If your team frequently travels throughout both the United States and European Union, you’ve likely noticed something. Europe seems further along than the US when it comes to making travel and tourism more eco-friendly. So is sustainability a higher priority in the EU than in the US?
Here are the facts surrounding sustainable travel in both regions.
Is sustainability a higher priority in the EU than the US? Travelers think so
Whether or not it’s truly the case that sustainability is a higher priority in the EU than in the US, travelers certainly seem to think that’s the case.
According to a recent Skift report, more European tourism and hospitality brands tout their sustainability and make it part of their brand identities — a departure from the more traditional marketing tactics that many US brands still employ. This appeals to the broad range of travelers that say they’re specifically looking for sustainable options when they travel (about 70–75%, according to Skift).
Skift does clarify that there are sustainability efforts being made throughout the United States, but often, those efforts go overlooked and unrecognized. For example, did you know the U.S. National Park Service, which attracts millions of travelers each year, is making significant changes to lower its carbon footprint? Probably not.
Is transparency around sustainability a higher priority in the EU than the US? The rules say yes
When looking at sustainability disclosure, the differences between applicable rules in the EU and the US certainly seem to point to higher sustainability prioritization in the EU than in the US.
As Brookings reported last year, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s proposed disclosure laws, while “specific and extensive,” are not as extensive as those adopted by the EU’s Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive. Additionally, the SEC’s disclosure rules focus on providing disclosures to investors only, which causes complications. Furthermore, while the EU has its European Climate Law and legal ties to the Paris Agreement, there’s not a US Congress-mandated climate strategy.
While this report from Brookings is relatively recent, though, the legalities surrounding sustainability, including travel sustainability, in the US have been lax for over a decade. For example, in 2013, the New York Times reported on the US’s stark refusal to participate in the EU’s Emissions Trading System, which was intended to fine airlines for excessive carbon emissions produced by flying in and out of EU airports. India and China likewise voiced their displeasure with the EU’s initiative. (At that time, the NYT noted, average Americans produced 19 tons of Co2 per year, compared to Europeans’ 10 tons of Co2 per year.)
Is funding for sustainability a higher priority in the EU than the US? The money points to yes
For an idea of how the US supports sustainability efforts compared to the EU, just look at this single statistic provided by Population Education.
Through the mid-1990s, the US was the top, highest contributor to the United Nations Environment Programme. Today, most European countries contribute more than the US. The Netherlands, for example, contributes as much as 30% more than the US, even though the Netherland’s economy is 1/20 the size of the US economy.
Is sustainability a higher priority in the EU than the US? How travel habits stack up
You can also look at data from Population Education for an insight into travel habits among EU and US citizens.
Comparing the US to France, Co2 emissions are 3x higher in the US. Transportation choices play into this in a significant way, with most European countries boasting robust public transportation systems and rail infrastructure, whereas most US travelers are forced to drive short distances and fly long distances.
The good news? A more sustainable regional travel option is on the horizon in the US, with airlines like United investing in electric-powered aircraft suitable for flying distances of 200 miles or less. Beyond providing a more sustainable travel option, focusing on electric air travel for short distances brings other benefits as well, including easing road and airport congestion, as a McKinsey study, which forecasts the regional air mobility market as a multi-million dollar opportunity, pointed out.
Is it a big deal?
Beyond just the multitude of travelers reporting that they’d like to spend their travel dollars with sustainable travel brands in the future, demand for more sustainable travel options is also up with business travelers. As Business Insider reported, studies show that a large majority of business travelers are willing to change the way they travel to reduce their business travel carbon footprints, even if that means sacrificing luxury hotel stays or taking public transportation.
However, traveler demand aside, the data shows that this really is a big deal, beyond business and on a profoundly human level. While sustainability is currently a high priority in the EU, it’s not a high priority throughout most of the world, and that means a few key things, according to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Report.
For one, it means Co2 emissions reached their highest levels ever in recent years. It also means about 33% of the earth’s land mass will have experienced moderate (at least) droughts by 2100. Even by just 2030, as many as 700 million people could be displaced by droughts. Also, by 2100, the sea levels could rise by up to 60 centimeters, killing off up to 90% of warm-water coral reefs.
What can you do?
So what can you do? For any business or organization, regardless of location, the answer is simple. Put your money where your concerns lie. Invest in sustainable business travel. Create a business travel sustainability policy and enforce it. Reduce business travel where possible and, when not possible, choose the most sustainable travel options possible.
Already, Europe is well ahead of the game in making these changes on an individual business level. A 2023 Deloitte study found that 40% of European companies intend to reduce employee travel by 20% in the coming years, compared to 33% of surveyed US companies. Likewise, one in five European companies said they’d reduce travel this year due to sustainability concerns, compared to one in seven US companies. If you need help with establishing a business travel sustainability policy or just knowing what your sustainable travel options are, JTB Business Travel can help. Talk with one of our representatives today to discover which of our robust network of tools and services could be the best fit for your team’s needs.