Business Trip Tips: 5 Ways to Make Air Travel a Little Greener

by Rebecca Smith Hurd on May 12, 2011
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Business travel is bouncing back,” the Associated Press declared earlier this year, reporting that U.S. companies are expected to spend 5 percent more on travel  in 2011 than they did in 2010 — or an estimated $239 billion. At the same time, most enterprises are asking employees to be frugal (the average cost per trip forecast in the first quarter was $538), and, increasingly, to opt for the greenest options available.

Corporate social responsibility is a growing area of focus within business travel,” Robert C. Wade, chairman of the National Business Travel Association’s CSR committee, explained while unveiling the organization’s updated sustainability toolkit. “Well-managed programs can have a tremendous positive impact for the health of our planet, the well-being of business travelers, and the effectiveness of a company.”

Here are five tips for businesses of any size, from sole proprietors to corporate entities, looking to make their air travel a little greener:

Book a nonstop flight. About half of the carbon emissions released by airplanes happen during takeoff and landing, so the fewer stops in your itinerary, the better. Although the ticket may cost more up front, flying nonstop will save time and energy, allowing for greater productivity on the road.

Visit multiple destinations in one trip. At the risk of stating the obvious, bundling multiple destinations into a single journey instead of flying home in between trips is also more Earth-friendly. You’ll spend less on cabs and shuttles to and from your base airport (or gas and parking for your car), too.

Offset CO2 emissions. Carbon offsets are a way to “balance out” the greenhouse gases produced by airplanes during flight by contributing money to nonprofit groups engaged in reforestation, energy efficiency, renewable energy, and other like-minded projects worldwide. Calculating your footprint can be tricky, but it’s hard to argue with any steps a business takes to mitigate its environmental impact.

Use electronic boarding passes. As of this month, seven airlines and 101 airports across the U.S. allow passengers to opt for digital boarding passes in lieu of paper ones. Passengers download boarding passes (an encrypted two-dimensional bar code) onto their cell phones, which the TSA scans at the security checkpoint. “It was surprisingly hassle-free,” writes traveler Andy Hayes, who adds that some airlines offer bonus miles for using the new system. If you must use paper, check in online but print out boarding passes at the airport, to avoid any need to reprint in a format preferred by ticket or gate agents.

Carry a reusable water bottle. Nearly nine out of ten plastic water bottles end up in landfill. In the United States, where most sources of water are potable, buying disposable single-use containers of H20 is a waste of money, too. Carrying your own water bottle and filling it at drinking fountains or with friendly airport merchants is the way to go. To meet with TSA regulations, your bottle will need to be empty when you pass through security. (Here’s a current list of what transportation authorities will and will not allow.)

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