[UPDATE, October 19, 2016: GBTA Foundation’s updated car rental request for proposals template now is available. Meant to become an “industry standard,” the document includes a new section on sustainability. Car rental bidders are asked to describe sustainable development policies, environmental certifications, external audits, fleet gas mileage and commitments to help clients reduce carbon footprints. They also are asked to provide CSR, sustainability and emissions reports, as well as contact information for environmental officers. The RFP template is available for download here.]

Denver – Travel management pros interested in sustainability initiatives often feel overwhelmed. They don’t know where to start, who to engage internally or how to involve suppliers. The Global Business Travel Association’s North America Sustainability Committee is preparing two new resources meant to assist.

To help buyers better address sustainability in car rental requests for proposals, the committee is creating a set of standard questions. A new self-assessment tool, due in November, will benchmark sustainability program maturity levels.

GBTA is building the assessment tool in partnership with BCD Travel. “It is to help buyers and suppliers — but mainly buyers — understand where they are,” said Bernard Harrop, head of sustainability for the GBTA Foundation.

Users will answer questions and receive scores of one, two or three. Linked material will show how the organization’s program can achieve a higher score. “Sustainability is not a project you can complete in one year,” Harrop said here at the GBTA convention last month. “It’s a lifetime occupation.”

Image: Thinkstock

The new resource will update a benchmarking tool developed by GBTA’s Project Icarus.

Mondelēz International head of Americas travel management Jorge Gomez is embarking on a travel sustainability effort and spoke at the GBTA event. He, too, stressed continuous improvement.

“It took me a while to get started, it was intimidating,” he said. “You need a well-defined charter from the beginning. But you take little steps to get to the bigger steps. You need to focus geographically but also by subcategory of travel. If you try to do everything at once you are not going to do it.”

Mondelēz aims to cut 15 percent of its travel carbon footprint by 2020, in line with its overall sustainability goals. Gomez is starting this year with air travel. The company is on track to reduce carbon emissions from business flights by 15 percent, slash as much as $20 million in spending and cut trips by at least 25 percent.

Driving To Green Goals

Expected soon for members, the updated car rental resource mimics earlier work by GBTA on hotels. “You can add it to your normal RFP to get the right kind of data you want,” Harrop said.

He said suppliers usually receive different sets of sustainability questions from buyers. The buyers don’t always pay attention to many of the answers. Standard, relevant and meaningful questions mean suppliers don’t have to “reinvent the wheel every time,” said Harrop.

Car rental is an area in which several companies have made progress greening their travel programs. It’s easy to direct travelers to more fuel-efficient vehicles. It’s easy for them to understand why.

It is part of Wyndham Worldwide’s internal travel sustainability program. The company in 2014 negotiated with Avis Budget to achieve carbon neutrality on its 18,000 to 20,000 annual car rental days, according to global travel director Joanne McNellis Coelho. That includes carbon offsets and using smaller vehicles.

Wyndham policy allows for intermediate car rentals. Pop-up messaging in the booking tool, though, suggests travelers choose compact or sub-compact cars.

“Probably no one really noticed at first,” said McNellis Coelho, who also chairs GBTA’s sustainability committee. “My plan was to make changes that didn’t require any approval. No one cared if I added a pop-up to the booking tool. Through the power of suggestion, it started to make a difference.” Now, 35 percent of the company’s rentals are compact or sub-compact. Wyndham now has been carbon neutral on business rentals for two years.

Travelers can link from the booking tool to public transportation information. Messaging informs them when Amtrak is preferred over flying or driving.

McNellis Coelho said Wyndham includes sustainability questions in all RFPs, communicates green tips to employees and, with the help of its TMC, tracks emissions from air flights, car rental and black car trips. The company last year also was a launch customer for United Airlines’ carbon offset program.

She noted that Wyndham between 2010 and 2015 cut business travel emissions per employee by about 32 percent, to 0.243 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. That’s despite headcount jumping more than 40 percent to 37,700. On an absolute basis, business travel emissions in that time dropped 36 percent.

T-Mobile also added car rental to its travel sustainability drive, which focuses on reforesting Haiti. Travelers get points for certain behaviors — booking online, in advance, with preferred suppliers, etc. Points translate to trees.

The company already partnered with Travel and Transport and Delta. This year it added Enterprise/National. The rental company plants a tree for every T-Mobile rental day, according to senior manager of travel, expense and card Bob Jacobsen. Similarly, Hyatt House properties near T-Mobile headquarters in Bellevue, Wash., plant a tree for every one of the company’s room nights.

In about 18 months since starting the program, T-Mobile planted more than 350,000 trees, offset 7 percent of its air carbon emissions and saved more than $800,000.