How to Support Low-Cost, Sustainable Travel and Meetings When Budgets are Tight

Sustainability is everyone’s responsibility, particularly when it comes to advocating for low-budget sustainable business travel. For today’s corporate travel and meetings leaders, this principle is rapidly transforming their roles within their organizations. New research from Business Travel News discovered that 57% of travel managers are now tasked with reducing their organizations’ carbon emissions linked to business travel, merging the focus on sustainability with the necessity for cost efficiency.

Already charged with reining in costs, establishing policy, and keeping employees happy and safe on the road, it makes sense that travel and meetings professionals would also be on the frontlines of supporting sustainability and be expected to champion low-cost business travel solutions.

There nevertheless remains a clash between what travel and meetings professionals are expected to achieve and the means they’re given to achieve it by their companies. Or, as one corporate travel leader at a recent ITM panel put it: “I don’t have a budget. I manage travel, but I don’t have a central budget to [address sustainability].” 

Cost is no small consideration, particularly in the context of low-budget sustainable business travel — 49% of travel managers ranked cost as the No. 1 metric for success for their travel program in 2023. At the same time, 82% of the business travel industry sees cost as the main barrier to sustainability, according to the Global Business Travel Association. However, cost or lack of budget doesn’t need to stand in the way of making your travel and meetings program more sustainable than it is today. Here are some steps you can take.

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#1 Utilize Your Travel and Meetings Policy for Sustainable Business Travel

One of the most important tools for steering travelers and planners toward greener options is your travel and meetings policy. Here, you can make recommendations to employees about booking choices that help reduce carbon emissions. 

Some examples of policy updates include recommending direct flights to save on emissions, reminding employees to book with preferred vendors already vetted for sustainable practices, and encouraging virtual meetings instead of face-to-face for particular use cases.  

Travel to and from the destination accounts for 70% of the emissions tied to meetings. And because employees tend to book trips tied to small meetings the same way they do individual trips, it’s important to ensure your sustainable policy is also integrated in your corporate travel booking tool.

# 2 Raise Awareness of Sustainable Business Travel Best Practices

When highlighting ways to achieve low-budget sustainable business travel, you might find your audience more engaged and receptive than anticipated.

According to recent research, 74% of travelers (business and consumer) say sustainable travel is important to them, and 76% want to travel more sustainably in the next 12 months. 

Build on this desire among your company’s workforce by sharing ways that employees can make greener choices and letting them know what guidelines or vendors you already have available to support them. In addition to your travel and business meetings policy and booking tool, you could share this information via an email newsletter, company intranet, or chat platform. 

You might want to consider moving to smaller meeting sizes. In 2023, there was a significant trend toward smaller, more personal meetings, predominantly influenced by the rise of remote and hybrid work environments. These gatherings, typically involving no more than 50 participants, represented 60 to 80% of all meetings. 

The shift towards smaller meetings is a strategic move by companies to foster culture and enhance teamwork in an era where face-to-face interactions are less frequent, and employees are often working remotely or in hybrid settings. Small meetings, particularly driven by company offsite events, were among the first to see a resurgence after the pandemic. 

The research shows that this pattern is likely to persist as remote and hybrid working models become more commonplace in various organizations. For an in-depth look at how to budget for these smaller meetings, check out our insights on Budgeting for Tomorrow: Small Meetings.

# 3 Collaborate across Departments For Sustainable Travel Solutions

Remember when we said sustainability is everyone’s responsibility? While you may find you’re unable to pursue technology or data solutions to curb travel emissions within your budget, other stakeholders might be eager to contribute to low-budget sustainable business travel initiatives. 

The same travel manager who spoke of her lack of budget has been able to collaborate with another department with budget for technologies that support sustainability. 

Look to stakeholders who also have a sustainability focus as part of their role and find out if there are ways you can work together. For example, if your marketing team regularly holds events and is expected to make them more sustainable, you could offer your travel expertise and recommend solutions to help.    

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# 4 Discover a Multipurpose Tool for Low-Cost, Sustainable Business Travel

Another way to get around the conflict between needing to keep costs low and hitting sustainability targets is to work with a solution that does both. 

TROOP allows meeting planners to evaluate the best place to meet based on a number of factors, including cost, CO2 emissions, and the total travel time of attendees. One TROOP client found that by switching their annual meeting from Vienna to Frankfurt, they could save not only $113,000 but also 100 tons of CO2—the equivalent of taking 22 gasoline-powered vehicles off the road for a year. 

That kind of savings from cost avoidance can help you make a powerful business case that supports your company’s goals to reduce carbon emissions and meet more sustainably. 

Low budget and sustainable business travel key takeaways

Embracing sustainable business travel is essential for modern organizations striving to merge environmental stewardship with cost efficiency. This transition starts with refining travel policies to encourage choices like direct flights and virtual meetings, directly impacting the majority of travel-related emissions.

As mentioned, raising awareness among employees about sustainable travel is crucial, especially as a significant number express interest in greener travel practices. Informing staff about sustainable options and supported vendors can foster a shift towards eco-friendly travel habits.

Inter-departmental collaboration plays a critical role in overcoming budgetary constraints to implement sustainable solutions. Sharing resources and goals across departments enables the adoption of sustainable travel technologies or practices that would be otherwise unfeasible.

Utilizing tools such as TROOP highlights how technology can simultaneously address cost reduction and environmental impact. Making decisions based on comprehensive analyses of costs and CO2 emissions allows organizations to achieve sustainability goals while maintaining budgetary discipline.

Ultimately, achieving sustainable business travel demands:

  • A strategic blend of policy updates to encourage sustainable travel
  • Increased awareness internally 
  • Collaborative efforts across teams
  • Harnessing the use of travel technology

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