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Standards Will Help Sustainable Biz Travel Take Off

In response to the article Green Travel Business At Risk During Recession, I felt it was important to correct the misperception that green travel options are more expensive.

Corporations and corporate travel managers alike are not shying away from implementing “green,” or more sustainable, travel programs because of cost, but rather due to the lack of industry standards and reporting mechanisms. In reality being more eco-efficient (read fuel, energy, water) has a positive benefit to airlines’, hotels’ and car rental companies’ bottom line and therefore pricing. Now, more than ever, they are seeking to innovate within their business to achieve additional operational efficiencies.

The real reason that well-meaning corporations and corporate travel managers are having difficulty embedding sustainability or “green travel” into their corporate travel programs is that there is currently no standard rating or “eco score” for those eco-efficient travel offerings, nor is there an incentive or “carbon discount” for shifting their business to those options.

There are a few pieces to this puzzle. The first is the need for an industry standard. In the food space a consumer can buy “certified organic” or “FDA approved” with clarity and confidence around what that label means. But a traveler looking for the most sustainable hotel, for instance, cannot today find that product with the same certainty or clarity. The second piece to the puzzle is the reporting mechanism around the travel elements. As stated in the article, many corporations publicly report their carbon emissions, and many have made public commitments to reduce their carbon footprint or environmental impact. But today, whether a corporation is sending its travelers to fully sustainable hotels or not, the carbon calculation associated with those room nights does not change. Now, some elements such as air and car travel are more straightforward, as they are fuel-consumption based calculations, but frequently those choices are determined more by efficiency and availability.

The good news is that there are industry groups focused on solving some of these challenges, and we are optimistic that solutions are forthcoming. Sabre Holdings is part of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Tourism Criteria; a coalition of public and private sector groups that have developed the first-ever set of baseline criteria to define Sustainable Tourism. These globally-recognized criteria are an important first step in moving towards an industry standard that can be translated into something meaningful for the traveler.

Additionally, we work closely with industry associations such as the National Business Travel Association (NBTA) whose CSR committee (that we co-chair) has the objective of developing resources and education to help corporations and corporate travel managers integrate sustainability into their travel management programs as a means to add value to the bottom line.

With a globally-recognized standard for rating or scoring a travel products’ “greenness” and a corresponding carbon “discount” in the calculation and reporting process, corporations and corporate travel managers will have a concrete and transparent way to embed sustainable business practices into their travel policies.

Leilani Latimer leads Global Sustainability Initiatives for Sabre Holdings, the world’s leading travel marketing and distribution provider.

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