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7 tips on how you can travel more sustainable for business

Do you want to lower your carbon footprint and travel more sustainable for business? You are not 100% sure what choices do you have and what exactly you can do?

In this blog post, you will learn about what sustainable travel is, how your decisions have an impact on the environment and what opportunities you have, to travel more sustainable for your business.

So, let’s start with some basics.


What is sustainable (or also called “Green”) travelling?

The concept of sustainability can be traced back to Hans Carl von Carlowitz (1645-1714) and meant making use of natural, renewable sources in a way, that people can continue to rely on them continuously and with a long term perspective.

Until now, humans exploit natural resources very recklessly. That comes with various problems like global warming, rapid species extinction and break down of entire eco-systems. If the human species, who are fully dependent on a working eco-system, want to survive, a behaviour change is needed in all aspects of our life including travelling as well. Rather sooner than later.

Sustainable travelling can contribute to the overall goal lowering the negative impacts of humans on our eco-system. In order to improve our travelling behaviour, we need to understand what has an impact on the environment:

  • Travel distance
  • Travel frequency
  • Choice mode of transport
  • Choice of accommodation
  • Human behaviour at destination (e.g. littering, respect of foreign culture & eco-systems, avoiding mass tourism, etc.)

The travel distance is often given by the destination of customers and business events (e.g. conferences, exhibitions, seminars, etc.). In case there are similar business events that are closer to your location it would be better to chose those.

All the order factors can be strongly influenced by travellers. Where appropriate human behaviour and lowering travel frequency are self-explaining, it is more complex to understand the impact of every mode of transport and the accommodation. So we will cover them in more detail.

What impact has my choice of mode of transport on the environment?

Obviously, the choice of the mode of transport has a huge impact on your carbon footprint, as shown in the figure below. The modes of transport are mostly compared by CO2 per person and kilometre travelled.

Be aware that the number of emitted CO2 per person and kilometre travelled are just example values and can strongly vary depending on vehicle type and countries operated. Further CO2 is not the only gas that leaves the exhaust pipes. There are also CO, SO2, N2, NOx, H2O

Travel by car

Travelling by car is the most popular travel option for business travel, especially on short distances (< 500 km). However, travelling by car with a single passenger is almost as bad for our environment as flying. In our example we have chosen a small modern car with an average consumption of 5l of fuel per 100 km.

It is obvious, that the bigger the car gets and the more fuel it consumes, the more CO2 gets emitted. However, when you travel in groups by 3 or 4 it is a good alternative to other modes of transports as the emitted amount of emissions simply split with every person.

Travel by plane

Travelling by plane is considered to have the greatest impact on the environment. The real amount of emitted value of CO2 per flight are derived of the average load factor (i.e. passenger and freight load,) the plane type and the average distance travelled per plane type.

Further it is important to know, that a lot of fuel is consumed during take-off in order to get the mass of the ground. Hence, if you need to fly it is better to go for the most direct connection rather than choosing a multi-stop flight.

Although modern planes do not emit more emissions than average cars, but it is the long distances travelled that ads up on your environmental balance sheet.


Travel by train and public transport

A detailed estimation of emissions caused by public transport and train connection is more difficult as it varies from city to city, from connection to connection, from operator to operator and from country to country. What does this mean?

First the power source needs to be considered. That means if public transport and trains are powered by fossil fuels or electrically.

If electrically, then it makes a huge difference how the consumed electricity was generated. Does the electricity stem from renewable energy sources or from fossil fuels (e.g. coal, gas, and oil)?

These factors vary from operator to operator and from country to country and are difficult to obtain, but need to be considered, when comparing various modes of transport. Some operators publish, where they buy their electricity from. Further, many countries publish figures about their electricity mix or also called emission factors. The best summary of electricity mix by country that we are aware of can be found on Carbonfootprint.com.


Travel by bus

Although powered by fossil fuels, long distance busses have a very good overall emission per person factor. This is due to high capacity per vehicle in comparison to their overall mass. The 2 main driving factors how good the emissions balance really is, are the passenger load (e.g. the average number of passengers per trip) and the vehicle type.


What impact has my choice of accommodation on the environment?

