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How sustainable is your mobility programme?

by | May 21, 2024

Environmental, social and governance (ESG) considerations are no longer an optional part of your business strategy – they are an essential component of your stakeholder relationships, tendering process, risk management and brand profile. Marianne Curphey talks to experts and ESG leaders on how to boost your strategy to embrace ESG and make your business choices more equitable and sustainable.

In today’s world, sustainability is a necessity, not a nice-to-have. Investors, stakeholders and customers are demanding to know how you incorporate ESG into the fabric of your organisation. In addition, mobility professionals have a unique opportunity to lead the charge in incorporating sustainable choices into their operations.

In recent years the mobility, travel and hospitality industries have come under increasing pressure to document what steps they are taking to reduce their energy and water consumption, showcase zero carbon strategies and record and measure their ESG data and strategies.

Eco-friendly purchasing choices

When you are managing global teams and sending employees on assignment, corporate choices are made on a major scale, for example travel and accommodation, and on a minor scale, in terms of commuting and everyday food purchases by employees. These should all be components of your ESG strategy.

This might include asking service providers to recommend accommodation that is energy efficient and well-integrated into the local community. Or it could be about supporting local businesses and shops, giving assignees incentives for using public transport or purchasing bicycles, and encouraging them to opt for hybrid vehicles and minimise energy consumption wherever possible.

“Business travel is an important factor in global commerce, creating connections, driving innovation and facilitating economic growth,” says Peter Slater, CEO of CMAC Group, the UK’s leading ground transportation and accommodation experts. “However, it’s also associated with significant consequences, from carbon emissions to resource depletion and disruption of ecosystems.

“It’s important that companies are committed to promoting sustainable business travel practices that minimise their carbon footprint and contribute to the wellbeing of local communities. A key way to achieve this is by embracing more environmentally friendly modes of transport. For example, investing in electric or hybrid vehicles for corporate fleets can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared to traditional vehicles, or prioritising alternatives such as rail and coach travel over air travel whenever feasible, especially for shorter distances.”

Another aspect of ESG for global teams is thinking about how the arrival and location of expatriates will affect housing opportunities and jobs for local people.

“I believe in fostering partnerships with local communities to ensure that business activities contribute positively to their economic development and quality of life,” he says. “This includes supporting initiatives that promote affordable housing and job opportunities for residents, as well as respecting the cultural and environmental heritage of destination areas.”

How to reduce the carbon footprint of assignments

Carrie Hartman, president at global corporate travel and relocation platform 3Sixty, says an increasing number of businesses are opting for fewer but longer trips and assignments. She believes hotels and serviced accommodation providers should incentivise this trend.

“There are numerous benefits to minimising the frequency of trips, especially when it comes to boosting sustainability credentials,” she says. These include:

  • Reduced environmental impact: Fewer trips mean fewer flights, which directly contributes to reducing a company’s carbon footprint.
  • Reduced resource consumption: Fewer trips mean less consumption of resources associated with travel, such as fuel, travel-related materials (like plastics and paper for boarding passes and receipts) and energy usage in accommodations.
  • Encouraging sustainable travel habits: Extended trips encourage more mindful and sustainable on-the-ground behaviours because assignees are not under pressure to fit everything into the shortest time. This gives companies and their employees more headspace to think about using public transport rather than taxis. It can also help to rebalance supply and demand in traditional short-term rental markets. This can be beneficial in areas where high volumes of rental properties can negatively affect the balance of housing in an area and drive up prices.

Carrie works with Fortune 500 companies and relocation management companies, tapping into a network of over one million accommodation options across more than 60 countries. She has observed that travel companies and hotels are increasingly focusing on carbon offsetting, the use of renewable energy and a trend towards incorporating sustainable materials into refurbishing units and constructing new ones.

“A lot of the blue-chip organisations that account for the majority of business travel have well-established sustainability initiatives and are very committed to the protection of the global community as a whole around climate change,” she says. “Take a brand like Hilton or Marriott with properties across the globe. They can make a real difference in terms of energy conservation and waste reduction.

“By reducing high-pressure showers and opting for lower water flow, by cutting back on laundry and maid services, only changing bedding on request and adopting low wattage light fittings in every property, the overall difference can be huge,” she explains. “While changing the type of lightbulb might seem like a small gesture, when large hotel chains implement the policy across all their properties, it can make a significant difference.”

Another key consideration at 3Sixty and among larger corporations is to examine all parts of the supply chain and look at the environmental impact of each component. Decisions made around sustainability can make an impact whether they are made by corporations or by individual travellers.

“If we work with a Fortune 500 company that has a high degree of corporate travel, and their commitment is to be carbon neutral by 2035, then we as a supplier need to be carbon neutral too.

