Buyers, travelers and companies aren’t always on the same page for sustainability

Companies highly value sustainability but travel programs don’t always reflect it.

BCD Travel surveyed more than 100 travel buyers and almost 1,800 business travelers to gauge the importance of environmental sustainability in business travel. While 82% of companies have sustainability goals in place, only 45% have targets for sustainable business travel. When it comes to business travelers, only 20% are aware of their company’s sustainable travel goals. 

Sustainability: The big 3 for travel buyers

Supporting general company sustainability goals, tracking and reporting travel sustainability, and reducing the environmental impact of business travel are the top three sustainability priorities for travel buyers. Over two-thirds rate these priorities as extremely or very important. Meanwhile, offsetting carbon emissions and satisfying traveler interests are the least important.

The cost of sustainability in business travel

In addition to reduced environmental impact (88%), travel buyers see enhanced company reputation (65%), and talent recruitment and retention (46%) among the main benefits of adopting a sustainable travel program. The added cost is the biggest pain point for more than half of buyers. Buyers say they also run into issues with traveler education, a lack of standard measurement approaches and definitions, and having the right tools, e.g., online booking tools supporting carbon budgets. 

Working with sustainable suppliers isn’t a “must” for most buyers

Only one third of travel buyers require suppliers to have sustainability goals and commitments in place. A quarter looks for suppliers with similar sustainability values and environmental certifications such as EcoVadis. One sixth require availability of a carbon emissions calculator, science-based targets and other sustainability metrics. Although most buyers don’t mandate sustainability criteria, around half view them as “nice-to-have.” 

Trains, planes and sustainable trips

While half of companies encourage sustainable travel, only a third promote sustainable options at the point of booking. Reducing travel volumes and traveling by train instead of plane are the top two options promoted by travel buyers. They often also promote taking direct flights instead of connecting flights, combining several trips in one, and limiting the number of employees on the same trip. Additionally, travelers mentioned sharing ground transportation and choosing economy class over business class as frequent recommendations by their companies. 

Business travelers’ hotel habits

During a trip, the most popular traveler sustainability practices relate to hotel stays. Seven in 10 travelers avoid frequent towel changes, and six in 10 refrain from using daily housekeeping. Recycling, going paperless with travel documents, supporting local vendors or walking where possible are similarly popular. Four in 10 also mention traveling with only hand luggage and bringing their own reusable water bottle. 

While over half of travelers are willing to take fewer but longer business trips, or try new, more sustainable ways of traveling, only 30% are willing to pay more for travel to include carbon offsets or purchasing sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). 

Regional differences 

The surveys reveal regional differences in sustainable practices for both travelers and travel buyers. Companies in EMEA focus on reducing travel volumes and traveling by train instead of plane. For North American companies, flying economy class instead of business and sharing ground transportation are more common. Employers in APAC often promote direct flights and ecofriendly hotels. 

Mike Janssen Global COO and CCO BCD Travel

“At BCD, sustainability is core to our vision, mission and values,” said Mike Janssen, BCD’s global chief operating officer and chief commercial officer. “We’re committed to supporting our clients with products and services to help them build and achieve their sustainable travel goals. Our proprietary travel platforms provide meaningful insights to help both clients and travelers reduce their environmental impact. Through the BCD marketplace, travel buyers can tap innovative third-party sustainability solutions or work with our consulting arm, Advito, to set and measure goals.” 

Download the buyer survey report and the traveler survey report for the complete survey results.

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