The choice of accommodation contributes to the overall emissions per journey. The following factors drive the impact on the environment:

  1. Building body and insulation
    • Was the hotel built or renovated with latest technology (e.g. insulation, multiple layer glazing, etc.)?
  2. Heating system
    • Does the hotel heat with oil, district heating or solar thermal power sources?
  3. Electricity source & consumption
    • Does the hotel buy electricity from renewable energy providers or from fossil, nuclear power plants? What measures is the hotel taking to reduce electricity consumption (LED lightning, modern kitchen, laundry equipment, etc.)?
  4. Supply Chain
    • Where does the hotel buy their food and services from? Organic and local food vs. factory farming goods from all over the world.
  5. Hotel services
    • What kind of hotel services do they offer (over-tourism vs. responsible tourism)
  6. Waste reduction
    • How do they deal with waste and responsible consumption (e.g. single use items)?

Those factors are addressed by certified “eco hotels” also called green hotels or carbon zero hotels. The goal is simply to lower their carbon footprint and to reduce the impact on the environment as much as possible.


7 top tips to travel more sustainable/greener for business


Always remember, that the most sustainable business trip is the one that can be avoided. Although the global pandemic has shown us, that we can do more within video conferences than most of us have imagined before, personal contact remains a crucial need of the humans nature and hence remains very important for many business purposes.

So, here are our tips and recommendations to travel more sustainable for business.


1. Compare from door-to-door

Forced by the travel industry, we only can compare flights vs. trains vs. car routes. This leads to the fact that travellers tend to compare the net flight time against net train and car driving times. Car and public transport routes can be compared from door-to-door, if supported by Google, Apple, HERE maps services. However, flight connections are never shown from door-to-door and therefore often seem to be the fastest travel option.

When adding travel times to and from the airports as well as waiting times for check-in security, etc., then the total travel times easily can double up. Especially on short haul trips, with fast train alternatives, the overall travel time by plane can be longer than by train.

So, make sure you compare the overall travel times from door-to-door.


2. Choose Green hotels or stay with friends

When choosing your place to stay try to find Eco Hotels (Green Hotels) that have sustainability measures in place. A very environmentally friendly way to stay overnight is with friends. If there are some friends around providing a spare bed and the extra travel time does not outperform the energy savings from staying in a hotel, this is the option, you should go for. On top of that, it is always nice to meet some friends.


3. Get around with Public Transport

We know Uber is convenient but try to use the public transport offers as much as possible. In many places the offer is very good and can be substantially faster in rush hours when traffic jams block the roads.


4. Avoid stops when flying

In case you really need to fly, go for the most direct flight option. Every take-off is very fuel intense. Even though it might be a bit more expensive, every stop that can be skipped and every kilometre less flown will drastically lower your carbon footprint.

And look, it always saves some of the most important resource on the globe. Your lifetime.


5. Rent small and electric cars

In case you need to rent a car, consider 2 things. The engine type and the vehicle size.

  1. Try to rent an electric car that emits less CO2 if possible.
  2. The smaller the rental car, the less fuel it would consume, regardless of combustion or electric drive.


6. Combine several meetings

Instead of travelling to customer and return try to combine several meetings who are in the same area. So, before you start off, have a look at your CRM and see who else you should meet. This will not only lower your ecological footprint, but also improve your overall work efficiency.


7. Offset your carbon emissions

Offsetting carbon emissions for travelling is most common to satisfy our guilty conscience after a flight. Although it does not solve our environmental problems per se, it is a good very good idea to donate some money for sustainable projects like education, reforestation, renewable energy projects, tourism, etc.

Consider offsetting not only for flights, but also for your car and train connections.

And always remember! Offsetting be used as an excuse to travel more. It should be the last option, if a trip cannot be avoided.

Wrapping it up

If you want travel more sustainable for business, it is important to know about the impact of your decision on mode of transport and accommodation on our environment. You can influence this by thinking of the travel frequency, the choice of mode of transportation and accommodation, and your personal behaviour.

Average combustion engine cars with a single passenger are polluting our environment on the same level than travelling by planes. Electrified modes of transport (electric vehicles, trains, and urban public transport) can be way more efficient, but it strongly needs to be considered how the consumed electricity gets generated. If the energy sources are from renewables, then there is a huge potential to lower the carbon footprint.

When choosing your accommodation look out for certified green hotels that aim to lower their impact on environment.

Since personal meetings remain crucial for many businesses, we provided 7 tips to travel more sustainable for business:

  1. Compare from door-to-door
  2. Choose Green hotels or stay with friends
  3. Get around with Public Transport
  4. Avoid stops when flying
  5. Rent small and electric cars
  6. Combine several meetings
  7. Offset carbon emissions


What else can business travellers do to travel more sustainable?

Share your ideas in the comments below.