Bringing sustainability into the functionality of booking corporate travel
Egencia, along with its parent company Expedia Group, strives to be at the vanguard of sustainable initiatives. At Egencia, we’re a proud and enthusiastic leader instead of a “tick the boxes” follower.
We spoke to Katherine Cheng, head of global and community impact at Expedia Group, and Renaud Loizzo, director of product management at Egencia, to find out what Egencia is doing about sustainability and how this work benefits corporate travel programmes.
What is Egencia doing to help its customers achieve their sustainability goals?
KC: Our goal at Expedia Group is to provide the tools and information for customers, consumers and partners to make the best decisions for their travel. Egencia is in a unique position to help businesses make an even greater impact because we can guide traveller behaviour on a larger scale based on what our corporate customers want to highlight for their employees. And to pair them with trusted partners if they want to take it even further.
RL: Product-wise, there are two main steps to enhancing sustainability features. The first is to make sure that we can provide accurate carbon emission data to travel managers. Which we’ve done with the Carbon Emission Dashboard in the Egencia Analytics Studio.
The next step is embedding information into the booking path that has the power to change traveller behaviour. From a sustainability viewpoint, this is the gold standard.
We’ve rolled this out by displaying the carbon footprint of each flight — along with “real-life equivalents” like how many homes could be powered for a year or how many smartphones can be charged with that amount of energy — while booking, at checkout and in email confirmations. And this is just the starting point. It’s exciting because in the past, everything was about driving savings. Now, instead of just cost, our customers want to factor in sustainability too.
What is Egencia, as a company, doing to lead in terms of sustainability?
KC: Company-wide, throughout the Expedia Group, we committed in 2017 to offset our entire carbon footprint — waste, water, travel — for employees all over the world. That’s the base. It’s a great win, but it’s the minimum.
As a travel company, we view sustainability in a broader way than just the environmental factors, and it’s not just about donating money. For us, it’s also tied to community and the destinations we serve. We’ve adopted four pillars of sustainability: environment; disaster recovery, rebuilding and resiliency; community and economic development; and responsible travel. We’ve partnered with UNESCO in a first-of-its-kind agreement around these four sustainable travel pillars. We launched the UNESCO Sustainable Travel Pledge last year and have just announced that Accor Hotels will sign on 96 percent of its hotels. This is an industry-leading effort that we hope will highlight what hotels and other tour operators are doing to be more sustainable while encouraging all players, big and small, to sign up to a commitment and be held accountable.
To that end, we also try to be creative in how we lead the space in sustainability efforts by ensuring that we are doing tangible projects with a real impact. We know that we can do much more if we partner with other organisations, governments and the people within the communities themselves to organically create initiatives that really make a difference in their day-to-day lives.
For example, in the wake of the recent hurricane in the Caribbean, we saw that a lack of access to education and healthcare were the two things forcing people to leave the islands. The lack of electricity meant that schools were shut down and people were dying because their medication needed refrigeration. So, we solarised schools and healthcare centres — six schools in Dominica and two on St. Johns — and we created a cold chain refrigeration system in Puerto Rico for hospitals. But these efforts are about resiliency, so they won’t have the same issues when the next hurricane hits.
RL: We also offer customers the ability to offset their business travel carbon emissions through our offset partners, including atmosfair and Climate Neutral Group (CNG). So that’s another actionable way that the Carbon Emissions Dashboard comes into play.
What about carbon offsetting specifically? Can you explain what that is and how Egencia views it?
KC: Carbon offsetting is where a company identifies its carbon impact and invests in projects that contribute to sequestering an equal amount of carbon, creating a “carbon neutral” effect. That’s where our offset partners come in. They create and vet projects — like rainforest conservation and transitioning rural households in developing countries to biogas or solar cookers. The benefit is that these projects are often in developing countries that couldn’t have afforded these changes otherwise.
But again, we see carbon offsetting as mitigating effects that we can’t control as closely. However, our sustainability efforts as a company go much, much deeper.
For instance, Expedia Group’s new corporate headquarters in Seattle is LEED Certified, with a focus on energy efficiency, air and water quality. It was also designed with input from wildlife experts. We’re one of the first headquarters in the US to be Salmon-Safe certified.
And a few years ago, employees within the company created a community called Sustainable and Green at Expedia Group (SAGE). We now have more than 470 members with 36 chapters in 22 countries. So, they’re creating initiatives within the workforce, like the Springfield chapter starting a carpooling programme and Amsterdam creating a “bike to work” video that was shared company-wide. As a company, we’re constantly striving — at every level — to become greener.
RL: When it comes to carbon offsetting and carbon removal, the more detailed the data, the better. Right now, carbon emissions are a static calculation. But we’re working towards more dynamic calculations based on more variables as the data improves. We are currently piloting a new product where our travellers can see the carbon offset cost on our air shopping pages. It helps the traveller be fully aware of the total cost of their flight. It also allows our customers to communicate in an impactful way to their employees their own efforts on the sustainability front.
Also, as more partners sign the UNESCO pledge and badging comes into play, that will be helpful not just to travellers, but also to incentivise those companies to make more sustainable choices themselves.
What would be your advice for travel managers and travellers looking to make more sustainable choices?
RL: Building sustainable goals directly into business travel policy is one way. For instance, favouring direct flights over indirect.
But there are other ways to influence travellers’ choices within the booking path. For instance, travel managers can use Analytics Studio to identify frequently travelled short-flight routes — like Paris to Marseille or New York City to Washington, D.C. — and create a Custom Message that will display when a traveller goes to book that route. Something like, “There’s a train for that route, please click here to book by train instead”.
And for hotels, travel managers can use the Hotel Custom Branding feature to display a custom badge on hotels that they’ve identified as committed to sustainability.
KC: When it comes to sustainability, corporations and the government have a responsibility to act. But consumers do too. And we want to give travel managers tools, education and information to pass onto their travellers so they can make informed decisions that match their comfort and values. We want to get across that there’s a way to do business travel so that it’s not such a big burden on the environment, and we’re here to help them do it.
Check out what else we’re doing to help you achieve greener business travel.