“We are audited and have to report twice a year on carbon emission reductions within our own supply chain,” she explains. “That could be something like asking for sustainable lightbulbs in a hotel or serviced apartment, or it could be about the choice of flooring used for refurbishment of a unit, ensuring that as much as possible is made from recycled sources and sustainable materials.”

Planning for the future with sustainable ventures

Carrie Hartman says she is also seeing a trend among corporates to assess the impact on local communities when planning and building new accommodation, hotels or developments. She cites Seattle, a resource-constrained, highly populated and expensive city as an example.

“In Seattle, where we are headquartered, there are new residential and serviced apartments, and corporate housing being built with sustainability in mind. Here we are seeing a trend towards the creation of prefabricated buildings that are made with 100% environmentally friendly materials.”

When buildings are refurbished, everything is either recycled, reused or upcycled and the units are carefully configured to the space available. Units can be assembled and built in 180 days instead of 18 months, reducing disruption to the inhabitants. Construction equipment is kept to a minimum – the units only require half the number of cranes that traditional buildings do, and every inch of these new and refurbished properties is carbon neutral.

“A lot of times hotel chains will move into a city and their goal is not to build something from the ground up, but to refurbish an existing block, for example,” she says. “We are starting to see a trend towards designing buildings and spaces that have a minimal negative impact on the environment.”

A refurbishment project might deconstruct an existing building and replace it with pre-built, prefabricated rooms where everything, from the wiring to the water use to the building materials, is designed to create as minimal a carbon footprint as possible.

“That is such an exciting trend and an innovative change in the industry that is very visible here in Seattle,” she says.

When compliance and risk management contribute to ESG

With the increasing complexity of global regulations and geopolitical risks, compliance and risk management have become critical priorities for mobility professionals. ESG plays a part in ensuring that organisations adhere to local rules and recruitment legislation.

“Stakeholders, customers and clients today are all more conscious of the impact that business has on the environment and on social equity,” says Karen Bannon, director of marketing and ESG at Arpin Group, a leading, service-oriented international household goods moving and storage company. “They demand transparency and accountability. By demonstrating a commitment to sustainability and meeting the demands of the eco-conscious customer today, we can position our company for long-term viability.”

ESG is central to Arpin’s culture and the company has been honing its environmental credentials since 2009. That was the year Arpin decided to work with the International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP) to assess the company’s sustainability criteria and objectives, and the environmental impact of Arpin’s global operations. It became the first company in the moving industry to perform the S-CORE Multi-Purpose Sustainability Assessment offered by the (ISSP).

Executives from every division, including management, office and operations, finance and accounting, purchasing, business development, environmental affairs, and marketing and public relations, worked together to assess company performance against benchmarks. Then, once the company had established a baseline, it set up an internal global sustainability committee. Arpin now has a purpose-built platform to track and report ESG data and performance. In addition, in 2022, Arpin unveiled its “Moving For A Cause” campaign. This initiative allows customers to choose between five global charities on completion of their move, and Arpin will then donate to that charity on behalf of the customer.

“If you don’t seize on the opportunity to advance the green economy, you are putting your organisation at risk,” Karen Bannon of Arpin explains. “ESG is central to our company culture and we are committed to sustainable and responsible growth. As a company, we emphasise the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit. Those are the key pillars on which our business plans are based and which drive all of our business decisions.”

Sustainability is growing

Carrie Hartman says Japan, Singapore and South Korea are already very environmentally conscious, but in some parts of APAC work around ESG is still a “work in progress” as countries try to balance the demands of industrialisation with attempts to conserve energy and resources.

As companies with high ESG and environmentally conscious policies move into countries with emerging economies, then suppliers start to change their offerings in order to meet the needs of their clients.

“I think you are going to see a natural evolution that will be driven by the corporations first and their investment into developing countries, followed secondly by the supply chain companies,” she says.

“There is still something of a gap in terms of what is available, and some options may not exist in developing countries in the way that they exist in Seattle or London. But the intention is there, as is the investment from people travelling to those countries. The corporations that are investing in those countries, and the countries themselves, are committed. The speed of change will move much faster than what we have seen historically.”

Organisations are now looking to service providers to track and report on sustainability efforts throughout the whole supply chain and offering options to offset their carbon footprint.

“For example, there are now features available that when you book your travel, you have the ability to allocate a certain proportion of funds to sustainable aviation fuel or reforestation of depleted areas. That has become a real primary focus and interest.”

While the mobility industry is intrinsically bound up in questions of carbon emissions, development, travel and sustainability, its corporate buying power means it has a real opportunity to make a difference.

Not only does incorporating and measuring ESG in business planning provide data for your customers and stakeholders, but it also pushes your organisation to think deeply about its purpose and policies. That in turn will help prepare you for a future in which ESG and sustainability credentials become components of a healthy and thriving organisation.

 

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