Can Business Travel Go Green?

Emily Lombardo - Nov 09 2022
Published in: Mobility
Business travel doesn’t have to be carbon-heavy.

Business travel is making its way back into work life. After plummeting during the COVID-19 pandemic over the last two years, forecasts are becoming cautiously optimistic about its return.

While travel is not expect to bounce back to 2019 levels until 2026, business travel is expected to increase by 33.8% by the end of 2022 according to the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA.) Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, companies and workers believe that business travel is still seen as a necessary part of the job. In a July 2022 GBTA survey, 85% of 400 business travelers said that they definitely need to travel to accomplish their business goals and over 75% said they anticipated “more” or “much more” need to travel for work in 2023. 

While there has been a switch to prioritize remote and virtual work, connecting in person is irreplaceable for many companies and organizations over the world. So, is there a way to travel for work and gather in person sustainably? The good news is that companies do have options to help make their current business travel more sustainable.

Driving Together to Work

In the U.S., while our image might be the business traveler hustling through the airport, the Department of Transportation reports that 81% of business trips are taken using the traveler’s personal vehicle. Seventy-four percent of trips made are within 250 miles from the point of departure. Carpooling with colleagues to the destination is an easy way to reduce emissions. A 2006 study forecasted that forecasts that individually carpoolers could reduce personal commute Green House Gas emissions by approximately 4-5% after joining an employer trip reduction program and a 2009 study found that casual carpooling has the potential to reduce energy consumption for 150 commuter to equal the equivalent of providing an express bus service for the same number of commuters and at a lower cost.

Another option for organizations with business travelers commuting by car is bundling necessary meetings and schedules to optimize for concentrated travel times. For example, organize meetings so that business travelers would be driving 100 miles in order to attend two or more meetings before returning rather than driving 100 miles multiple days to attend the same amount of meetings spread out over a longer time period.

Fly on the New Plane

When it comes to traveling by plane, there are few sustainable options available currently. Business travelers in Europe represent 12% of all flyers but are responsible for 30% of aviation-related carbon emissions. However, change is on its way. Airlines across the world are investing in sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), and the U.S. Department of Energy expects SAF to grow to over 230 billion gallons used by 2050.

If you must travel for business by flying, picking a newer aircraft and direct routes will cut down on the amount of emissions released. Newer models of aircraft are approximately 80% more fuel efficient than aircraft made in the 1960s. Recently released aircraft such as the Airbus A350 XWB and the Boeing 737 Dreamliner are the most fuel-efficient planes made and are now beginning to pilot flights that are fueled with SAF rather than petroleum to further lower the amount of greenhouse gas emissions released on flights.

Train Travel Is Green Travel

In Europe and Asia, traveling by train can drastically cut down on business travel emissions. Governments across Europe are starting to promote traveling by train over flights in a bid to cut down on carbon emissions. Last year, France’s parliament voted to ban short-haul flights if there was a train or bus option with a travel time of 2.5 hours or less available, and Austrian Airlines replaced a popular Vienna-Salzberg flight route with a train alternative after it received a government bailout with provisions to cut its carbon footprint.

With train travel common and networks well maintained across Europe, train travel can make a large dent in business travel-related emissions. Research by Eurostar shows that one flight is equivalent to 14 Eurostar trips to the same destination. With travel times ending up comparable, train travel makes for more sustainable business travel.

Sustainability is top of mind for Worldwide ERC®, which works closely with other stakeholders to meet governmental and corporate sustainability goals and advance sustainability in the mobility industry. Learn more about Worldwide ERC’s Road to Sustainability research.