Beyond business travel: How to do more to meet your sustainability goals
Discover the ways that your business can go beyond sustainable travel. From sustainability initiatives like investing in renewables and making facilities more eco-friendly to sustainable supply chain management.
Sustainability has become an increasingly important focus area for businesses in recent years. While many businesses have adopted practices around sustainable or responsible travel, truly eco-conscious companies are realizing they need to go further.
Implementing comprehensive sustainability initiatives across all aspects of a business is key to having a meaningful impact and meeting bold emissions goals. In addition to reducing business travel and choosing more responsible options, businesses can incorporate more ethical practices into their operations. By treating sustainability as a core strategic priority across the business, businesses have the opportunity to drive real progress and potentially reduce costs at the same time.
Here, we’ll take a look at the areas companies should consider when they’re expanding their sustainability efforts. With pressures mounting from both regulators and consumers, now is the time for businesses to step up and demonstrate environmental leadership.
Invest in renewables
Even after implementing internal sustainability initiatives, most businesses will still have some unavoidable emissions they cannot eliminate outright. One way to counteract these lingering emissions is by investing in renewables.
Rather than purchasing carbon credits on the open market, businesses can directly fund projects like solar, wind or geothermal plants. For example, MPB sourced 45% of its electricity from renewable sources and the company’s carbon footprint decreased due to increased fuel efficiencies. Alternatively, businesses can choose to work with sustainability-minded businesses like Goodwings where money is invested on their behalf into high quality climate initiatives like sustainable aviation fuel. These types of investments support renewables and pave the way for a future without a heavy reliance on fossil fuels.
Similarly, Google is investing heavily in renewable energy, with a goal of using 100% renewable energy by 2030. In 2021, Google signed contracts for renewable energy projects with a combined capacity of nearly 1300 MW. Apple is another company that has committed to renewables. In 2020, they announced they had become carbon neutral across their global operations. They have done this by investing in renewable energy projects and by offsetting their carbon emissions, with plans to expand this across their entire value chain by 2030.
By specifically sponsoring renewable energy projects as carbon offsets, companies can encourage the growth of clean power alternatives while counteracting their own environmental impact. Direct investments into projects that reduce emissions can be more transparent and targeted than buying generic offsets on the open market.
Make company facilities more eco-friendly
One significant way for companies to improve their carbon footprint is to make their offices, stores, warehouses and other physical facilities more environmentally friendly. There are several impactful steps businesses can take in this regard. Transitioning your facility's electricity source to renewables like solar, wind or hydropower is a major way to improve the efficiency and sustainability of your operations. This may involve installing onsite solar panels or entering into a contract with an energy provider that sources renewable electricity if on-site systems aren’t practical.
Upgrading lighting, HVAC systems, appliances, windows, insulation and other features to be more energy efficient can also help to shrink a facility's carbon footprint. Smart building technologies that automate and optimise energy use are a helpful way to make your premises more convenient and environmentally friendly.
To reduce water usage, installing low-flow faucets, toilets and shower heads decreases the facilities' water consumption, while harvesting rainwater is useful for landscaping and creative water recycling for plumbing can also conserve this precious resource. Water conservation is an incredibly important step to creating a more sustainable business, but so often overlooked by companies.
Implement greener operations for greater sustainability
Companies should evaluate daily operations across departments to find opportunities for greater sustainability. For example, transition fleets to electric or hybrid vehicles to gradually replace gas-powered models with eco alternatives that will reduce emissions. As part of their Climate Pledge, Amazon has committed to fully transitioning to electric vehicles by 2030.
Programming office thermostats to automatically adjust a few degrees at night and at times when facilities are unoccupied (e.g. at weekends) conserves energy, as much as 15% a year according to the U.S. Department of Energy, while switching to digital documents shrinks paper waste and saves trees. Cloud collaboration tools facilitate this to streamline your business operations without harming the planet.
Where practical, businesses should also consider enabling remote work. Allowing employees to work from home, at least on occasion, cuts commuting needs and emissions by as much as 54%. Invest in video conferencing and productivity software to make the option viable, and implement collaboration tools so that remote teams can still work effectively. In instances where remote work isn’t possible, having a strong sustainable travel policy will minimise the impact of travel.
Expand sustainable supply chain management
Pursuing sustainability across complex supply chains is a must for businesses, but it poses many challenges. There is often a lack of transparency about environmental practices at different supplier tiers, making it difficult to track comprehensive emissions data. In fact, Amazon will start requesting data from supply chains from 2024 to help them make better environmental decisions.
Suppliers may account for their emissions in varied ways, with no standardised reporting methodology, which leads to inconsistencies and gaps in emissions calculations through the supply chain. There is also a misalignment of incentives, as suppliers must bear the brunt of costs for sustainability improvements that benefit the purchasing company. With this in mind, here are a few things companies can do to make a positive change.
Source materials and equipment from eco-friendly suppliers
When looking to source materials and equipment in an environmentally responsible way, businesses should look for suppliers that have eco-friendly certifications, such as Energy Star, which is given to products that meet strict energy efficiency guidelines, and EPEAT, which evaluates electronics based on environmental criteria.
Businesses can also look for suppliers that use recycled and renewable materials, have programs to take back and recycle old products, and utilise green manufacturing processes. Brands should also look for industry-specific certifications, such as cotton that’s GOTS-certified for textile businesses or LEED certifications for construction firms.
Reducing packaging and using sustainable materials, such as recyclable, compostable or renewable options, helps minimise waste. When sourcing materials and equipment sustainably, businesses should follow the lead of companies like Unilever that are finding innovative ways to reduce packaging and use eco-friendly materials.
For example, Love Beauty and Planet has introduced new pump designs made from single materials that are easier to recycle. Lipton have also pioneered initiatives like plastic-free tea bags to cut unnecessary plastic waste. Reducing packaging and using sustainable materials like recyclable, compostable or renewable options whenever possible helps minimise waste and keeps supply chains as eco-friendly as possible.
Choose local suppliers
Choosing local suppliers reduces travel miles, carbon emissions from transport and shipping, and supports local economies. For example, in 2021, Walmart announced that it would be sourcing 100% of its fresh produce from local farmers by 2025. This is a significant commitment, as Walmart is the largest retailer of fresh produce in the United States.
Switching to local suppliers has a number of benefits. First, it reduces the distance that food has to travel from farm to fork, which minimises fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Secondly, it supports local farmers and economies, and also helps brands like Walmart ensure that its customers have access to fresh, high-quality products.
Use environmentally friendly logistics firms
Lastly, use environmentally friendly logistics providers by partnering with transportation companies focused on reducing emissions through tactics like efficient routes, EV vehicles and optimised loads. For example, global logistics firm UPS has invested over 1 billion dollars over the past decade in committing to renewable power and carbon-neutral routes, providing companies with a more sustainable option. When viable, companies can also utilise circular models like reusable packaging, recycling programs, and product take-back to circulate materials rather than disposing.
Sustainability should be a core strategic priority for any business looking to reduce its environmental footprint and contribute towards building a greener future. While sustainable travel initiatives are a good start, companies need to think bigger in order to make real progress.
Implementing comprehensive sustainability practices across supply chains, facilities, operations, and even the customer experience enables meaningful impact. Beyond helping the environment, these business model changes often provide cost savings and operational efficiencies as well. They also demonstrate social responsibility and environmental leadership to customers and stakeholders. With growing expectations around corporate sustainability and accountability, now is the time for companies to take bold action.