On August 28, 2019, then 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg arrived in New York City to go to work. Her mode of transportation? A zero-carbon yacht that took 15 days to cross the Atlantic Ocean. Now, no one is telling us to cross oceans in a boat like her. After all, it was a symbolic trip—Greta’s stand for climate change includes not taking plane trips because of the carbon emissions (CO2).
However, it is certainly time that we all stand together in the fight against climate change, and one of the ways companies can do this is to introduce a sustainable travel policy. Sustainable travel refers to business trips that reduce vehicle usage and minimise CO2 emissions and pollution. It also implies avoiding unnecessary trips.
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg on the Malizia II, a zero-carbon yacht, on August 28, 2019. | Credit: Greta Thunberg
Sustainable travel will not happen unless companies take action! Did you know?
- Carbon emissions from the airline industry grew by 75 per cent from 1990 to 2012.
- The total carbon impact of a single flight is so high that avoiding just one trip can be equivalent to going (petrol) car-free for a year.
- Business travel is one of the most significant contributors to carbon emissions, yet research shows most companies aren’t taking real action to introduce a sustainable travel policy.
- For many companies, a sustainability program feels too hard to do, yet sustainability is not as time- or cost-prohibitive as it used to be.
- Sustainable behaviour needs to be widely adopted in organisations and deeply integrated into how we work and travel to mitigate our carbon footprint in transport.
Let’s take a look at these simple and effective steps a company can take to implement the practice of travelling sustainably.
10 sure-fire ways to kickstart sustainable travel in your company
1. Stay virtual
The pandemic has made us all experts in having virtual meetings. A big step to sustainable travel is avoiding unnecessary travelling and sticking to virtual meet-ups whenever possible.
Companies can support this by providing clear guidance on selecting and using virtual collaboration tools and providing guidelines on creating engaging virtual meeting experiences. Some examples include learning attendees’ names, waiting for input and listening actively.
Encourage employees to choose virtual alternatives instead of physical travel if it makes business sense. | Credit: Sigmund via Unsplash
2. Fly green
When you can’t avoid flying, fly green. Here are some ways to do that:
- Combine multiple trips into one.
- Choose direct, non-stop flights whenever possible. Take-offs, landings, and taxiing are the most fuel-intensive parts of a flight. A direct route, without any stopovers, can reduce your emissions by up to 50 per cent compared to connecting flights.
- Fly economy class if you can. The carbon footprint of flying business class is three times more than economy since they take up more room and can be mostly empty. Also, business and first-class passengers have more luggage contributing to the aircraft’s weight, and the heavier the aeroplane, the more fuel it uses.
- Choose budget airlines as they tend to pack more people on planes.
- Consider exploring eco-friendly destinations around the world.
The good news for sustainable travel is that the aviation industry is committed to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. | Credit: Orna Wachman via Pixabay
3. choose greener alternative Transport
To be a sustainable traveller, take a bus or train instead of a plane whenever possible. Travelling by train is the most environmentally friendly mode of transport. According to studies by the European Environment Agency, travel by rail emits less than 1/20th of air travel emissions and 1/7th of driving emissions. More plus points—it’s also cheaper and more comfortable, so you can rest or make a dent in those emails!
Singapore’s mass rail transit system (MRT) moves 2.1 million passengers daily. | Credit: VacacionesPagodasBlog via Pixabay
4. Rent an eco-friendly car
It’s not always an option to travel via rail. In these cases, renting an eco-friendly car is the next best way to help nature. The demand for environmentally sensitive transportation options is rising, and hybrid and biofuel-powered rental cars are available these days. Whilst the low-emission electric Tesla may not be so accessible in Malaysia, we can always consider other fuel-efficient vehicles, which save us money at the petrol station.
5. Pack lighter
A simple tip for sustainable travel is to pack light. The more you pack, the heavier the aeroplane or car, and the more fuel it uses. If all passengers were conscious of weight while packing, fuel savings could be equivalent to taking 10,500 cars off the road for an entire year. Do your bit and travel sustainably by learning to pack light!
6. Choose sustainable hotels and venues
In your sustainable travel policy, opt for corporate event venues, conference centres, restaurants, and hotels that factor environmental sustainability into their design or operations. Due to environmental concerns and the popularity of being eco-friendly, many hotels and venues are making their business practices kinder to Mother Earth.
The Element Kuala Lumpur is a Green Building Index (GBI) certified hotel with eco-friendly practices like “Bikes to Borrow”. | Credit: Element Kuala Lumpur
7. Be an environmentally responsible guest
Little things you can do to travel sustainably:
- Turn off all lights and electric devices when you leave your hotel room and adjust air-conditioning/heat controls.
- Take the stairs instead of the hotel lifts if you can
- Reuse your towels and bedding
- Ask for housekeeping on alternate days
- Travel with sustainable travel products like your own reusable water bottle
- Support and buy from the local community
You may not think it makes a difference, but it does—if we all take these little steps, they add up to make a significant impact.
8. Use public transport
Old habits are hard to break, but Malaysians should endeavour to leave our cars at home once in a while and use public transport. In Malaysia, efforts are being made to improve the country’s public transportation services to achieve 40% of usage by 2030, from a meagre 20% usage at present. Meanwhile, over in the US, exciting research shows that you can save almost USD 10,000 per year taking public transportation instead of driving!
These days, you can even zip around Bangkok in an earth-friendly electric tuk-tuk. | Credit: Banpu NEXT
9. Share a ride
Another simple way to do your bit for sustainable travel—when covering shorter distances, consider shared and sustainable transportation options like carpooling or sharing an e-hailing ride like Grab or AirAsia Ride. More people in fewer cars means a reduced environmental impact per person. And it’s suitable for the budget, too!
10. Miscellaneous tips
What else can you do? Reduce paper use by opting for digital tickets, hotel confirmations, and itineraries. Walk as much as possible. Choose a hotel near your business meeting or event to reduce the need to travel and save time. Choose plant-based food and vegetarian meals, as meat production has a much higher environmental impact. And by visiting restaurants with local food and wine, you can reduce food miles and support the local economy.
It’s time we all came together to fight climate change. It doesn’t take much on the individual level to get the ball rolling. And on the corporate level, a sustainable travel policy is a quick way for companies to boost their CSR (corporate social responsibility) efforts and improve their image simultaneously.