-face meetings.
According to the National Business Travel association, American business travelers account for 240 billion passenger miles per year, resulting in a large portion of annual carbon emissions. In response to this, airlines are investing in new fuel-efficient aircraft technologies and increasing access to flight emissions information to allow customers to choose smaller impact flights. Car-rental companies have also begun to address the issue by offering more eco-friendly options including hybrids (average $5 more per day). Advanced research into which companies offer these services might not only result in lower costs due to advanced planning, but also a reduction of a company’s negative impact on the environment from air travel.
- Step One: Evaluate business travel methods and frequent destinations.
- Step Two: Encourage teleconferences and non-travel meetings.
- Step Three: Carefully plan out-of-office meeting locations.
- Step Four: Reduce the number of plane trips and encourage public transportation.
- Step Five: Support “green” companies.
- Step Six: Communicate travel policy changes to staff.
Step One: Evaluate business travel methods and frequent destinations.
Create a list of frequent business travel destinations and identify what method of transportation would be required to get to the location. Pay close attention to distance between destinations and distance from the office.
Step Two: Encourage teleconferences and non-travel meetings.
Promote the use of video or teleconferences when possible in place of on-site meetings. This will help to reduce travel costs and lower stress on employees by allowing them more time to focus on work, and less time on traveling.
Step Three: Plan and coordinate out-of-office meeting locations.
Sometimes, out-of-office meetings are unavoidable, but utilizing the information gathered about your business’s frequent meeting locations can help you identify the most efficient travel method and route. If more than one meeting is scheduled for the day, attempt to schedule them back to back and at the same location or a short distance away from each other.
Step Four: Reduce number of plane trips and encourage public transportation.
Air travel is one of the more expensive ways to travel and one of the more damaging to the environment, accounting for about 7% of worldwide carbon emissions. Cutting air travel when not required will help to save money while simultaneously reducing strain on the environment. On business trips that are within driving distance, encourage carpooling if more than one employee is traveling. As an added incentive, rent a hybrid or low-emission vehicle for employees to use on the trip, rather than use their own vehicles. If possible encourage the use of trains and buses, which result in three to seven times less CO2 emissions.  When air travel is unavoidable, minimizing the number of layovers will reduce travel time and carbon emissions.
Step Five: Support green companies.
A company can further reduce their negative environmental impacts by selecting restaurants, hotels, and stores that utilize “green” practices when provided with the option. For example, look for hotels that recycle and reuse towels and utilize car agencies that offer hybrids. Usually a list of businesses that provide green services will be available on a community’s Chamber of Commerce or government website.
Step Six: Communicate travel policy changes to staff.
Amendments to travel policies should be properly communicated to staff in order for the policies to be financially viable and successful. Outlining the policy changes in staff meetings, through email blasts, and through individual training seminars (particularly with those individuals who travel frequently) are all effective ways to communicate travel policies to staff.
To further utilize environmental travel policies, your business can:
- Book travel through green conscious vendors: Use travel-planning agencies that are green conscious. Expedia offers a green travel guide.
- Encourage use of green travel products: Employees can use green toiletries and clothes to reduce impact.
- Offset office travel emissions: Carbon offsets are available for purchase to allow companies to negate their CO2 emission caused by travel.
A government agency that often deals with environmental issues wanted to improve its reporting capabilities and travel policies within its own agency. Using methods and travel tools that were not yet globally accepted, the agency began by booking travel through an online travel website that specifically offered options for the environmentally conscious traveler.
After working with a company that would allow travelers to see their environmental impact based on their travel requirements, the agency was able to formulate a report and amend its travel policies accordingly.
Resources for More Information
- Greening Your Small Business: how to improve your bottom line by Jennifer Kaplan. Chapter 14: “Green Business Travel”
- Nonprofit Guide to Going Green by Ted Hart. Chapter 6: “Greening Your Organizations Travel”
- Green Your provides useful facts, tips, and products to help companies identify and reduce their carbon impacts from business travel. It also includes general information on improving green living in the office.
- Executive Traveler provides information for the average business traveler. It includes articles that examine more green friendly practices.
- The Green Travel Guide Expedia offers this guide that includes information on green travel tips, green hotels, and other green travel programs
- Business Green provides a suggested method on how to draw up a green travel policy.
Re-evaluating and adjusting business travel policies will help companies become more efficient by cutting costs, reducing travel time, and improving the organizations impact on the environment. While it may take time to amend those travel policies, once changes are made and communicated to staff, businesses have the potential to save money on their travel costs and have a positive impact on the environment.
Carbon offsets. A measure taken by an individual or company to help account for its carbon emissions, usually through sponsoring activities or projects which increase carbon dioxide absorption, such as tree planting.
 “Greening Your Company’s Business Travel,” GreenBiz, 12 March 2008, http://www.greenbiz.com/research/report/2008/03/13/greening-your-companys-business-travel, accessed 7 August 2013.
 Amy Westervelt, “Eco-Friendly Options for Business Travelers,” Executive Travel, March/April 2009, http://www.executivetravelmagazine.com/articles/eco-friendly-options, accessed 7 August 2013.
 “Air Travel Pollution,” UN Atlas of the Oceans, http://www.oceansatlas.org/servlet/CDSServlet?status=ND0xNzk0MCY2PWVuJjMzPSomMzc9a29z, accessed 7 August 2013.
 “Travel by train or bus,” Green Your, http://www.greenyour.com/transportation/travel/air-travel/tips/travel-by-train-or-bus, accessed 7 August 2013.
 “Government agency empowers travelers to choose environmentally-friendly travel options,” Carlson Wagonlit Travel, January 2008, http://www.carlson.com/cdc-cms/pdf/Travel%20Presentations/CWT%20Case%20Studies/global_security_government_en.pdf, accessed 7 August 2013.