BCD’s sustainability leader gets right to work saving the planet

Olivia Ruggles-Brise isn’t a fan of waste – or wasting time. In her first 100 days as BCD Travel’s Vice President of Sustainability, Ruggles-Brise has mapped a path to grow BCD’s accountability across the entire sustainability program. In a Q&A, Ruggles-Brise shares her plans to make BCD the world’s most sustainable TMC. Spoiler alert: communication is key.

What’s your background, Olivia?

I’ve 20 years’ experience in international travel, tourism, hospitality, and events in a variety of strategic sustainability, communications, policy and research roles. Previously, I was director for Greenview, a consulting and research firm that supports hospitality organizations in designing environmental, social and governance sustainability strategies. Before that I spent a decade helping the World Travel & Tourism Council with their policy, strategy and sustainability work. 

I started in sustainability through a love of travel. I was lucky enough to travel often while I was studying. I could see the huge benefits but also some of the challenges that tourism brought to people and places around the world. As time moved on, I’ve seen the agenda evolve from philanthropic approaches (CSR) to integration of sustainability into how travel companies do business and how people travel, both for business and leisure. Carbon is at the forefront at the moment but we can’t focus on carbon alone – preserving nature, providing sustainable livelihoods, and embracing diversity are all key to addressing climate change.

Photo courtesy of Olivia Ruggles-Brise, vice president of Sustainability, BCD Travel, pictured here hiking in Sicily.

Why did you and BCD choose each other?


Early in my discussions with BCD, I could see how deliberately sustainability is woven into the company’s blueprints for success. That was a strong sign the partnership was a good fit. There were obvious synergies with my experience and BCD’s commitment to sustainability across all operations everywhere.

The leadership team emphasized BCD’s readiness to elevate its sustainability practices. We talked a lot about the “next level.” In my few months here, I’ve spoken to at least 100 colleagues about how business travel and sustainability can fit together. Starting a new job with meeting that many people seems extreme, but I came away with a sharper view of what the “next level” could look like.

So, what does it look like?

Sustainability is front and center in a lot of conversations and requests from clients and prospects. It’s not a job for one person. It’s a journey we’re all on together with our different stakeholders. And it’s going to mean different things to different people depending on where they are in their journey.

In the broadest terms, it will mean homing in on environment, social, and governance (ESG) practices. For the environmental side of things, that’s carbon reduction, reducing waste, caring for nature, and executing a plan for delivering on our validated Science-Based Targets. Socially, that means encouraging people to get involved in their communities and drawing support from their organizations where it makes sense. The governance piece is all about operating BCD in the most ethical ways possible. It’s also about working with clients, business travelers and supply chains to drive even more sustainable practices.

The ways we talk about sustainability can be quite hard to understand. Much of it is buzzwords and jargon. So, the first step in becoming the most sustainable TMC is being clear in how we define it and clear in what we’re doing about it. If we strip away the intimidating language, we’ll eliminate what is likely our biggest barrier to success. The only way to get to the next level is to communicate with people in the right way so they get it.

What are BCD’s 2023 sustainability focus areas?

  1. Make sustainability at BCD strategic and engaging. We’ll shape our actions and conversations around the audiences we engage with, so that everyone knows how it relates to them. For example, we can better communicate with our customer audience about how we, as a responsible supplier, contribute to their overall sustainability performance.
  2. Expand and evolve how we support clients to achieve their sustainable travel goals.
  3. Focus on ways to better measure and reduce our own carbon footprint, particularly indirect emissions such as our own business travel and events.
  4. Build broader opportunities for people to contribute to their communities through fundraising and volunteering.

We’ll also continue with our fundamentals, including our ISO certifications for wholly owned countries, delivering on our validated Science Based Target, campaigning against Human Trafficking, and ensuring supply chain due diligence; as well as alignment with global frameworks such as the United Nations Global Compact, UN Sustainable Development Goals, and external verification of our programs through EcoVadis (for which we have achieved a Platinum rating) and CDP.

Thanks, Olivia. Here’s your lightning round: What’s the first thing that comes to mind about these sustainability buzzwords?

  • Climate change: This is happening now. We have two years to act if we want our world to remain habitable in the way we have known it so far.
  • Single-use plastics: Avoid these wherever possible.
  • Fast fashion: Besides the waste of discarded clothes in landfills, clothing production takes a lot of energy and resources and uses bad chemicals that contaminate water. And just like travel, if it’s too cheap, then someone somewhere isn’t getting their fair share.
  • Greenwashing: Don’t get taken in by broad, non-validated claims of carbon or climate neutrality. Look for data that shows action being taken and progress being made.
  • Reusable plastic bags: Good if you reuse them. Bad if you keep buying more.

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