New Roles for Association Pros
Environment and Sustainability

New Frontiers

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Delphine Millot is building a sustainability department from the ground up at the Global Business Travel Association. That means getting as many people as possible to pitch in.

Before Delphine Millot became senior vice president of sustainability and advocacy at the Global Business Travel Association, she worked as a corporate consultant in Europe. Climate issues weren’t her area of expertise, but she noticed how they kept pushing their way to the center of her work.

“My job was to represent a wide range of industry sectors with politicians in Europe,” she said. “And very quickly, because the European Union took such a leadership role in sustainability and driving climate action, all of my work started to be about sustainability.”

Millot embraced it: In 2015, not long after moving from Brussels to the United States, she pursued a degree in sustainability. “I realized that through sustainability I could combine what I love most: corporate affairs, politics, public affairs,” she said. “I don’t see sustainability as a practice on the side—it’s something that is core to business, policy, everything.”

The sustainability position at GBTA was a new one when she took the job in early 2022. Since then, she’s championed two essential tasks around sustainability: Gather the relevant data, but also gather people. Only by connecting sometimes-disparate stakeholders can sustainability agendas move forward.

One virtue of addressing sustainability at a trade association is the ability to address problems holistically.
Environment and Sustainability

Being a Convener

One virtue of addressing sustainability at a trade association, Millot says, is the ability to address problems holistically. “There are things that not one company can solve on its own,” she said. “GBTA represents the entire value chain of business travel. The users, buyers, and suppliers across all verticals: air and ground transport, accommodation, booking and expense technology, travel management, et cetera.”

The challenge with being so wide-ranging, though, is the different industries face different sustainability roadblocks. Airlines are concerned about aviation fuel. Ground transportation firms need help with charging infrastructures for electric vehicles. Hotels need affordable renewable energy and incentives to retrofit buildings.

Millot’s response has mainly worked on two fronts. First, by mid-2022, she helped re-launch (and now leads) the GBTA Foundation, a 501(c)3 subsidiary of GBTA that raises funds for the association’s research and advocacy on sustainability and business travel, and promotes the benefits of sustainability practices. (It also produces a “Global Industry Barometer” that tracks progress and barriers on that front across industries.) That research serves as the backbone of training the association does through its GBTA Academy; the association has created a toolkit around sustainable business travel and is launching a new training course for members based on the material.

Those efforts help drive awareness and education around the issue for members. To handle advocacy work and to encourage progress among members, Millot helped launch BTA’s Sustainability Leadership Council, made of up 14 executives from companies such as Hilton, Hertz, and American Airlines. The council is focused on what Millot calls “harmonization”—

looking for ways to bring different companies’ interests in sync in terms of advocacy goals and good corporate citizenship.

“There is a lot of fragmentation in terms of the standards right now,” she said. “What is ‘sustainability’ for hotels? For an airline?”

Building on Buy-In

According to Millot, making these efforts work internally at GBTA demands coordinating many different departments: communications, marketing, operations, events, business development. To that end, she notes that any sustainability effort at an association requires the engagement of top leadership.

“It helps that people are excited to talk about these issues—that we’re trying to solve big challenges and make the world a better place,” she said. “But we needed buy-in from our leadership. Our CEO was 100 percent in, so after that it was just a matter of bandwidth.”

And Millot has found that enthusiasm to be contagious. People who have been brought into GBTA’s sustainability efforts are more deeply engaged with the association.

“When we created the Sustainability Leadership Council, we went to the experts first, even if they were not necessarily individual members of GBTA, but sustainability experts from large suppliers supporting GBTA’s mission,” she said. “But then as a result, they became active members of GBTA. So they’re a part of our community, and sending the message to their people as well.”

Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel.

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