It’s time for buyers to demand sustainability from travel suppliers

An integral part of the now-established sustainability reporting standard relates to issues such as travel, yet corporate travel decisions often fly in the face of corporate sustainability strategies and commitments.

Few – if any, corporate buyers and travel professionals actively seek-out hotels or accommodation that share their corporate sustainability objectives or vision, and this leaves reputational and financial risk in the overall performance of companies.

For example, many of the multi-nationals in South Africa are committed to environmental responsibility, yet they continue to support and select non-certified hotels, resorts and lodges for corporate accommodation, entertainment or product launch purposes. Add to this the impacts of the travel and transport selections that they make, and this detracts quite considerably from their corporate policies and vision in many cases.

Greater awareness of the impacts that buying decisions have on the environment, communities and the financial and ethical performance of corporate objectives could make serious inroads into the establishment of a more sustainable travel culture in this country. Consumers – and thankfully a growing corporate level, have become highly aware of sustainability issues and the claims that are being made by organisations and companies in all fields, yet the ‘soft underbelly’ of large and medium-sized companies lies in how they translate their commitments into action. Travel and accommodation are perhaps examples of the risks that companies take, yet it is also the easiest to address.

As a practitioner in the sustainability and certification field for the past 20 years, our single biggest obstacle to getting more hotels and conferencing facilities to adopt more responsible and sustainable practice – and to get recognised for this through certification, is the lack of demand from the corporate market. I believe that by raising awareness of corporate buyers for the need to ask simple questions of their suppliers could go a long-way to addressing this problem, and that they could help drive sustainable and responsible tourism to the benefit of South and southern Africa and its communities.

If we consider the amount of travel being done in the corporate market in this region alone, raised awareness and commitment would certainly make a difference to those that have committed to sustainable practice, and it would bring almost immediate benefits to the corporate traveller as well.