Sustainable corporate travel: A new take on travelling light

5 min read

Did you know that 88% of the global business travel sector views addressing climate change as the number one priority area for action? And that 78% of travel managers worldwide expect their corporate travellers to embark on more business trips in 2023 compared to 2022?

Analysing these statistics, and considering that aviation accounts for around 2.5% of global CO2 emissions, a disconnect is evident between most companies’ values and their actions.

The reality is that corporate travel is a key aspect of any thriving business. In 2023, are business owners forced to choose between growth and ‘green’? Is it necessary for businesses to put an end to corporate travel to ensure consistency regarding their ‘green’ motives?

Definitely not, according to Bonnie Smith, GM Corporate Traveller. Tackling the effects of climate change is still possible without eliminating such a critical component of business development.

“Offsetting your travellers’ carbon footprint, implementing a no-print travel policy, and activating alerts on various booking platforms to receive notifications regarding the most sustainable routes, are just a few ways to maximise corporate travel sustainability,” Smith explains.

If you’re interested in taking your corporate ‘green’ efforts to new heights, it’s also time to encourage travellers to embrace an all-new trend in sustainable travel: luggage-free trips.

Here’s how – and why – it’s done.

What is the luggage-free travel movement?

Travelling light is infinitely more convenient for business and leisure travellers. There’s no need to wait at baggage claim, there’s nothing heavy slowing you down, and it’s easier to get from the airport to the hotel.

Travelling light is also great for the environment. After all, the heavier an aircraft, the more fuel it requires and the greater the levels of dangerous CO2 emissions released.

“As of 2023, eco-focused travellers are taking this travel approach to new, eco-friendlier extremes, opting to travel with nothing other than their laptop bag and the clothes on their back.  Then, upon arrival, the traveller purchases clothing and essentials from local suppliers, particularly small businesses and market vendors,” explains Smith.

“When their trip comes to an end, the final step is donating this clothing and any remaining essentials, such as toothpaste and food if they were staying in self-catering accommodation,  to charities and NGOs in need. These donations help uplift local communities, and the traveller can hop aboard their return flight luggage-free once again.”

The luggage-free ripple effect

The impact of a luggage-free approach is far-reaching and multi-faceted.

The first benefit is environmental. The weight of an average-sized plane, such as a Boeing 737-800, is approximately 41,000 kilograms. If 50% of passengers choose to leave their luggage at home, there’ll be a weight reduction of up to 1,863 kg per flight and, as a result, a much more conservative fuel requirement.

Furthermore, when shopping locally upon reaching their destination, especially if shopping at a market where many goods have been recycled, upcycled, or are second-hand, travellers do their part to combat pollution. Air pollution is part and parcel of importing foreign goods.

Then there’s the social and community benefit. Donating goods and clothing goes a long way towards helping disadvantaged groups and individuals. In addition, many travellers opt to donate their time and/or skills by volunteering at the same charity or organisation to which they’re donating.

According to global luxury tour operator GILTEDGE, travellers enjoy getting to know the people who will benefit from their donation. They’re determined to maximise their contribution and find it inspiring and meaningful to enrich the lives of others during their trip.

“Over the past few years, GILTEDGE Africa has definitely seen a growing interest from our clients to make a difference in the countries they visit by being of service to the local communities or positively impacting the environment,” says Robyn Stalson, Philanthropy Specialist, GILTEDGE Africa.

Other corporate travellers are choosing to ‘Pack for a Purpose’ instead. This approach is an excellent alternative for those who don’t have the luxury of time to shop for clothing and other daily essentials before diving into meetings upon arrival.

‘Pack for a Purpose’ is a global initiative that aids sustainable travel by encouraging travellers to ‘travel light’, saving space in their luggage for supplies needed by community projects around the world. Since 2010, travellers who ‘Pack for a Purpose’ have brought over 188,000 kilograms of supplies to 55 countries.

How to get started?

Whether you’re keen to try travelling luggage-free or not, there are many ways to ensure greater sustainability in the corporate travel space.

“Sustainability today needs to be on everyone’s radar. The CEO, the travel management company, and, of course, corporate travellers themselves, all need to make it a priority,” says Smith.

According to Smith, a travel management company (TMC) can help you get started. They will book ‘greener’ routes and direct flights as well as ensure that the travel policy outlines ‘green’ partners such as preferred rental car companies that specialise in electronic or hybrid vehicles, and sustainable accommodation providers.

A TMC can also provide incentives and work to nurture a ‘green’ company culture. At the end of the day, it’s not just about doing your bit for the environment and the communities within it – for many companies, it’s about maintaining good standing with existing and prospective clients.

“Sustainability is here to stay. People are passionate about it. Most importantly, they’re passionate about doing business with brands, partners, and suppliers who are, too,” Smith concludes.

For more information about Corporate Traveller, or to interview Corporate Traveller South Africa GM Bonnie Smith, call Dorine Reinstein on 083 278 8994 or email