This post was originally written in 2021 and was updated August 23, 2022 to reflect the current travel landscape.
Sustainability matters to travellers. In fact, 83% of global travellers think that eco-conscious travel is vital, with 61% saying the pandemic has made them want to travel more sustainably in the future.
Although companies are scrutinising the necessity of certain business trips and looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint, you also have a responsibility as a traveller to make eco-friendly choices.
From big changes such as energy-efficient cars for road trips, to smaller swaps like using reusable cutlery (goodbye, plastic straws), you can equip yourself for responsible travel.
It’s also worth considering that sustainability and responsible travel are about more than just the environment. They're about communities and people, too. You have the power to make a positive impact wherever you go and support local people.
Here are 17 tips to help road warriors lighten the impact of their business trips and guide them to becoming eco-friendlier travellers.
Planning sustainable travel
Making a trip more sustainable starts in the planning phase. Egencia helps travellers make eco-friendly choices by showing their carbon footprint for each stage of an itinerary, along with real-life examples for context. Here are steps you can take when planning to travel sustainably
- Book a non-stop flight
Layovers are often cheaper than direct flights, but come at a greater cost to the environment. On average, non-stop routes reduce carbon emissions by roughly 100 kg per person compared to the next best connecting option. That is equivalent to the carbon footprint of driving for 250 miles. Not to mention, a layover can add an extra day on the road and the possible loss in productivity, which will always be higher than the extra cost of a direct flight.
- Book rail instead of air
Did you know there’s Wi-Fi on most trains? Rail may make more sense for regional journeys and is often less expensive than air travel. Even though rail may be associated with slow travel, you can work remotely on the train and avoid the queues at the airport. There are currently few renewable energy alternatives to traditional jet fuel, and none are expected until after 2030. According to the European Environment Agency, rail travel accounts for 14 grams of CO2 emissions per passenger mile, making it a more sustainable practice than flights at 158g per passenger mile. In fact, the EPA reports that commercial airplanes and large business jets contribute 10 per cent of US transportation emissions and account for three per cent of the nation’s total greenhouse gas production.
- Choose hotels strategically
Consider starting a green list of hotels that are committed to decreasing waste production and water waste. There are providers in the travel industry that are leading the way in sustainable tourism and in terms of the resources available for navigating sustainability standards in lodging. Along with reviewing eco-friendly lodging, try to choose a hotel close to the company’s or client’s headquarters or project sites, so you can walk or take public transport instead of having to rely on cars or taxis to get to your destination.
- Alternative ground transportation
Choosing a car share, such as Uber and Lyft, over a taxi means that the carbon footprint of a ride is distributed among more people. Public transport is an even more sustainable choice. And nowadays, many cities worldwide have options for bikes, electric bikes and even scooters to get from one point to another. If you have to rent a car, look into sustainable options like hybrid or electric. Switching up your modes of transportation can help mitigate climate change.
- Pack light
When flying, each pound of baggage adds a burden for additional fuel. You can choose a lightweight suitcase, and pack clothes that are made of lighter materials that they can mix and match. Lightening a bag by 15 pounds can cut 80 pounds of carbon emissions on a long-haul flight, which is roughly the equivalent of planting two trees.
- Pack toiletries in reusable containers
Those little containers of shampoo and conditioner take a toll on the environment in numerous ways. Plastics are carbon intensive to make and have significant negative impacts on the environment. Business travellers can help by packing their own toothbrushes and toiletries in reusable containers, so they don’t have to use disposable, single-use items found at hotels. (Bonus points for using biodegradable soap and shampoo!)
- Reuse food containers
Instead of buying a bag of crisps or chocolates on the road, which come in not so eco-friendly packaging, travellers can pack their own in reusable bags.
Make it a sustainable stay
Responsible travel doesn’t have to end once you arrive at your destination. Here are 10 travel tips you can do to lighten your impact while on the road.
- Bring a reusable bag
Plastic bags take around 300 years to decompose. They break down into tiny toxic particles that contaminate the soil and waterways and enter the food chain when animals accidentally ingest them. Tucking a reusable bag into a purse or backpack for items you purchase while travelling means that you can forgo the use of plastic bags. It’ll lighten your carbon impact and protect natural resources at your destination.
- Bring a water bottle and coffee cup
Recycling isn’t always an option and, more often than not, what you put in recycling ends up in landfill. Researchers estimate that just 9% of all plastic waste ever created has been recycled. It’s no surprise that plastic water bottles are an environmental no-no. Every plastic bottle created takes ¼ bottle of oil to make; the amount of oil it takes to make a year’s supply of bottled water is enough to fuel 1.3 million cars for a year. So, replace single-use plastic for reusable bottles and cups.
- Reusable utensils
You may already be on top of the plastic water bottle situation, but have you thought about all the plastic utensils you use when you’re on the road? You can bring your own set of bamboo utensils (there are plenty of sets that come with a travelling case) and clean them using soapy water when you get back to your hotel.
- Reusable straws
Plastic straws are another common source of plastic. You can find metal or bamboo straws that come with a carry case and cleaning wire that’ll easily tuck into a backpack or briefcase. The local ecosystems will thank you in advance.
- Opt for ‘Do not disturb’
Laundry accounts for 16% of a hotel’s water usage. Skipping the daily laundering of sheets and towels can make a big difference in your traveller’s environmental impact during your stay.
- Turn off air conditioning
As tempting as it may be to keep air conditioning or heating running all day, doing so can rack up carbon emissions. Heating and cooling systems account for 40-50% of a hotel’s energy usage. Encouraging your travellers to turn them off when they’re not in their room—and to open the window instead of using air conditioning—can make a difference.
- Turn off the lights — and computers
We may be diligent about turning off lights when we’re at home, but it’s easy to become more lax when on the road.
- Eat less meat
While this tip isn’t exclusively travel related, it’s one to bear in mind when on the road (and when at home). Red meat is nearly 7 times as carbon intensive to produce than vegetables. Cutting out even one meat-centred meal a week can make a big difference.
- Eat (and drink) local
Fast food and chain restaurants have higher carbon footprints than local spots sourcing regional ingredients. When you support independent cafés and restaurants, you contribute to the local economy and have the opportunity to learn about the local culture. Plus, you most likely will have better travel experiences.
- Buy souvenirs from a local source
We can think local when it comes to souvenirs, too. If you’re eager to pick up a memento, consider visiting local businesses rather than buying at a chain shop or airport souvenir shop. This way, you can make a positive impact while supporting local communities.
At Egencia, we can help you take smart, practical steps to build a sustainable travel programme that mitigates, reduces and offsets your carbon footprint. Learn more about Egencia’s sustainable travel initiatives here.