Sustainable Travel: All Talk, Little Walk?

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4 min read

JOHANNESBURG – Did you know that a mere 16% of UK travellers hold sustainability as their travel priority? Venturing to the southern hemisphere, South Africa’s commitment seems even more hesitant.

“Businesses want to go green, they truly do. But wrestling with immediate cost concerns and a lack of accessible sustainable options often tips the balance away from the eco-friendly route,” says Bonnie Smith, GM FCM.

It is clear that as the world’s urgency for eco-consciousness intensifies, sustainability is no longer a mere catchphrase. It’s a bona fide mission, and one businesses are keen to take part in.

Smith explains that most businesses have drafted impressive sustainable travel guidelines, with their employees at the ready to endorse these eco-initiatives. “Yet when the rubber meets the road—or perhaps more aptly, when the plane meets the sky—priorities tend to waver and cost and convenience take priority,” she says.

The Numbers Tell a Story

A recent survey conducted by Emburse reveals some eyebrow-raising statistics. Whilst a commendable 71% of businesses have sustainability policies or guidelines in their arsenal, only 37% ensure these policies see the light of day when travels are booked.

This is partly due to the lingering economic shadow of the pandemic. Budgets have tightened, and 31% of travellers now place cost-effectiveness at the top of their priority list, allowing sustainability to slip to the bottom rungs.

Expectations also seem to differ across the boardroom table. A staggering 71% of employees firmly believe it’s up to their employers to guide the way in sustainable travel. However, many businesses, seemingly passing the baton, expect their travelling workforce to lead the charge.

This cyclical blame game, where responsibility is tossed back and forth, often results in inaction, explains Smith. The truth is that businesses might be vocal about their green policies, but unless these are tangibly enforced or incentivised, employees often find themselves veering towards cost-saving shortcuts. This brings up a pertinent question: is it possible for sustainability and cost-effectiveness to share the limelight?

Zooming in: The Global-Local Perspective

South Africa, with its unique economic landscape, faces a unique set of challenges in the sustainable travel arena, according to Smith. With economic inequalities and constraints, South Africa’s corporate sector often finds itself in the tough spot of juggling costs.

It’s not just about money. The availability of sustainable travel options in South Africa isn’t as widespread as one would hope. Unlike some global counterparts, South Africa’s infrastructure, especially in remote areas, sometimes lacks eco-friendly choices, making it trickier for companies to uphold their green commitments.

Moreover, there’s an awareness gap. While urban centres like Cape Town or Johannesburg may be more plugged into global eco-trends, spreading this awareness to a broader corporate audience is still a work in progress. Smith emphasises the need for continuous training, workshops, and dialogue to keep the importance of sustainable travel at the forefront of employees’ minds.

Steering Towards Solutions

Smith admits that some companies may feel that they aren’t sure of the starting point when it comes to green travel. But, she says, this is precisely where a TCM can help. “One of our core functions is to identify the suppliers that are best able to suit your needs. If your goal is to reduce your carbon footprint, for example, we are able to select the hotels that are most aligned with this goal. We can also identify the locations and transport options that meet your requirements – or suggest offsetting projects to mitigate your impact,” Smith says.

There are several other steps a company can take to incorporate sustainability in its travel policy. Smith is a strong advocate for clear, actionable steps:

Transparency through Reporting: Detailing the carbon footprint of travels enables employees to fathom the true environmental implications of their choices.

Collaborative Endeavours: Collaborations with other green-committed entities can exponentially increase a company’s positive environmental footprint.

Rewarding Sustainable Decisions: Tangible incentives can sway decisions. When the benefits of eco-friendly choices are evident, employees are more inclined to adopt them.

Knowledge is Power: Through workshops and continual dialogues, the essence of sustainable travel can become an integral part of corporate DNA.

Smith concludes, “Sustainability in corporate travel is far from a mere trend. It’s a commitment to our planet. The pivotal question is whether businesses will walk the sustainable walk or remain content with eloquent green rhetoric. With its unique challenges yet untapped potential, South Africa could very well set the benchmark. The choice, and the journey, is ours to make.”