Sustainability – A Once In A Generation Opportunity?


Let’s face it 2020 was a pretty miserable year all round. The only people who really seemed to benefit were those with shares in Amazon!

The travel sector has been particularly hard hit, with international flights practically ground to a standstill.

It would be great to say that the industry is going to rebound with the vigour of a child on an over-inflated bouncy castle, but the reality will be somewhat harsher – and much more subdued.

With many parts of the world either banning international travel or placing onerous restrictions upon entry, the reality is that the keenly awaited recovery will take time. Maybe by the end of the year, we will see a return to something like normalcy. But is it normalcy that we want?

The New Travel Normal

There is a widely held belief that the resurgent travel industry should be greener than what existed before. 

Even pre-Covid-19, there was much clamour – especially from a younger audience – that the sector should transform. The No-Fly movement took off in various parts of Europe, as the Extinction Rebellion grounded airports.

While it might be easy to write these people off as radicals, the truth is that they lie at the extreme wing of a credible and highly powerful lobbying group.

Sustainability has also been on the agenda for the majority of travel managers for some time now. However promoting ‘greener’ options ahead of the most convenient choice, and indeed looking to reduce travel, has been a challenge too far for many, until now perhaps.

A Changing World

The world is changing, and not just because of Covid-19. The election of Biden in the US, with his promise of a Green New Deal, has placed the future of the planet right back at the core of politics for all the right reasons. The travel sector cannot just carry on as if nothing has changed.  More and more travellers simply will not allow it.

Yes, there will still be those who want the cheapest flight possible, but many more will be asking questions not just about how Covid-safe their trip is, but how large their carbon footprint will be, and how their travel activity affects the destination that they are visiting.

Sustainable travel doesn’t mean you need to plant a tree.

No Greenwash

This doesn’t just mean banning single-use plastic and placing a sign on your bed asking for your sheets not to be changed.

Increasingly for many, it is no longer simply a case of travel, work, sleep, repeat. The traveller of the 2020s wants their travel activity to be more meaningful, whether this involves acquiring a new skill, or forging more meaningful – and equitable – relationships with the host community. 

For many, the phrase sustainable travel has historically been part of a PR-driven greenwash to salve the conscience of thoughtful travellers while they are sipping their evening cocktail in the hotel bar after a hard day’s work. But perhaps no longer.

As a travel manager, it will pay to take heed of the growing trend, and ensure you stay ahead of the curve. Demand is growing amongst your travellers on this front which will support your sustainability goals.

Taking less baggage when flying can make a difference

Project Icarus

Interestingly 6 October 2021 will mark the 15th anniversary of the launch of Project Icarus. Presented by the Institute of Travel and Meetings (ITM) with the aim of championing CSR, duty of care and sustainability initiatives the project ran for a number of years, being acquired by the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) in 2011.  

Icarus has seemingly now been replaced by a number of industry working parties that support sustainability, but shockingly only 38% of buyers polled at the recent Business Travel Show Europe Kick-Off event have sustainability as an active part of their travel programme. 

The Company Dine recently reported that firms with global travel programmes such EY and S&P Global are now setting science-based targets aligned with climate science and the Paris Agreement ambition to limit global warming to 1.5˚C above pre-industrial levels. Whilst it is highly commendable that EY and S&P Global are targeting reductions in emissions of 35% and 25% respectively by 2025, most organisations, especially those with an SME travel programme, simply don’t have the funding, resource or capability to be involved. 

With travel activity almost at a standstill, it is obvious that we have a once in a generation, perhaps even a once in a lifetime opportunity to affect real change.  

As travel starts to return, due to Covid-19 restrictions and broader economic factors, it will do so within a framework of control. This will provide a unique opportunity to factor in meaningful sustainability targets and goals. To ensure this happens could those with resource and capability perhaps lend a hand? Is now the time for a phoenix to emerge from the flames that caused the downfall of the mythical Icarus?

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