Expert Guides

Decarbonizing Business Travel: Strategies for Professional Services Organizations

March 11, 2024

In the fast-paced world of professional services, where travel is often a necessity, sustainability may seem like a daunting challenge. However, with the right strategies and practices in place, professional services firms can make significant strides toward reducing their environmental footprint while still meeting their business objectives. 

In this blog post, we'll explore practical approaches for incorporating sustainability into business travel management, with a focus on insights and success stories from industry leader Bain & Company (Bain).

Background on Bain’s Journey to Decarbonize Business Travel

Bain's commitment to sustainability is evident in its history. In 2011, it became the first professional services firm to be carbon neutral. Bain understands the importance of sustainability not only for the environment but also for its clients and employees. Despite its commitment, Bain recognized a significant challenge—70% of its pre-pandemic emissions stemmed from business travel. This presented a significant barrier to achieving its sustainability goals.

Clarasight CEO and Co-Founder, Adam Braun, recently spoke with Bain’s Chief Sustainability Officer, Sam Israelit for a fireside chat discussion on the ways in which Bain has found a balance between sustainability, client satisfaction, and cost-efficiency.

Watch Now: Fireside chat webinar with Bain & Company Chief Sustainability Officer

Understanding the Importance of Sustainability in Business Travel

Business travel is essential for building relationships, fostering collaboration, and driving growth. However, sustainability is no longer just a buzzword; it's a critical aspect of corporate responsibility and reputation management. 

Professional services firms, like Bain, recognize the importance of integrating sustainable practices into their operations, including business travel. Their goal isn't to eliminate travel altogether but to make it smarter and more sustainable. 

Let’s explore how professional services organizations can find that sweet spot by examining how Bain approached decarbonizing its internal business travel. 

Four Key Pillars to Decarbonizing Business Travel

Bain's approach to decarbonization is multifaceted, encompassing several key pillars.

1. Build a Strong Data Foundation

Recognizing the need for a data-driven approach, Bain's first step was establishing a centralized data repository to track and understand their emissions sources. This initial effort, which took them about a year, proved to be crucial in identifying business travel as the biggest contributor to their carbon footprint.

2. Gain Leadership Buy-In and Employee Engagement

Bain secured leadership buy-in by highlighting the importance of sustainability to both clients and employees. By securing buy-in from senior leadership, including Bain's CEO Manny Maceda, the organization demonstrates a clear mandate for change. This commitment is not merely lip service but is translated into concrete actions and resources allocated toward decarbonization initiatives.

One key takeaway from Bain's approach is the recognition that sustainability teams should not operate in silos but must collaborate closely with frontline employees on decarbonization initiatives. By engaging employees across the organization and aligning sustainability goals with broader business objectives, organizations can harness the full potential of their workforce to achieve meaningful impact.

In practice, striking the right balance between top-down leadership and bottom-up engagement requires a nuanced approach. While senior leaders set the vision and provide strategic direction, frontline employees play a crucial role in translating that vision into action. 

Organizations can cultivate a sense of ownership and accountability at all levels by fostering a collaborative environment where ideas are welcomed and feedback is valued.

3. Plan Decarbonization Initiatives

Bain implemented various strategies to reduce their travel emissions, including carbon budgets, investing in Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), and implementing “travel smarter” policies. 

Carbon Budgets

Bain integrated sustainability into their business planning process by creating carbon budgets for each department, which required them to track their travel-related emissions and develop plans to reduce them. This approach helped to ensure that sustainability was not an afterthought, but rather a core part of their business strategy. Assigning carbon budgets to each department encouraged mindful travel planning and cost reduction, ultimately leading to a 35% reduction in internal travel emissions within the first year.

Sustainable Aviation Fuel 

As a professional services firm, Bain is in the people business. This means travel plays a particular role. This is where SAF fits in to their strategy. While not a long-term solution, high-quality carbon offset programs can help neutralize the unavoidable emissions associated with necessary air travel.  

“Offsets are last, but not later”  
- Sam Israelit, Chief Sustainability Officer, Bain & Company

Travel Smarter Policies 

Bain encourages employees to be more intentional about their travel by:

  • Considering the necessity of travel: Encouraging employees to first consider whether a trip is truly necessary and explore alternative communication methods like video conferencing.
  • Planning efficiently: When travel is necessary, employees are encouraged to combine trips, select the most efficient travel options, and consider the location of meetings to minimize travel distances.
  • Incentivizing desired behaviors: Bain implemented incentives, such as rewards for taking trains, to nudge employees towards more sustainable travel choices.

4. Report to Leaders on Progress

Being transparent about what is being done, reporting on progress made as well as how it’s being achieved and where you intend to go is essential.

Bain built their own system internally that uses case codes, similar to an accounting code, so people can get the emissions information for any activity. This lets people know how they’re doing and provides visibility into what their emissions are. They also use the reporting to deliver added value to clients. When Bain sends an invoice to clients, they are include a carbon activity statement. 

Monitoring your travel program's carbon footprint over time to assess the effectiveness of your initiatives and identify areas for further improvement is fundamental. 

Key Takeaways

Bain's experience offers several valuable lessons for corporate travel managers who are looking to decarbonize their travel programs:

  • Data is key. Building a comprehensive data foundation is essential for understanding your emissions footprint and identifying areas for improvement.
  • Set ambitious goals. Don't be afraid to challenge yourself and your team.
  • Integrate sustainability into your business planning. Make sustainability a core part of your business strategy.
  • Track your progress. Measure your results and make adjustments as needed.
  • Leadership buy-in is critical. Securing leadership support is crucial for driving change and allocating resources toward sustainability initiatives.
  • Empower employees with targets and data. Empowering employees with the knowledge and tools to make sustainable choices is essential for long-term success.
  • A multi-pronged approach is necessary. Implementing a combination of strategies is essential to achieving significant emission reductions.

By following these learnings, corporate travel managers can play a vital role in helping their companies reduce their carbon emissions and future-proof their business.

Embrace Sustainable Business Travel

Sustainability isn't about doing less - it’s about doing things smarter. The most effective organizations will integrate sustainability goals into their value proposition for clients and find creative ways to do business with a reduced environmental impact.

In conclusion, professional services firms like Bain & Company have a unique opportunity to lead by example and drive positive change in business travel management. The webinar provides valuable insights for corporate travel managers who are looking to decarbonize their travel programs.  By adopting practical strategies and learning from industry leaders, firms can confidently navigate the intersection of sustainability and profitability. 

At Clarasight, we understand the unique challenges faced by professional services firms in reducing their travel footprint. Our Carbon Planning and Analysis platform provides the tools and insights you need to optimize your business travel programs for cost savings, emissions reduction, and operational excellence.  

Contact us today so see how we can help you build a pathway to achieve sustainability goals and business objectives.

Stay in the loop

Get the latest Clarasight insights,
delivered straight to your inbox