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In 2019, prior to the pandemic, the global business travel industry spending level was estimated at USD $1.4 trillion but has since been recovering from the devastating economic impact on the industry. The US is the global leader in business tourism spending and since 2021, according to World Bank data, the US spent an estimated $322.42 billion. Travel is a necessary expense for most businesses that rely on relationships for growth. On average, businesses may spend about 10% of its annual revenue on business related travel.

With many tradeshows and conferences back in full swing, businesses open and attendance almost at pre-pandemic levels, we will soon return to our high consumption levels. When we travel, we consume more energy and likely dispose of more products because we are on tight schedules and constantly in transit.

We are in new, unfamiliar environments that may not support recycling, composting or sorting waste like we do at home. So, our routines are interrupted, and, in some cases, we are forced to follow a less sustainable system because those are the options available to us while travelling.

Although we can’t control every aspect of our travel, like the choice of food containers we are given at restaurants, we can still make modifications to our behaviour that support a more eco-friendly way. For example, choosing rideshare, selecting green certified accommodations, or using biodegradable travel products, is contributing in some small way to the bigger environmental cause. Here are 6 ways to make business travel more sustainable.

Choose a Green Certified Hotel

Choosing a green certified hotel is ideal but may not always be practical for your unique travel situation. Nonetheless, being aware of these programs and the impact they have on our environment, helps us make the right choices towards sustainability.

The hospitality industry, particularly hotels, are one of the biggest contributors to waste and energy consumption. According to a 2018 report by Green Lodging News, the average hotel guest generates approximately 2.2 pounds (1 kilogram) of waste per night, and about 30% of that waste is made up of plastic. The international hotel industry uses 150 million tons of single-use plastic every year with less than 10% of plastics recycled correctly.

In recent years, there’s been a growing number of hotel chains enlisting eco-certification programs to signal their commitment to sustainability. As of 2018, 25% hotels around the world have attained green certification however that number continues to grow as more hotel chains are seeing the benefits of promoting sustainability. The Global Sustainable Tourism Council sets the standard for sustainable travel and tourism and acts as the international accreditation body for these sustainability certification programs. Three of the most recognized green certification programs in North America include Green Globe, EarthCheck, and Green Key with many more listed on the US Environment Protection Agency (EPA) website.

Hotels that participate in green certification programs indicate a commitment to sustainable practices and operation which includes the reduction of waste, water and energy consumption combined with the use of only environmentally friendly products. Well-known hotel brands participating in eco certification programs include the Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, Hilton Hotels, Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants, InterContinental Hotels (IHG), Starwood Hotels which include the Marriott and Sheraton brands to name a few.

Choosing a green certified hotel for your business travel is an investment in our environment and in a business that may still be struggling to recover from the impact of the pandemic. Making it a business travel policy to stay at green certified hotels will have a lasting positive effect on our environment.

Bring your Own Toiletries

We love the little gifts we get in the bathroom especially when we forget to bring our own toiletries but the each year, 980 tonnes of travel sized plastic containers are dumped in landfills. Plastic toiletry bottles are a huge contributor to hotel solid waste. Many hotels have started to replace these small bottle toiletries with refillable glass bottles affixed to the shower wall that contain shampoo, conditioner, and shower gels.

The Marriott chain, for example, has eliminated the tiny disposable plastic toiletries from its 1,000 properties in North America which translates to saving the landfill from 500 million small bottles or 1.7 million pounds of plastic.

Though our selection of sustainable alternatives to 30 ml plastic bottles are limited at retail stores, you can find some TSA approved mini glass bottles online. Travel responsibly by bringing your own reusable small glass bottles and refill them with your own liquids instead of relying on hotels to provide these as giveaways.

Reuse and Reduce Energy and Water Consumption

When travelling, some of us like to take advantage of the convenience that housekeeping offers. Replenishing our rooms with new linens and bath towels whenever we want, getting a towel for every part of your body and taking a special towel for different activities like fitness and swimming. Some of us are guilty of over consumption and unnecessary water and energy waste.

Water scarcity is a global concern and is a sustainability issue. The tourism and travel industry, specifically hotels and their guests, contribute to the water scarcity problem. According to Sustainable Hospitality Alliance, a hotel can use an average of 1,500 liters of water per room per day. In some regions, where there is water scarcity, mismanaged water consumption exacerbates the issue. Many green certified hotels are now tackling this problem with stricter regulations and policies.

