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Business travellers can also help save the environment

This article is more than 12 months old

As awareness of sustainability issues grow, many organisations have taken greater steps to control and manage their environmental footprint.

But on Earth Day today, business travel remains a weak link in many companies' efforts to make an impact in this area.

Business travel decisions are almost always optimised for cost and time efficiency, not environmental sustainability.

Travel bookings and subsequent expense claim processes today remain paper-based in many organisations.

Few travellers are aware that rail is a much more efficient mode of travel than airplanes, and actively include rail travel in their itinerary.


In Asia, China and Japan have embraced trains in business travel, particularly for congested routes, due to infrastructure and costing.

The Belt and Road Initiative for the region, and discussions for India as well as potential enhancement to the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore line may open up more options for travellers in the future.

When renting cars, not many businesses point employees to environmentally friendly rental companies or car models.

When flying, many travellers choose their flights based on cost, timing, or proximity of airports.

Perhaps it is time for companies, through their travel management and booking systems, to give staff an option of choosing flights based on emissions.

In some cases, there is even the option of not travelling completelyat all.

Trips between corporate offices comprise a significant portion of business travel.

Some travel apps allow organisations that have invested in video conferencing, for instance the SAP group of companies, to inform staff of this option during their travel booking process.

Thoughtful capabilities like the above help firms meet their environmental obligations.

With regard to paper use, in particular, modern expense and invoicing solutions have progressed to a point where no employee needs to print out paper-based forms, or attach paper receipts or paper invoices, to file his claims.

But this is far from the scenario in many offices today.

The Institute of Finance and Management (IOFM) found that the average business receives 63 per cent of its invoices as paper.

And 62 per cent of businesses surveyed by IOFM said they manually handle more than 75 per cent of the invoices they receive as paper.

Beyond the fact that manually processing paper invoices results in error-prone keying in of information, and compliance and security risks, moving to an automated system would greatly free up finance professionals' time for more strategic work.

A study by the research firm APQC also shows that the average finance worker spends 49 per cent of his time processing transactions, which equates to roughly half his day filling out forms and dealing with invoices.

Today, mobile and web-based apps can automate and accelerate expense management from start to finish.

Besides bypassing manual, paper-driven processes, such systems provide a seamless flow of data to give chief financial officers and finance managers a new level of control over and visibility into business expenses.

They also help companies become more productive and compliant.

The benefits accrue to employees too.

The writer is senior vice-president and general manager, Asia-Pacific and Japan and Greater China at SAP Concur, a provider of integrated travel and expense management services and solutions.