(5 minute read) A lot of businesses are looking at travel as a way to reduce carbon emissions and generally be ‘greener’. This is usually driven by client or contractual demand, or stakeholder expectation. Writing a green travel policy, or greening an existing travel policy, is not particularly difficult, but it is important to consider a few key factors if you want it to actually be effective. Even better – if properly implemented it can benefit the bottom line.

1. Integrate it with your expenses policy

The most effective way to green company travel is to integrate any green requirements in to your standard travel and expenses policy. If you don’t already have one then the chances are that, if you’re looking to write a green travel policy, you are also at the stage of needing a general expenses policy. Integrate the two of them together – there’s no point in having 2 policies when you can have one and it reduces the risk of conflicting policy statements.

2. Don’t forget to avoid travel

The best way to reduce travel emissions and costs is to avoid it altogether. Telephone calls don’t always cut it, so consider investing in video conferencing software such as Skype for business or WebEx. These allow your employees to use their laptops to speak face to face with clients and customers without having to travel at all. If you have different offices you can connect those offices better through the use of video conferencing. The investment will save a lot in travel expenses and opens up opportunities for flexible and home working, if you find yourselves wanting to consider it.

3. Think train before plane

I typically hear the following arguments against train travel:

  • Too expensive
  • Too cramped
  • Plane is quicker and less hassle

Expensive and cramped

Trains can be expensive. However, advanced booking makes a big difference to the cost and travelling off-peak even more so. Off-peak travel is typically less cramped and advanced booking means that first class travel is not outside the realms of possibility, which provides more leg-room and space for laptops. If you can find a way for employees to travel first class without it costing the earth I guarantee you, you will get a good proportion of staff switching.

There are also some perks to travelling by train regularly. Some rail companies offer loyalty schemes – for example the Virgin trains Traveller programme. I recommend investigating your options.

Plane is quicker and less hassle

I personally disagree with this as a rule for 2 main reasons:

Efficiency of time

When travelling by train your employees can work on the train in a way that they can’t when flying – not to mention that train stations are typically central whereas airports require longer transfer times as staff have to travel to and from town.

Reduction in stress

Flying domestically is hardly a relaxing experience these days. If you’re travelling for business, the chances are you have at least three electronic devices (work phone, personal phone, laptop). All of those need to be taken out of your bag at security. You have to take off half your clothes to get through security and if you’re going overnight you need to ensure you take any liquids out of your bag. You then get the privilege of sitting in departures surrounded by people going on holiday while you’re trying to work on something. In this day and age of businesses holding responsibility for employee mental health, the reduction in stress that can be achieved through travelling by train is worth consideration.

If you have particular journeys that employees take regularly, look in to the opportunity cost of switching from plane to train.

Below is a graphic breaking down the time taken to travel by plane and train between Edinburgh and London. While the journey time for flying might be slightly quicker – you will note that there is less transfer time with the train, which means that a train journey can be much more efficient as most of the journey can be spent with access to email or ability to work.

  • The traveller lives in Edinburgh
  • The London meeting is to be held centrally – near Charing Cross
  • The traveller flies to London Stansted airport

If you have particular journeys that you or your staff take on a regular basis, try doing this for that journey. See if it genuinely is quicker or more efficient to fly, when everything is taken into account, or if the train is just as good.

4. Incentives

There are a number of positive and negative incentives you can include in a policy. I have set out three below to consider:

  • reimbursement for cycling. There are various guidance documents available online for paying a mileage expense for cycling. If cycling is encouraged or desirable, do you have showers and secure bike facilities available for staff to use?
  • annual prize for employees who embody the policy. This doesn’t have to be an expensive prize – a little recognition goes a long way.
  • require sign off for domestic flights. At the other end of the scale you could consider having a policy which says that any domestic flights need justification and written approval from a line-manager. The hassle factor here (if the managers are living the policy!) means that employees will think about train travel just to avoid having to get sign off, and will only ask for approval if they actually need it.

5. Lead by example

A travel and expenses policy that tries to encourage staff to travel greener can only be successful if the management live by it. There is little point in writing a green policy only for the leadership team to ignore it entirely, or for the finance team to disincentivise green travel because of cost – that will just result in business as usual. Any audit of your policies will then find you’re non-compliant with your travel policy. This type of policy needs to be carefully considered and the leadership team need to be on board.


Measure it! If you have a travel operator who you book travel through, most of them will provide a report that tells you how your employees are travelling, what mode of travel and mileage. If you don’t have a travel operator, add a section to your expense claims form requiring employees to fill out basic details such as mode of travel and distance travelled. This will give you and idea of how people are travelling, and help to identify opportunities for improvement. If you find you’re struggling to comply with the policy, see whether any of the above points are not being implemented, or could be improved on.

The good news is that travel and expenses policies are something that most companies already have. The great news is that, if implemented correctly, a green travel policy is designed to save money as well as carbon.

I am a sustainability coach with over 10 years’ experience. You can find out more about my services on my website, and further tips on my blog. Contact me for a free, no obligation discussion about your business sustainability needs.