When embarking on the road to a sustainable ground program, you can expect some detours along the way. The local infrastructure, suppliers’ booking experiences, and employee sentiments are just some of the factors affecting whether an eco-friendly mobility program moves forward or veers sideways.

We asked three members of our Amex GBT Consulting (Consulting) team who specialize in ground transportation – Mark Biscardi in the United States, Josh Collier in the United Kingdom, and Sesilia Kalss in Germany – to share insights that can help get your sustainable ground journey on the right track.

Rail travel is vital for a sustainable ground transportation program

“Many clients are moving to rail, realizing they can’t continue to travel everywhere by air with the emission reduction targets they need to hit,” said Josh. “The emissions you can save when making the switch will speak for themselves.”

Our data shows that on specific routes where rail offers a viable alternative to air, Amex GBT Select and Egencia clients have achieved 90% reductions in emissions by making the modal shift from plane to train.

Rail is an attractive choice for business travel for reasons beyond the environmental benefits. When you factor in the time it takes getting to and from the airport and through security – not to mention the increasing number of flight disruptions – it sometimes can be faster to take a train over a plane. If competition exists on the rail route, as is becoming much more commonplace within Europe, rail fares could be the cheaper option over air. Taking a train can also help business travelers stay productive on the move.

Despite all its benefits, rail can sometimes be an impractical choice for business travel. For starters, only a handful of countries today have the high-speed rail infrastructure that can support corporate travel needs in terms of journey times and traveler experience. Booking a cross-border trip can often cause traveler friction, sometimes requiring three or four tickets from different providers, each with its own apps.

“Booking a rail segment is generally very easy to do when it’s within the same country, but the infrastructure sort of prohibits mass movement to rail when you are crossing borders simply because the technology isn’t in place to stitch together one continuous journey,” said Josh. “For instance, if I’m going from London to Frankfurt, I cannot book that rail journey as one. I’d have to split it up. That’s a big drawback in getting people to use rail because they can’t compare side by side how long a trip will take. They must sit down, plan their itineraries, and work everything out.”

Sesilia from our Consulting team pointed out that language barriers can be an issue. Unlike airports, which are designed to welcome international travelers, rail stations often have signs and instructions only in the local language. This can make it more challenging for foreign travelers to navigate the terminal, purchase tickets, and switch trains.

Electric vehicles can fuel your sustainability efforts

According to Mark from Consulting, companies are increasingly integrating electric car rentals into their sustainable ground strategy. While the number of emissions tied to a rental electric vehicle (EV) will fluctuate based on your travel destination, depending on how the electricity is produced locally, it’s a much greener transportation option than gasoline-fueled cars. According to the US Department of Energy’s Beyond Tailpipe Emissions Calculator, the average passenger vehicle emits about 400 grams of carbon dioxide per mile. In contrast, a standard EV produces about 110 grams of CO2 based on the average US electricity mix.

Alas, there have been some roadblocks to EV adoption. High on the list of travelers’ concerns is where to charge vehicles. Mark explained that many hotel properties don’t have charging stations or, if they do, just a few. Many business travelers also hesitate to rent an EV if they have never operated one. Car rental agencies are working to ease these fears, making efforts to familiarize drivers with EVs.

Also, likely to stimulate higher demand, it’s becoming less expensive to rent an EV.

“The price of an EV rental may have been a deterrent for many initially, but that is starting to come down as more types of EVs become available,” Mark explained. “It’s still a little more elevated than a traditional vehicle, but I’d say we’ll see those price points become almost equal as we head into the next year.” Plus, with an EV, you save on gasoline.

Micromobility makes sense in certain situations

As cities worldwide allocate more street parking for EVs, making it increasingly challenging to find a spot, micromobility options like electric bikes and scooters are entering the scene.

“Just a couple of years ago, no corporate would have thought about micromobility. They’d say, ‘That’s something for leisure, for fun,’” said Sesilia. “But now all ground transportation options – even Lyft and Uber – are considered and could make sense in the best transportation mix for employees or business travel, at least on a local basis.”

Micromobility can be an excellent option for remote/hybrid workers heading to a city they used to commute to every weekday. But as Josh points out, some accessibility roadblocks exist for international travel. Since there are no global transportation providers, bookings must be made through local companies. It’s also not recommended for foreign travelers navigating the streets of a new city (especially while jet-lagged!).

Employees are an integral ingredient

Sesilia said one of the biggest hurdles in implementing a sustainable ground program is motivating employees to embrace the transition. When developing a change management strategy, it’s critical to understand your target audience’s age, business role, and mindset. If you’re getting pushback from travelers, Josh recommends walking them through the perks of the new policy.

“For instance, a lot of people think, ‘I can fly in an hour and a half, but the train’s going to take five hours.’ But that doesn’t take into consideration the time you need to get to and from the airport or the time spent there,” he said. “So, it’s pointing out things like that and comparing them side by side.”

Another tip when getting started?

“Don’t try to do everything all at once,” Josh stressed. “There are so many different nuances between locations that it’s going to be practically impossible if you try to make seismic changes to programs. It’s better to start with some quick wins.”

“For instance,” he said, “people should not travel by air from London to Paris, London to Brussels, and even London to Amsterdam. That is a quick win because Eurostar has a very friendly booking process.”

In the beginning, there are plenty of opportunities. It can be harder for companies with more well-established sustainable programs to identify further actions to reach their net-zero goals. But that’s where we come in.

Should you need support analyzing the nitty-gritty details to discover where your program can cut more emissions, determining the best city pairs for rail, or a fresh perspective on your change management strategy, connect with our Consulting team. We’re here to help you every step of the way!

And for more on this topic – and the broader trends affecting your ground transportation program – definitely check out GBC’s Ground Monitor 2023-2024.