Frequent visits by housekeeping to change bed sheets and replace soiled towels leads to more laundry which translates to more water and energy consumption. While on business travel, reusing towels as much as possible, or bringing your own towels will help reduce the need for laundry services during your stay.

Dine-In to Reduce Disposable Plastic Waste

When you are on-the-road running a tight schedule full of meetings, it is hard to resist ordering take-out or delivery from fast food restaurants. It’s convenient, affordable and fits your schedule. But unfortunately, your take-out order uses a food container that is made of some material that will end up in the landfill and will take years to decompose. While many states have banned the distribution of plastic-based food containers and cutlery, many dining establishments continue to pollute the environment with non-biodegradable products and their choices are simply out of our control.

Restaurants and food service businesses spend about $24 billion on disposable products each year and throw away nearly 9 million tons of disposable food ware and packaging. According to National Geographic, the restaurant industry generates about 78% of all disposable food packaging waste in the US and uses more than 36 billion disposable utensils each year.

Five states have banned the purchase and distribution of foam and polystyrene restaurant products which include Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Vermont. Many restaurants have started to replace plastic cutlery, straws and stir sticks with organic materials made of bamboo and other wood products.

With these laws left at the state and municipal level, there is inconsistency across the country and a lack of consolidated effort to reduce plastic pollution. However, as an individual, you can still make a positive impact and minimize plastic waste by choosing to dine-in and use reusable versus disposable tableware products provided by the restaurant. It may not always be practical to use your own glass food containers to package leftovers nor to bring silverware for the road, choosing to dine-in is a way to reduce food packaging waste and reduce the overall demand for materials that are harmful to our environment.

Share a Ride

Travelling with colleagues or solo travelling on a schedule with multiple destinations poses a sustainability challenge. The cost of ground transportation in our environment is enormous and again, the ideal scenario options may not be practical for your business travel but can be manageable if planned ahead.

According to the EPA, transportation accounts for about 27% of total greenhouse gas emissions with short haul flights and local ground transportation as a solo driver being the biggest contributors to this statistic. While ride-hail programs like uber, lyft and grab don’t reduce carbon emissions when used by a single rider, an electrified car-pooled ride that is shared between two or more people, does reduce carbon emissions dramatically.

A driver with an electric vehicle transporting one person to a destination cuts emissions by about 50% while a car-pooled electric vehicle trip cuts emissions by nearly 70% compared to a private vehicle trip using a non-electric vehicle. Though we can’t always choose the type of vehicle we get when using a ride hailing app, we can try to coordinate ground transportation with colleagues to minimize the frequency and distance of travel thereby reducing our carbon footprint.

Wherever possible, choose charter transportation, locate your hotel near your meetings, select taxi fleets with electric or hybrid vehicles or choose companies that implement navigation systems that offer the best fuel and time efficiency.

Virtual Meetings as the Most Viable Option

We have seen how the use of technology to replace in-person meetings and conferences to virtual ones has positively impacted the environment. The savings generated in terms of time, money and resources moving from in-person to an online platform is a blessing for many businesses.

Based on a Cornell University-led study, the transition to virtual conferencing can reduce the carbon footprint by 94% and energy use by 90%. Producing conferences require the planning of food and hotel services, printing of signage and marketing materials, transporting supplies through various modes of transportation and the consumption of energy and other natural resources before, during and after the event. According to this study, each individual attendee produces up to 6,600 pounds of carbon dioxide because of their participation. If in-person events with more than 50 participants are expected to grow at a rate of 11.2% over the next decade with no other alternate delivery options, our environment will be greatly impacted. Though in-person meetings are necessary for building relationships, choose the virtual option whenever possible and fly only if necessary.

Final Thoughts

Travel is a costly but necessary activity for business operations. If your company doesn’t have a sustainable travel policy, it might be a good time to reassess your travel program. From accommodations, to dining to transportation, consider the many areas and activities of business travel that affect our environment and recommend ways to implement sustainable practices.

Even if you, alone, cannot influence or change your company’s current practices, you can still affect the outcome by choosing environmentally friendly practices.

About the Author

Chanelle Dupre is an entrepreneur and blog writer who writes about single parenting and sustainability. She is focused on exploring new innovation that fuses technology and sustainability to support the movement towards a circular economy.

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