As COP28 approaches, businesses in the Middle East can play a role in helping employees make a change by adopting sustainable practices, especially in areas like travel.

Businesses can turn to ‘Green Nudging’ – an approach rooted in behavioural science principles – to gently steer employees toward more sustainable travel choices, writes Gabriele Indrieri, Vice President and Managing Director for EMEA South Region at SAP Concur.

By creating conditions that facilitate eco-friendly behaviour rather than imposing rules, organisations can pave the way for meaningful change.

Uphill battle

Companies aiming to convince their employees to embrace sustainable travel face an uphill battle. While the importance of reducing carbon footprints is widely recognised, persuading individuals to make substantial, often disruptive changes that may entail financial costs, comfort sacrifices, or time investments has proven difficult.

Understanding Green Nudging

The concept of ‘nudging’ first gained prominence through the influential work of American authors Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein in their 2008 book, "Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness." At its core, their idea espouses that if the easiest option aligns with the right choice, people are more likely to embrace it.

For instance, when a corporate cafeteria strategically positions fruit and salad selections at eye level or along the checkout queue, employees are more inclined to opt for healthier alternatives. Similarly, cities with well-developed cycling infrastructure and companies that invest in quality shower and changing room facilities encourage employees to transition from driving to cycling for their daily commute.

Green nudging operates by creating environments where sustainable behaviour naturally flourishes. This approach empowers companies to complement traditional methods of behaviour change, such as information campaigns, appeals, financial incentives, or prohibitions. In the context of sustainability, it is dubbed "green nudging," a tool that organisations can employ to cultivate eco-friendly conduct.

Applying Green Nudging for sustainable travel

To truly advance sustainability efforts and reduce carbon footprints, companies must examine how they can motivate the right behaviours among their employees. This entails recognising that mere awareness of climate change's urgency doesn't guarantee behavioural shifts.

Powerful and subtle

Green nudges emerge as a powerful yet subtle mechanism for fostering positive change. Companies can explore various green nudging approaches, including:

*Increasing visibility: Simple reminders in corporate booking tools can nudge employees toward greener travel choices. Messages like "Consider booking a train instead of a flight for in-country travel" can encourage eco-conscious decisions. Furthermore, real-time travel management solutions can inform travellers about sustainable transportation options upon arrival at airports.

*Providing specific information: When individuals receive precise data about the environmental impact of their choices, it influences their decision-making. Companies can incorporate CO2 information into transportation options during the booking process, allowing business travellers to make sustainable selections effortlessly.

*Adjusting default settings: People often opt for default choices when using technical devices. Companies can leverage this inclination by configuring default sorting options in their travel booking tools to prioritise emissions-conscious options.

*Shifting social norms: Recognising the profound impact of peer behaviour, fostering a culture where sustainability is the norm can spur others to follow suit. Business leaders can lead by example, communicating their own sustainable travel choices to inspire their employees.

Charting the path to a greener future

Middle Eastern companies embracing green nudging should ensure transparency and avoid misleading practices. They should also make it easy for individuals to opt out of nudges with a single click, thereby avoiding any perception of covert manipulation.

Building a sustainable business travel program remains a complex task. Recent research from SAP Concur reveals that while 99% of businesses aspire to enhance sustainability, 44% are uncertain about how to achieve this goal.

Green nudging, however, emerges as a promising avenue for companies to support their employees while advancing their sustainability objectives. By gently guiding individuals toward greener choices, organisations can play a pivotal role in shaping a more sustainable future for the region and the world. 

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