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Comment: How travel businesses can make sustainable changes

Company leaders are pushing at an open door, says Patrick Richards, director at TerraVerde Sustainability

So, you’re convinced. You’ve decided to make the change.

You are deeply moved by David Attenborough’s documentaries; have watched the melting of the ice caps; the violation of the rainforests; the floods in Germany; the wildfires across the US and Australia… enough is enough, you are now going to do your bit in the face of the climate crisis; with your business, your home-life wherever you can make a difference.

However, a doubt gnaws at the back of your mind. How do I take people with me? My staff, my suppliers, my clients?

Each one has their own concerns, feeding their families, making ends meet, the survival of their businesses post pandemic.

Well, the good news is you are pushing at an open door. The 2021 Booking.com sustainability survey of more than 30,000 travellers across 29 countries, showed that more than 75% of consumers want to travel more responsibly and reduce their carbon footprint.

So, what steps can be taken to engage the people who make up your world?

First of all, think of your staff, board, investors and suppliers. They all live on this planet and see the same things you do. Help them really understand the science, your passion and the goals you hope to achieve. Give them every chance to interact with your plans. Surveys consistently show this will reward you with better engagement, loyalty and motivation.

It’s important to highlight the benefits to the business. Robust sustainability strategies have been proven to help control and reduce costs; minimise risks through resilient systems; stimulate higher staff productivity and enhance customer loyalty. If you don’t capitalise on these advantages, maybe your competitor will?

But remember to breakdown silos. Don’t leave your strategy sitting high and dry with one sustainability or engineering expert. Circulating it throughout the business will help truly embed good practice into your company DNA.

Ask marketing to change the company messaging and the sales team to come up with a plan to incorporate it into client relations. Create champions across the business and at different levels.

Make sure to revise your operational systems. Are you buying your energy from a supplier that is ‘deep green’? Is your travel policy encouraging rail over air where possible, or the use of electric vehicles and public transport?

Your policies drive behaviour; empowering the relevant managers to make the necessary revisions can make for real change and strong compliance.

The supply chain is critical. For many businesses (especially in tourism) the emissions from your supply chain will represent 80-90% of your total carbon footprint. So how are you working with your suppliers?

Once again, an outreach programme is essential. Avoid setting fixed rules and instructions; a system of shared objectives and open communication yield better results.

Your procurement team will be key in helping your suppliers adapt. You’ll soon find which ones are enthusiastic to take the journey with you and which are stuck in legacy thinking.

Remember in the second phase, you are relying on them to repeat the same process with their suppliers… and so on.

It’s important to recognise that no-one is perfect, so be transparent and humble. Even the most advanced companies are still in the transition phase. So avoid green ‘window dressing’ that may soon be exposed.

Be transparent as to your goals, your achievements and the data supporting them. Be prepared to hold your data up for challenge. Moreover, humility is a great strategy for cut through communications. Be honest about the problems you face, because you’ll soon find you are not alone and your integrity will shine.

None of us can do this alone. If the US won’t succeed without China, or Europe without India, then certainly you won’t succeed flying solo.

Climate science is a fast-developing area, obfuscation and an absence of agreed methodologies are still prevalent. Having said this, many of the world’s leading climate authorities (GRI, CDP, UNFCCC, SBTI, WRI) are working hard to align protocols.

Committing to work to the Paris pledge of keeping temperature rises on pre-industrial levels within 1.5C, unites all in consensus, so makes a good start. Give thought to which associations represent your segment most effectively and will give you the best mouthpiece for your efforts.

And, importantly, make it fun. Numerous apps and other tools are available to gamify the whole experience and keep your staff, clients and other stakeholder engaged in cool and contemporary ways.

Finally, make relevant pledges.

When making your climate commitments, give thought to what is really in your control and will be a meaningful statement from your business to your community.

For example, UK Insurance group Legal and General – a significant investor in the house building market – has committed to making all its newbuild houses carbon neutral by 2030.


Patrick Richards is the travel sector director at TerraVerde Sustainability, which supports companies’ sustainability journeys. He is a former non-executive director at Etoa and chief commercial officer at Cox & Kings.

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