GBTA Survey: Sustainability and Top Industry Priority, But Progress Limited

A vast majority of travel professionals are prioritizing sustainability, though only a small percentage think the business travel industry currently is “well advanced” in its sustainability efforts, according to a Global Business Travel Association survey of 762 travel buyers and suppliers around the world.

The survey, fielded from January to Match and part of a GBTA sustainability report released this week that also included surveys of 100 external stakeholders such as policymakers, think tanks and nonprofit organizations, showed that 89 percent of respondents said that sustainability was a priority for their company, and that solid majority held true across every global region. Virtually all respondents in Asia and Europe said it was a priority, 99 percent and 97 percent respectively, while 91 percent of Latin American respondents and 84 percent of North American respondents said the same.

At the same time, most respondents indicated the business travel industry has a long path ahead of it in terms of sustainability, with only 14 percent of respondents saying the industry currently is well advanced or better on the issue.

“In the next few years, however, we can expect this to change dramatically,” according to the report. “As demonstrated by the results of existing sustainability practices, many companies have begun — or are planning to begin — taking steps such as reporting on the sustainability elements of business travel, measuring the environmental impact of business travel and engaging employees on sustainability-driven travel decisions. “

Eighty percent of respondents, for example, said they have a sustainability team and / or a sustainability program in place, the survey indicated. More than three-quarters of buyers in the survey said they have added or plan to add sustainability objectives in their travel policies. And a majority of respondents have started putting data behind their efforts, with 55 percent saying they are measuring the environmental impact of business travel activities and 56 percent saying they are reporting on that impact. An additional 17 percent plan to incorporate measurement in the future, as does 19 percent for reporting, according to the survey.

The survey sample was roughly evenly divided between buyers and suppliers, according to GBTA.

Other sustainability practices remain less common, according to the study. Thirty-eight percent, for example, said they are selecting suppliers based on sustainability criteria, while an additional 26 percent said they plan to introduce the practice. Only 17 percent said they have established internal carbon budgets, while an additional 26 percent have plans to do so.

As those practices require reliable data, “it is therefore not a surprise that these practices are expected to see the largest relative increase in the coming years,” the report said.

Travel Cuts as Green Tactic

Most buyers in the survey indicated cutting back on travel would be a tactic in reducing their carbon footprint, with 73 percent saying either mandating or encouraging fewer trips is a part of a sustainable travel program. Travel buyers in Europe were more likely to take this approach than those in North America, according to GBTA.

Reducing travel frequency, however, ranked near the bottom in terms of travel behaviors to encourage or mandate in the survey overall. Prioritizing energy-efficient hotels and event venues as well as suppliers with recognized sustainability certification were the top-ranking tactics, with about 80 percent of all respondents saying that should be encouraged or mandated.

For travel suppliers, survey respondents were most interested in seeing them invest in more efficient technologies, with 74 percent saying that was among the most impactful efforts in improving sustainability. Phasing out single-use plastics ranked second, with 72 percent of respondents naming it as an impactful effort.

Suppliers buying carbon offsets ranked at the bottom, with only a quarter of respondents saying that was impactful on sustainability.

“This aligns with the outside view, as carbon offsets are also ranked as the least efficient tool to improve the business travel sector’s environmental performance by external stakeholders,” according to the report. “The results likely reflect the realization that compensating for emissions cannot be seen as a substitute for reducing value chain emissions in the business travel sector.”

In terms of barriers, higher costs by and large was the biggest concern among respondents, with 82 percent saying it was a main barrier in moving to sustainable business travel policies. Lack of data was next, cited by 63 percent of respondents. Concerns that sustainable travel policies would result in longer traveler times and loss of traveler comfort ranked last in concerns, with only about a third of respondents saying those were barriers.

Concerns varied by region in the survey. North American respondents were more concerned about costs than European respondents, while European respondents were more concerned about lack of data and transparent information than their American counterparts. Respondents from Latin America, meanwhile, had a bigger concern about lack of interest from industry stakeholders, with 69 percent naming it as a barrier compared with 48 percent of respondents overall.

A vast majority of travel professionals are prioritizing sustainability, though only a small percentage think the business travel industry currently is “well advanced” in its sustainability efforts, according to a Global Business Travel Association survey of 762 travel buyers and suppliers around the world. The survey, fielded from January to Match and part of a…

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