Travel and healthcare providers on a path to sustainability

A passion to preserve the planet

In terms of available initiatives, an ABTA spokesperson highlighted ambitions for sustainability and provided an insight into ongoing efforts. “Sustainability lies at the heart of the travel industry. We are very aware of the fragility of the planet and people are passionate about preserving its beauty and the wealth of indigenous cultures around the world,” they told ITIJ.

For most companies, Covid-19 forced a pivot away from in-person meetings to virtual interactions

“There are a number of sustainable travel initiatives – and a leading light is the ABTA Travelife certification scheme, which helps hotels and other accommodation providers adapt working systems in a responsible way. There are also other types of certification bodies such as Rainforest Alliance, which certifies products like coffee, or the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), which certifies seafood. Customers are increasingly looking to book with companies that can demonstrate a commitment to sustainability.” Travel insurance, in particular, is competitive and sustainable practices are becoming key differentiators. With individuals keen to support sustainable practices, the myriad benefits for the travel industry include possible increased customer retention and loyalty. Homing in on ABTA’s efforts more specifically, the spokesperson said: “A sample of just some of the responsible initiatives being taken by ABTA members include actively working with and supporting local communities, supplier codes of conduct, reducing plastic usage, conserving water, encouraging biodiversity and properly structured decarbonisation plans.”

The virtues of virtual interactions

World Travel Protection CEO Adrian Leach underlined the shifts he has witnessed. “For most companies, Covid-19 forced a pivot away from in-person meetings to virtual interactions. And although leisure travel has now returned and in fact exceeded expectations, business travel has not followed the same pattern, with a change in approach. A desire to address carbon reduction is certainly one of the reasons,” he said. “At World Travel Protection, the positive adoption of virtual meetings has helped us reduce emissions, while also allowing our global employee base to easily connect in real time. Even when in-person interactions are necessary for complex projects, we endeavour to have only one face-to-face meeting, followed by virtual follow ups. Travel to attend in-person meetings is subject to a rigorous pre-approval process, with additional policies such as choosing an airline with lower emissions and opting for direct flights whenever possible. The most significant benefit is a reduction in global emissions, as well as the increased capability to connect quickly and easily in a virtual space.” Digitisation has presented numerous benefits and streamlined processes, and its contribution to a reduction in carbon emissions is to be celebrated.

Despite the untold negative impacts of the pandemic, a push to more conscientious travel has led to clear environmental benefits. The ABTA spokesperson also shared their thoughts on sustainable travel, with a focus on tourism: “The pandemic starkly revealed the importance of travel to the livelihoods of some of the poorest people on the planet, but it has also given many destinations the opportunity to rethink and revisit how their tourism offer works. Sustainability is fundamental to many of these new strategies. Whether that’s ensuring cultures and the environment are protected, building climate resilience, or always looking to ensure that local people both benefit from and welcome tourism.”

Making a better world

Moving onto the enduring efforts of hospitals and healthcare insurers and providers to address climate concerns, Rupert Gowrley, Corporate Affairs, and Glyn Richards, Sustainability Director, Bupa Group, said sustainability is one of the six pillars of Bupa’s strategy: “As a global healthcare company, we understand how people’s health can be affected by the environment and the impact our sector has on the planet. Last year, we expanded Bupa’s purpose from ‘Helping people live longer, healthier, happier lives’ to include ‘and making a better world’.”

From around 2018, the hospital became even more serious about sustainability, starting with the ‘Green Hospital Policy’

Gowrley and Richards explained that Bupa’s sustainability ambitions concentrate on the intersection between human health and the health of the planet, with three focus areas. “The first is to reduce our environmental impact, following the latest science; the second is to use research, collaboration and innovation to accelerate sustainable healthcare solutions and advocate for change; and the third is to play a leading role in improving people’s health through the restoration and regeneration of nature,” he explained. “Over the past year, we have advanced our sustainability agenda by: reducing emissions across our own operations, cutting emissions up and down our value chain and accelerating progress towards more sustainable innovation.” Gowrley and Richards shared some of Bupa’s key actions: 

  • Uptake of renewable energy
  • Optimising energy-saving measures
  • Enabling decarbonisation for suppliers
  • and healthcare providers
  • Digitisation of products and services
  • Engaging with start-ups on sustainable innovation initiatives
  • Collaboration through key coalitions, including Race to Zero, Sustainable Healthcare Coalition and Climate and Health Coalition.

There is no doubt that human health and the health of the planet are inextricably linked – and the healthcare sector has a responsibility to ensure both.

Accelerating sustainability efforts

Danny Quaeyhaegens is Head of International Insurance Department at Bangkok Hospital Pattaya, who claims that energy awareness is a longstanding action area, especially in recent years. “From around 2018, the hospital became even more serious about sustainability, starting with the ‘Green Hospital Policy’ and setting up a large and multidisciplinary environmental committee to plan, initiate and monitor environmental improvement projects. The main principles are to control energy consumption for maximum efficiency; reduce energy loss every step of the way, with the use of electrical appliances monitored and supervised at all times; use renewable energy, especially derived from nature such as solar and wind; high-efficiency tools and equipment such as No. 5-rated appliances and LED bulbs; reusing damaged materials to be repaired rather than replaced; reducing unnecessary waste or recycling; and improving air quality and monitoring PM2.5.”

Quaeyhaegens provided a snapshot of tangible actions taken by Bangkok Hospital Pattaya: “These include: installing solar parking, delivering an average of 3,000-4,000 kWh per day; changing the chiller system which has reduced energy consumption by 11 per cent; and systematically changing all lights to LED, reducing energy consumption by 36 per cent. Yearly, we have retraining for all staff in energy awareness, and activities such as the ‘Energy Saving Day’. But we also realise that a hospital has a very high footprint (energy, non-reusable materials, etc) so it is a work in progress. New actions must be taken continuously, while outcome targets need to be built on and made more challenging.”

Indeed, the pace of global warming is increasing, so measures to tackle and mitigate environmental damage must be regularly reviewed and strengthened, with targets adjusted. The pandemic has had a clear impact on sustainable travel and the subsequent accelerated pace of digitisation, with more emphasis on virtual interactions. Providers are ever-more conscious of environmental issues, with a shared desire to protect the health of the planet and those living on it. In line with this, they are employing innovative measures to meet targets and take action. There is a clear focus on reducing energy consumption and employing renewable energy, as well as decarbonisation, while providers want to reduce the negative impacts of travel on the environment and indigenous cultures – so a positive path is undoubtedly being forged.


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