Why sustainability should be a priority in business travel

Matthew Goss

Matthew Goss

As sustainability awareness becomes more mainstream, business travel remains an outlier in many organisations’ sustainability practices.

Cost and efficiency, rather than sustainability, tend to motivate many organisations’ decisions around business travel. As business becomes increasingly global, more employees are heading interstate or overseas, and travel costs can add up quickly. Additionally, many organisations still deal with paper-based travel bookings, receipts, and employee expense claims, which is wasteful and inefficient.

Organisations with frequent business travellers should consider more sustainable travel options, many of which won’t impact on speed or efficiency, and might even be more cost-effective.

For example, if travelling locally, taking public transport such as trains and buses can be more reliable and cheaper than travelling by car or a taxi. This creates less pollution and organisations looking for more environmentally-minded travel options should consider actively encouraging employees to take public transport where possible.

If car and plane travel is essential, many businesses guide employees towards the cheapest or most convenient options, rather than the most environmentally friendly. Companies should influence their employees to make environmentally-conscious travel decisions, and can reinforce this through travel management systems, which can be set to offer employees visibility into flight or car-travel variables, including emissions.

Organisations should also consider the need for some employees to travel in the first place. Trips between corporate offices make up a significant portion of business travel. Some travel apps let organisations that have invested in video conferencing inform staff of this option during their travel booking process, motivating employees to opt for virtual meetings rather than in-person ones. Sometimes face-to-face collaboration is necessary, but businesses that get employees to think twice before booking travel can potentially save money and reduce their environmental impact by minimising unnecessary travel.

Booking and managing employee travel manually can also use a large amount of paper. Modern expense and invoicing solutions address this challenge, as all traditionally paper-based information booking numbers and itineraries can be digitally managed and stored. And, while employees are travelling, they don’t need to track paper receipts or invoices to file expense claims. Instead, they can use electronic versions that won’t get lost or become illegible. The myriad benefits on offer from paperless processes mean all organisations should consider how to implement them in their travel management processes.

Invoices present another potential area to save paper and costs. Using e-invoicing to connect businesses and enabling them to trade electronically is a modern, innovative solution to the paper problem. It’s been estimated that paper consumption per office worker ranges between 10,000 and 20,000 sheets a year, with a higher figure likely for accounting and finance industries. The business and environmental impact of paper invoicing also means it’s unsustainable and highly unproductive. Organisations can save one to two per cent of turnover by replacing paper invoices with electronic invoices and optimising their supply chain.

In March 2018, the Prime Minister of Australia and the Prime Minister of New Zealand agreed to take practical action on adopting common approaches to e-invoicing. E-Invoicing will help businesses save time and money by allowing the direct exchange of invoices between suppliers’ and buyers’ financial systems.

Beyond the environmental impact of paperwork in the workplace, manually managing physical invoices is also more likely to result in errors, missing documents, delayed approvals, ongoing exception resolution cycles, and compliance and security risks. Upgrading to automated invoice management systems frees up finance professionals’ time, letting them focus on more strategic work.

Modern mobile and web-based apps can automate and accelerate expense management, providing a seamless flow of data, to give chief finance officers and finance managers enhanced levels of control over, and visibility into business and travel expenses. Automated expense technologies can also help organisations become more productive and compliant. Machine learning-powered tools can help employees reduce the time they spend on travel planning by almost half, and spend up to 70 per cent less time on expense reporting.

The benefits of modern expense solutions are significant for travelling employees. These solutions can also help employees better organise and manage business travel, particularly with the ability to automatically populate expense claims using electronic receipts from airline, hotel, restaurant, and ground transportation companies. Automated expense platforms also let employees virtually submit receipts by taking photos of the receipts with their mobile phones and uploading them at any time, from any place.

For business travellers, this means an end to compiling expenses at the end of a trip, and no more tracking and carrying paper receipts. Most importantly, it means travelling employees spend more time on productive work.

Organisations taking up more environmentally-friendly travel options can enjoy time-saving, cost-saving, and productivity-boosting outcomes. It’s important organisations realise that promoting sustainable travel choices won’t work against their success and might, in fact, boost growth and efficiency.

Matthew Goss is the managing director of SAP Concur across Australia and New Zealand.