Cost is no excuse for SMEs to ignore sustainable travel

SMEs need trusted partners who can give them access to accurate data and functional booking technology.  

Cost is no excuse for SMEs to ignore sustainable travel

SMEs need trusted partners who can give them access to accurate data and functional booking technology.                       

Kermit had a point when he sang, “It’s not easy being green” and, for many organisations, choosing greener travel options doesn’t come cheap, either. For SMEs, in particular, cost can be a real blocker to adopting a more sustainable business travel programme. 

Graeme Milne is Head of Corporation Sales UK, Ireland & Nordics, Cytric by Amadeus, one of more than 200 business travel companies exhibiting at Business Travel Show Europe on 28-29 June.  

He agrees that responsible travel can be more expensive thanks to, “Sustainable aviation fuel trading at a premium, and the additional cost of carbon offsets. However, given the scale of the challenges we face, it is important to remember the long-term benefits of selecting the more environmentally sustainable option.” 

Travelling greener 

In other words, cost is no longer an acceptable excuse for not having a green travel programme. So, why don’t all SMEs have one?  

“There may be a lack of awareness around the steps being taken across the business travel industry in order to make [a more sustainable world] a reality,” explains Milne.  

Patrick W. Diemer, Chair of the Board of European Network of Business Travel Associations, thinks a lack of resources is another big blocker for SMEs: “Large corporates have the staff, time and resources to develop sustainability policies for their business travel.  

“SMEs, however, need to rely on what industry suppliers offer them. They need their TMC [travel management company], online booking tool, hotels and other suppliers to make it easy for them. In my opinion the industry has yet to develop green business travel as a package.” 

Other blockers include, “Sourcing accurate supplier data, carbon reporting, and harmonising the metrics,” explains Scott Davies, CEO of ITM (Institute of Travel Management).  

“If an SME travels for business, then business travel will be part of their organisations’ roadmap to net zero, so they need very specific information. There is disparity between good intentions and broad sustainable initiatives by suppliers, and actual measurement. Ten or 15 years ago, the fact an airline was investing in new aircraft types, or a hotel had solar panels on the roof, was sufficient information, but today that isn’t meaningful enough. Corporate travel managers need auditable and actionable carbon measurements.” 

Beating the blockers 

So, how can an SME, which may have a relatively small corporate travel budget (up to £1 million, for example, overcome all the blockers standing in the way of being green? 

According to Davies, there is no straightforward answer: “It’s very challenging for travel buyers as there is a real sense of urgency due to the accelerated global focus on climate change and legislation that will tighten up organisations’ disclosure of carbon emissions,” he explained.  

“In a recent survey of ITM’s buyer members, 82% said business travel is now part of their organisation’s net zero roadmap. But the topic of sustainability is so vast there is a real danger SMEs become overwhelmed and don’t know where to start. There is also a sliding scale of maturity on the topic and in terms of focus across organisations, depending on the industry sector and how much business travel accounts for their emissions.” 

Diemer also believes we need access to, “Easy to understand, commonly accepted and reliable greenhouse gas reporting standards. We can be hopeful that the European Commission will publish their standard for greenhouse gas reporting this year. Second, the supplier industry needs to see sustainability as a common undertaking and not a competitive battleground. With greener business travel in mind, we need industry cooperation to offer corporate customers clear and transparent choices.” 

Amadeus’ Milne adds, “A willingness to change is fundamental to creating a more sustainable travel sector. At a corporate level, responsible travel must be embedded into the decision-making process at each stage of the journey – as vital to the process as cost or efficiency.” 

Traveller awareness is key  

He also puts the onus on individuals – the travellers themselves – claiming, “They must be aware of the environmental impact of a trip and willing to reduce it or the road to a more sustainable industry will be a great deal longer.  

“Education is also vital,” he adds, “While there may be a willingness to change, travellers must know how to. At Amadeus, we help travellers make informed travel choices by comparing air and rail options, filtering carbon emissions or encouraging them with customised messages.” 

Can SME efforts really make a difference? 

If industry and legislative bodies are more forthcoming regarding the transparency and accuracy of available information and education, will it be possible for SMEs to be more sustainable in a way that can make a difference?  

Jamal Madhloom, Head of Customer Experience for Corporate Traveller UK, believes so. 

“At Corporate Traveller, we’re noticing more SMEs requesting assistance with building their travel policies. We help our clients by investigating current travel practices within their business, setting targets and aligning their business’s corporate, social and environmental objectives to their travel programme, implementing a sustainable travel policy, informing employees and recommending offsetting partners to collaborate with.” 

The pressure is on for suppliers to step up  

When it comes finding help to be more sustainable, ITM’s Davies believes, “It’s important that guidance and communication happens at point of sale, when the SME is booking business travel.  

“Travel policies are also a key driver of behavioural change. For example, some companies are amending travel policies so that one-day trips are no longer permitted or introducing layers of approvals if a traveller wants to take a decision outside policy. 

“Legislation will [also] drive the supply chain to do more. Each supplier will be legally responsible for their emissions and businesses will need to have a net zero plan published, which will be legally audited. Suppliers industry-wide are now moving the dial and have the right intention in terms of bringing about change and making real progress, but there is no quick fix as it takes time to make significant changes, whether that’s buying new types of fuel-efficient aircraft in the aviation sector, re-designing hotel properties to use less energy in the accommodation sector, or investing in electric vehicles in the car rental sector.  

“In the meantime, SME travel managers could start by showing suppliers the internal metrics they are working towards and the way their organisation audits sustainable travel in the context of ESG. It’s important for travel managers to bring suppliers into the conversation and have mutual understanding.” 

Diemer adds, “In all openness, SMEs can wait and see what the larger corporates and their suppliers will develop [as this] will eventually filter down successfully the SME. Meanwhile, while we wait, use rail over air travel, plan for longer stays [etc.].”  

And Milne encourages businesses to, “Look at the challenges they face as well as the opportunities in terms of sustainability and identify where they can create an impact based on their own strengths and resources. In addition, both culture and data can be important drivers on an SME’s sustainability journey.  

“Culture is key. Businesses of all sizes must work to create an ethos of sustainability-focused travel, encouraging environmentally and socially conscious decisions at every stage. Looking at data, technology can assist during the booking process – allowing travellers to make informed decisions based on the environmental impact of a trip.” 

Corporate Traveller and Amadeus are exhibiting at Business Travel Show Europe, which takes place 28-29 June at ExCeL, London. Patrick W. Diemer and Scott Davies are participating in the conference programme. The event is free to attend for anyone who books, buys or manages business travel. 

Louis Magliaro
Louis Magliaro

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