Paul Tilstone, managing director of GBTAEurope, considers how the issue of sustainability is evolving, and finds its significance for the business travel buyer should not be underestimated.
Having considered the Elephant (distribution), the Rhinosaurus (consumer and supply changes), and the lion (legislation) in my previous columns, it is now time to encounter the fourth beast in the business travel jungle: the buffalo, representing sustainability.
In the simple days, before the economic downturn, companies who wanted to be considered more sustainable in their travel operation just measured their emissions, created strategies to reduce them long-term and off-set the balance. But the sustainability issue has moved on and it is once again becoming a key business aspect (if we believe it ever really went away!).
Companies must now, in this new era, consider the complex relationship between looking after their people, their profit and the planet, and they need to find the right balance. The movement of their people, including business travel, must feature heavily in any sustainability thinking.
As far as the environment is concerned, companies need to consider their travel patterns and how they might apply technology to their business, challenge set behaviour patterns and look at alternative modes, but they shouldn’t be afraid to fly when the choice makes sense and they are succeeding in challenging behaviour. Sensible choices should be the mantra and maximising the effectiveness of a trip is key.
Responsible procurement is another important aspect of sustainability. Every business needs to ensure that their supply chain partners are behaving in line with their own company sustainability policies, whatever they may be. Hidden skeletons have a habit of falling out of cupboards. With social media, consumer reaction can be fast and vicious if suppliers to businesses are found to be acting unethically. The business travel manager must ensure that suppliers’ claims are not inflated, and help them understand the importance sustainability plays in a travel manager’s objectives.
Looking after travellers is also a key feature of sustainability. With highly trained and experienced staff becoming scarcer, the employee feels empowered and supported by legislation. They are demanding more care. And its right that every staff member should be treated as an asset, one which can be diminished if not cared for properly. Companies are having to recognise the impact extensive travel has, to become traveller centric and provide the tools and care to support workers away from the office. But this creates potential conflict with other sustainability areas. How does a business balance the need to provide a business class flat-bed for a traveller to ensure they are fit to work with the increase in cost and CO2?
The other difficulty with sustainability is that it often relates directly to the culture of the country in which a company operates. Whilst some countries have social elements at the core of their make-up, others are less like this. But in this day and age, companies are judged globally.
We are having to deal with global expectations for sustainability on a local level. This means a mammoth task in behaviour change in many parts of the world if companies are to create solid sustainability platforms. The end goal should justify the path to get there, but the travel manager should not underestimate the task ahead.
An extract from “Laws of the Jungle”, a GBTA Europe presentation.