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Eco-friendly business travel at Unite

Cutting down on CO₂ emissions caused by travel is one of the major challenges of global climate protection. At Unite, we’ve found a way to make our business trips more eco-friendly.

Unite employees standing in front of a shuttle bus and chatting

In cooperation with the Federal German Working Group for Environmentally Conscious Management B.A.U.M. e. V. and the RheinMain University of Applied Sciences, the CO2meet project team shared these travel policy updates and asked fellow employees to weigh in via a company-wide survey. The results were promising but also revealed some challenges.

Fewer business trips, more online meetings

As with many companies, the COVID-19 pandemic caused a decrease in business trips at Unite, cutting down on large amounts of CO₂ emissions. As such, many in-person meetings were moved online. Since then, business trips have gone down by a lot, but still can’t be avoided entirely. At Unite, business travel still happens for reasons such as visiting other office locations, attending events and trade fairs, meeting clients to negotiate/sign contracts or maintaining business relationships.

Unite employees in a hybrid meeting
At Unite, many meetings also take place in hybrid form.

Unite’s green travel policy

The new travel policy helps put the company’s environmental pledge into action. It stipulates that each business trip should be assessed to make sure it’s necessary in the first place. The policy also lays out clear guidelines on making business travel more eco-friendly. Rail is the preferred mode of transportation, as it lowers CO₂ emissions and gives commuters the option of working on the go. At the same time, traveling by train always depends on how reliable and punctual the train service is. If there’s no public transport link in a given region, you can hire a car or a taxi to get from the train station to your final destination. Domestic air travel is not an option as it causes too many carbon emissions.

Shuttle buses connect Unite’s office locations

Unite has two shuttle buses to reduce the environmental impact caused by company-internal meetings. Each shuttle bus holds up to eight employees so they can commute between the Leipzig and Köthen locations, which saves everyone from having to drive in separate cars. The shuttle buses are also used to transport technical equipment to the Munich site as needed.

“The company shuttle bus is always our first option (from a sustainability perspective to transport groups of people, but also because I don’t own a car). Next is either the train or a car sharing service. I wouldn’t even consider any other modes of transportation,” says one employee in the company-wide survey.

The Executive Board leads by example

Unite’s Executive Board also opts for eco-friendly travel options, such as taking the night train as opposed to flying. As such, it acts as a pioneer and shares its reasonings and experiences with the employees. Having an open dialogue raises awareness and serves as inspiration for everyone else in the company.

Our Executive Board shows us how it’s done, for instance, by taking the night train from Munich to Bologna. Leading by example and being open about these measures are crucial steps towards making this travel policy work throughout the company.

Our Executive Board shows us how it’s done, for instance, by taking the night train from Munich to Bologna. Leading by example and being open about these measures are crucial steps towards making this travel policy work throughout the company.

Nora Reumschüssel, Corporate Sustainability Manager at Unite Network SE

The survey shows that Unite employees appreciate their C-suite walking the walk: “The new travel policy encourages people to take the train – especially because everyone does it, including the Executive Board.”

Discounted train tickets replace company cars

Employees entitled to a company car can get a discounted train ticket instead (so-called BahnCard 100 in Germany). To make up for the lower costs and give employees an even bigger incentive to forego their company car, Unite also offers cash compensation.

But even employees without company cars choose to travel by train: “It’s because of the reduced environmental impact. Sustainability is one of our corporate values; it’s even part of our claim. So driving a company car just wouldn’t feel right. Plus, I manage to get a lot of work done on the train.”

Unite goes electric

Unite employees can choose to drive an electric company car. The headquarters in Leipzig already have charging stations for this purpose. During the construction process, car parking spaces were left out in favour of a bicycle garage. Employees can choose between a cycle-to-work scheme or a monthly public transport ticket. A sustainable and healthy way to commute to work.

Street view of the Unite company headquarters in Leipzig
The Leipzig headquarters has charging stations for electric cars and plenty of bicycle parking.

What Unite employees think of the new travel policy

The employee survey shows that Unite’s travel policy has a high acceptance rate; only few people are against it. Since it was published, there have also been changes in behaviour, for example, when it comes to how people travel to meetings. Climate protection is discussed now more than ever at Unite. But the survey also shows that people perceive their company car as a status symbol and aren’t quite ready to give that up. And the fact that the infrastructure isn’t fully developed yet, especially in rural areas, is a barrier to people opting for electric cars. It would take a great deal of construction work and money to provide all office locations with charging boxes.

Conclusion: clear guidelines + employee involvement = success

The CO2MEET project, which Unite initiated alongside B.A.U.M. e.V. and the RheinMain University of Applied Sciences, shows what companies can do to contribute to the climate goals laid out in the Paris Agreement. It’s the combination of clear guidelines, exemplary leadership and innovative measures that help make business travel more sustainable. By communicating transparently and getting their employees involved, companies can raise awareness for greener travel alternatives and help achieve their sustainability goals. Unite’s focus is not only on financial success; it’s about taking responsibility for the environment and future generations. You can read the case study (in German) here.

A hand touching a water surface

For a brighter future

At Unite, we’re committed to creating a brighter future. Our Sustainability Report outlines our commitment to the environment, social responsibility and corporate governance.