World Travellers and Companies as Global Citizens

*The following is a guest blog post by Kati Ihamäki, GBTA member and Finnair’s Director of Corporate Sustainability*

The business sector and the way companies operate have a major impact on the future of the Earth. We can’t simply focus on minimising the impacts of our operations — instead, we must find opportunities for developing our operations, growing responsibly and benefiting society. Companies and individuals who operate in a sustainable manner can thus change the world for the better. A company may not directly be able to influence things such as national legislation, but a sustainably operating company will introduce new practices and approaches into the social environment it operates in. Likewise, an individual citizen and consumer can make choices that help steer the product offering towards better sustainability.

Companies want to contribute to be sustainable members of society and global citizens. Companies take on responsibilities and exert influence well beyond their geographical boundaries – their sphere of influence includes countries where their products are used, or where they have subcontractors or where they source their raw materials from. Sustainability throughout the entire sourcing chain has become a key indicator. This also applies to the travel industry – the entire travel chain and the infrastructure it requires. Social and environmental impact knows no geographical boundaries.

According to the old saying, leaving is more important than arriving. However, what about your destination and the method by which you travel? Sustainable travel, ‘staycationing’ and ecotourism are on everyone’s lips, but how seriously do people actually take these when planning their vacation? In business travel, you can hardly choose your destination, but the mode of transport and choice of hotel also leave a mark.  If you are interested in sustainability, where do you find reliable information?

Although there is a plethora of different eco labels, certificates and calculators available, the calculation methods and evaluation criteria applied for them vary dramatically. Fortunately, travel industry operators have joined forces to develop tools for travellers to help in deciding their destination based on sustainability or their mode of transport based on the level of emissions. We are unlikely to ever achieve a single, comprehensive label that would cover all aspects of sustainability, but these tools will help travellers make choices based on facts that matter to them personally.

Environmental considerations are often mentioned in connection with travel – carbon and water footprints, amount of waste generated and energy consumption. Different modes of transport can be compared using emissions calculators, just like hotels’ environmental performance can be evaluated based on their environmental footprint. The problem may be in that the calculators used by different airlines are not based on the same methods of calculation. Therefore, comparison between airlines is tricky, although destinations can be ranked based on the flight route calculators.

There are still no foolproof ways of comparing different modes of transport, but progress is being made through a concerted effort by stakeholders. In an ideal situation, when using a booking application, the customer should be able to not only compare the prices, but also the travel time and emissions. Although there is still some way to go before this is achieved and the emissions calculations are only estimates, development work is underway.

If you want to do your share and contribute to sustainable development projects, you can do so by, for example, donating your frequent flyer points or even participating in projects on-site. These alternatives are offered by airlines, hotels, travel organisers and NGOs.

In order to promote responsible business travel, Project ICARUS will be running the industry’s only Sustainability E-learning Certificate program through a series of educational e-learning sessions starting Tuesday, October 24.

Kati Ihamäki has been the Director of Corporate Sustainability at Finnair since 2008. She has been passionately designing and managing Finnair’s corporate responsibility strategy and integrating sustainability issues into Finnair’s competitive strategy. Previously, Kati worked as Finnair’s Alliance Director for oneworld affairs; Manager for Bilateral agreements; Controller for Service and Quality for Stations abroad.

In her current role, Kati leads the development and execution of company-wide strategic sustainability initiatives, while integrating corporate responsibility into business-critical processes throughout the company.

Kati’s responsibilities include ensuring that sustainable development efforts enhance Finnair’s business performance and support the company’s strategy along with the long-term interests of multiple stakeholders. Kati’s work ensures that Finnair’s current and future operations are sustainable and in line with the relevant values, norms and regulations. Additionally, she is responsible for the continuous development of Finnair’s corporate responsibility reporting and communication.