Only 16 per cent of business travellers prioritise sustainability when planning trips, believing the responsibility should lie with employers rather than employees. Jenny Southan reports

According to a survey of 1,003 British employees and and 254 employers by Emburse, the global leader in spend optimisation, 84 per cent of business travellers consider convenience and loyalty programmes as more important than environmental concerns when booking travel.

Whilst 71 per cent of businesses offer a sustainability policy or guidelines, only one third (37 per cent) actively enforce it. (25 per cent of businesses do not have a business travel sustainability policy and 6 per cent do not plan to implement one.)

However, almost three quarters (74 per cent) of business travellers believe it is their organisation’s responsibility to enable sustainable business travel, regardless of cost.

In a report in Time recently, it was also revealed that American leisure travellers rank sustainability pretty low on the agenda too (price and dining options are much higher priorities).

According to a survey for Time, just over half (56 per cent) of the more than 1,000 respondents said that their vacations’ environmental impact was at least “somewhat important” to them. Just 18% said that environmental impact was “very” important to them.

As business trip volumes approach pre-pandemic levels, the data shows that while the environment is front of mind for many companies and their travelling employees, the majority are yet to turn good intentions into concrete actions, and are placing the onus on the other to implement sustainable travel.

Only one in six employees cited sustainability as their key priority when making travel plans, significantly below both cost and traveller convenience.

Whilst environmental concerns remain a low priority during the booking process for business travellers, 71 per cent said their employer should do more to enable sustainable travel. Meanwhile, the majority (76 per cent) of employees also agreed they would take a more sustainable mode of transport if financial incentives or sustainability programmes were available.

Since Emburse’s 2021 survey looking at sustainable business travel post-pandemic, employee demand for sustainable travel incentives has risen by 19 per cent. The 2021 data also found only one in nine (11 per cent) employers had listed sustainability as an important factor for business travel arrangements.

Two years on, cost is ultimately the most important factor when it comes to booking business travel for both businesses and employees.

Only 26 per cent of business travellers would proactively cut down on travel to reduce their carbon footprint. But 76 per cent would choose a more sustainable mode of transport if their employer provided programmes or financial incentives.

Jeroen van Velzen, senior vice-president of travel and mobility at Emburse, said: “Business travel has defied expectations by seeing an almost complete return to pre-pandemic levels. But we can’t just go back to business as usual when it comes to emissions. Businesses and travellers both need to work on reducing their carbon footprint. It’s promising that more organisations are putting sustainability guidelines and policies into place, but this data shows we still have a long way to go until it becomes a priority.”

“Whilst travel managers could strictly enforce their companies’ policies to help achieve carbon goals, this heavy-handed approach risks alienating travelling employees. Educating travellers about the impact of their trips in easy-to-understand terms – like how many houses could be powered by the energy used on a trip – can lead to much higher levels of compliance.

“Employers need to provide employees with tools to make smarter decisions, and employees need to use that insight to make more environmentally friendly travel plans. We need to move beyond paying lip service to environmental issues and turn good intent into meaningful action.”