SAP Concur: Solving the puzzle of sustainable corporate travel

On Friday 5th June, we ran a live webinar for World Environment Day to discuss the findings of our newly published independent research report “the Corporate Travel Sustainability Index”.

As I watched and listened first to the panel discussion and then the lively audience Q&A, the importance of responsible travel and business sustainability seemed even more relevant for our post-pandemic world. I was left wondering if the current pause in global business travel might actually be the perfect time to look at how companies can start planning now for a more sustainable corporate travel future?

With a running time of just 45 minutes, the webinar is proving a great opportunity to get an overview of the issues involved, plus pick up insights and key takeaways from the research. The online debate features the EMEA SVP and General Manager at SAP Concur, Pierre-Emmanuel Tetaz, the report author and sustainability influencer Jim McClelland, plus our host Gren Manuel, Managing Editor at Raconteur.

Together, the three participants offer highlights of the independent 2020 research study, discussing what the data tells us about the state of sustainable business travel in Europe and assessing the impact of policies and practices on the triple bottom-line of People, Planet and Profit.

Impact of policies and practices on people, planet and profit



Initially, we commissioned the research report in recognition of the climate responsibilities of the travel industry, which accounts for 5% of global carbon emissions, with corporate travel contributing about 30% of that total. Sustainability is a big focus for SAP and we feel it is especially vital for the corporate travel sector to make a collective commitment to reducing environmental impacts. We believe studies like this will help us understand our customers needs around sustainable business travel better as well as the expectations of the travellers themselves.

That is the reason we didn’t just interview 2,450 corporate travel decision-makers, but a further 2,000 corporate travellers from 11 European countries and 13 sectors. As well as the environmental concerns, we wanted to ensure social and environmental factors were taken into account and the study addresses responsible travel as part of overall corporate social responsibility. Therefore, the research adopted the triple bottom-line of People, Planet and Profit as its defining metric.

Collecting this depth of data and breadth of opinion means you start to discover what people really think and want. You have the hard evidence for how much sustainable travel matters to the different audiences and what the regional differences are across Europe.

The results are fascinating. For instance, the fact that 98% of companies, are prepared to allocate more budget towards sustainable travel, plus 97% of corporate travellers feel OK with longer journey times, makes for a hugely encouraging sense of opportunity.

Yet, only 29% of decision-makers consider carbon footprints important; and almost half (49%) of the youngest travellers (18-24) admitted sustainability of corporate travel had never even occurred to them.

In truth, these mixed messages begin to tell the story of an industry still making sense of sustainability – one where 76% know change is needed, but only 17% feel confident they are doing things successfully.

So, why is that? Well, amongst many interrelated reasons, the research identified a fundamental lack of data and visibility as the biggest stumbling block for many looking to make progress. Around 6 out of 10 professionals (59%) openly acknowledge they do not feel suitably equipped to implement sustainable travel policy successfully, with 33% currently unable to assess the impact of their travel activity.

The full report unpicks the attitudes and behaviours, as well as the cultural and technical issues that lie behind these figures. In addition to the research insights, the webinar includes some practical tips for things that can be done now, by both organisations and individuals.

Research insights



The Q&A section of the webinar also drills down into some of the details and follow-on discussions around such issues as carbon off-setting, impact measurement standards, and more.

Ultimately, both the results of the report and the engagement in the webinar show how sustainable travel represents a shared goal for all involved in corporate travel and a passion for an increasing number of us. So, whilst there are clearly big challenges ahead and no simple solutions, I am encouraged by the findings and enthused by the levels of interaction.

Admittedly, it is hard to find a positive to the current COVID-19- crisis. If there is one, perhaps it will be that when travel does resume again in future, companies will have used this time to work out how to manage impacts and realise their opportunities more sustainably.

“Getting the mix of incentives right relies on visibility and data. Proper data management is key. Without visibility into traveller behaviours and perceptions – to help understand what they want and need, while riding the rails, on the road, or in the air – it is almost impossible to implement credible and coherent sustainable change management.”

Pierre-Emmanuel Tetaz, EMEA SVP and General Manager at SAP Concur.

Webinar available on demand



The ideal way to start on this journey to more responsibly travel is to revisit your travel policy. Happily, with the full webinar now available on demand, there is no better place to begin than by watching that now.

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