How travel management companies are trying to meet the UN’s sustainability

In just eight years, the United Nations will be able to assess how well the world has done in meeting the goals set out in its 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The plan, endorsed by all UN member states in 2015, consists of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for governments and businesses across industries that aim to improve people’s lives and protect the environment.

The goals were established to build on the United Nations Millennium Development Goals and advance sustainable growth and development in the world’s economic, social and environmental dimensions.

Improving environmental sustainability is a concern for many industries, especially the travel industry. Air travel is responsible for up to 3.5% of all warming and in October 2021, airlines across the European Union and the United States pledged to transition to sustainable aviation fuels with a goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Shifting to train travel is also gaining traction—a 310-mile trip by rail can emit three times less carbon dioxide than flying the same distance, according to the International Council on Clean Transportation. Travel management companies, which are travel agencies that work with companies to manage business trips for company employees, are aware of the environmental impact of their clients’ travel and are working to create more sustainable business models within the industry.

The COVID-19 pandemic has completely changed the way we think about business travel. Virtual meetings replaced many forms of business travel during the pandemic and are, at least to some extent, considered the new normal. With more remote workers in different locations, many business travel plans now include trips to meet colleagues—not just clients. Meeting in person for specific high-value experiences or outcomes has become more purpose-driven.

Recovery from the impact of COVID-19 likely remains a top priority for the business travel industry. The pandemic has highlighted the urgency of the next devastating global crisis for many to confront the reality of climate change. The UN’s sustainability goals were always designed with the best in mind, despite COVID-19, and they continue to be the benchmark for many industries.

To continue exploring how the travel industry is responding to climate change, TravelPerk explored how travel management companies are working to meet the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations, citing the Business Travel Association’s 2021 report.

The report interviews industry leaders on solving environmental, social and governance challenges. Each item on the upcoming list represents a top-priority SDG identified by industry leaders.

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Quality education

– United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4

Travel management companies working towards UN education have created opportunities at various levels of the industry. Some TMCs partner with schools to offer school visits and internship opportunities. Mentoring is offered across industries to help develop and retain talent.

Continuing education is also important to keep employees up-to-date on new technologies, products and services. Many industry associations offer educational opportunities—for example, the Global Business Travel Association offers a certification program available to business travel professionals with at least three years of experience—and aims to encourage professional growth and development.

The UN World Tourism Organization has partnered with Spain’s Instituto de Empresa to launch an online tourism academy. Some TMCs have partnerships with companies to provide in-house learning options and have even leveraged social media companies like LinkedIn for such purposes.

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Gender Equality / Reducing Inequality

– United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 5 and 10

Equity barriers both within travel management companies themselves and within client firms present one of the most challenging issues to resolve. While there is no “one size fits all” model for addressing equity and equality, TMCs are actively seeking ways to improve their corporate culture.

A 2022 Business Travel News survey found that 84% of respondents agree or strongly agree that their companies are actively working to build a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion, and 83% believe that such measures are important to their institutions.

According to the 2021 Business Travel Report, ways TMC is building an inclusive culture include creating pay equity goals, monitoring workplace processes and prioritizing diversity in senior roles.

TMCs also need to understand the barriers their clients may face when traveling because of race, gender, sexual orientation, or physical ability. Another Business Travel News study, which looked at how corporate culture affects travel, found that 55% of respondents believes their company is working to better understand their clients’ travel experiences and needs.

Various groups of businessmen are walking in the sun

Decent work and economic growth

– United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 8

The pandemic had a devastating impact on TMCs as much of their business dried up due to travel restrictions. This led to many consolidations and worker losses in the industry—which, in turn, distributed more work among the remaining workers, many of whom were already overwhelmed by their own workloads and further disadvantaged by unequal compensation.

Business Travel News found that job titles affect pay levels — workers with job titles that included words like “analyst,” “coordinator” and “specialist” often had lower salaries than those with manager-sounding titles, even if those people had more Have experience.

While workforce levels and wages continue to fluctuate, economic growth presents an additional challenge. The World Economic Forum found that the global travel and tourism industry lost $4.5 billion in gross domestic product in 2020 alone (including about 62 million jobs).

To encourage TMCs to sustainably return to post-pandemic recovery, the WEF provides a framework for sustainable economic growth, including “benchmarks for a set of factors and policies that enable sustainable and resilient development of the transport and tourism sector.”

Zero emission bus

Sustainable cities and communities

– United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 11

Business travel often involves special meetings and events, including large client meetings, corporate training and conferences. The cities and communities that host these gatherings often benefit from an influx of business in food, hotels, transportation and other areas — but sometimes at an environmental cost if sustainability is not in mind.

According to the 2021 Business Travel Association report, TMCs have made efforts to address community sustainability goals by educating customers and partners on supply chain management, reducing plastic and resource waste at venues, and hosting carbon-neutral events. Selecting local partners and procurement vendors that prioritize sustainability also supports TMC responsible spending.

As companies return to travel, they are increasingly working to incorporate sustainability into business events. That said, the Global Business Travel Association found that 62% of companies do not have carbon emissions reduction targets for company-hosted meetings.

One in five European companies have emissions targets for the event, compared to just three in 50 North American companies, so this area is an opportunity for continued growth and focus.

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wind farm

Responsible consumption and production/climate action

– United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 12 and 13

Many travel methods inherently use fossil fuels and contribute to global warming. However, TMC has options to track, measure and offset carbon footprints for clients increasingly concerned about sustainability.

Having better information allows for informed decisions when choosing modes of transportation and booking options between different travel providers. This allows companies to better understand how their travel impacts the environment and plan to offset those impacts

Some TMCs are joining the UN’s science-based goals initiative, which aims to increase corporate participation in climate initiatives to align with the Paris Agreement. The US government is also working to develop sustainable aviation fuels, which have a smaller carbon footprint than traditional jet fuel.

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