Green innovation: The climate crisis

New reporting requirements will put the spotlight on the carbon footprint of every business traveller and their corporate’s travel policies

Warnings do not come much bleaker than the recent UN paper on climate change. According to its authors, who are some of the world’s leading scientists, there are now only 12 years for global warming to be contained before it wreaks havoc on the lives of millions.

Alarming as it was though, the 700-page IPCC report did contain hope. If temperatures can be kept at or below the threshold, disaster may be averted; a feat that would require “unprecedented action”.

Undoubtedly, governments have a major role to play within that. But, increasingly, business and the corporate world are being looked to as well. So crucial is their participation, in fact, that the EU and UK government have introduced mandatory reporting requirements in some cases.

For those companies with more than 500 employees, this includes developing and publishing policies on environmental protection while, since 2013, all UK-listed companies must report on their greenhouse gas emissions as part of an annual directors’ report. And business travel is a major consideration for any company, whether caught within those reporting regulations or not.

For this and other reasons, it’s an issue seeing a resurgence in interest from companies after falling down the priority list in the aftermath of the 2008 economic crash, says Tom Stone, corporate travel leader at consultants Nina & Pinta.

“It indicates the economy is performing better and, therefore, more companies can re-engage in activity, which for many is a nice-to-do rather than business-critical,” he says. “That’s not to say it ever went away and many companies have continued to valiantly fly the sustainability flag. But they tend to be organisations that make significant, say double-digit, profitability rather than those who don’t.”

Freya Burton, chief sustainability and people officer at sustainable fuel developers Lanza Tech, says: “There is a growing drive from the consumer side now more than ever in terms of awareness of their carbon footprint and sustainability. Just look at how many people pack their own coffee mugs and water bottles compared to before. That’s filtered through into more conscious travel.”

It’s a consideration that doesn’t always have to come with additional costs either. According to research by Travel Counsellors for Business, enhancing green credentials can be a strong potential source of competitive edge both through improved reputation and saving cash through alternative travel options. Natural England, for example, set itself a target to cut operational carbon emissions by 50 per cent in 2006 and by 2010 its business travel spend had shrunk from £4 million to £2.5 million per year.

“A well-executed strategy will also deliver significant programme savings,” agrees Thomas Maynard, senior director at business travel consultancy Advito. “We’ve seen a client cut carbon emissions and save US$5.5 million in five months by creating a more sustainable travel policy,” he says.

Time to justify your trip
How can travel buyers put this approach into practice? After all “arranging any type of travel is challenging, and trying to do so with a conscience is even harder,” admits Dave Ashton, chief executive of train booking platform Loco2. In the first instance, avoid unnecessary trips.

“We have seen an increase in the need for travellers to justify travel,” says Maynard. “While typically the driver behind reducing travel demand is budget control, the knock-on impact is good news for both sustainability and traveller wellbeing.” That has been one of the cornerstones of the sustainable travel policy at PwC, explains its corporate sustainability leader Bridget Jackson. “We’ve been working for more than a decade to decouple our environmental impacts from our economic growth – with considerable success,” she says.

Among the “most effective” techniques have been introducing mandatory approvals for all non client-facing flights, which are now down 89 per cent compared to 2007. The annual distance travelled by PwC UK’s staff has fallen 3.5 per cent, with associated emissions down 12 per cent. This is against a backdrop of around 50 per cent growth in the firm’s revenues.

“This equates to a cut in emissions per employee of 20 per cent since 2007 and we’ve set a new target to reduce it even further by 2022,” adds Jackson. Looking at options such as “virtual collaboration” over and above physical travel is one practical option, suggests Advito’s Maynard.

He cites one global agricultural and commodities company which built on its existing facilities for video conferencing and Skype for Business to invest in an “almost-like-being-there immersive experience” and avoided more than 900 international trips in the process (along with 15,000 hours of employee time spent on travel, too).

Alternative modes of travel
Of course, in many cases, travel is unavoidable. But buyers can consider alternatives to flights. The aviation industry already contributes around 3 per cent of total manmade emissions for the EU, and volumes could increase by as much as 700 per cent in the next 30 years, according to research by the International Civil Aviation Organisation.

Alternatives, such as rail or road, can be far more environmentally friendly, and a number of platforms are emerging to make those options easier. Loco2, for example, aims to rectify the fact that “navigating through the [train booking] system to get the quickest route or the best-priced ticket can be tricky,” says Loco2 chief executive Dave Ashton.

“By booking corporate travel by train, you are cutting emissions by going straight into the heart of a city,” he says, thus “avoiding unnecessary transport to and from airports, adding not only to emissions but also taking up time in the working day”.

Then there is carpooling, given a contemporary, corporate-friendly facelift by platforms such as Liftshare, a network which already facilitates around 100,000 shared trips per day. “When two employees share a business trip they not only halve their costs and emissions, but also turn the journey into valuable time – to chat and prepare prepare for the meeting or simply to relax,” says its chief executive Ali Clabburn.

“I’ve had some of my best conversations with my team when we’ve shared a journey to a meeting.” Companies can encourage this by implementing HMRC’s lift-sharing allowance (an extra 5p per passenger) or by only paying the maximum mileage to those that give a lift to a colleague, she advises. When jumping on a plane is the only practical option, there are steps travel buyers can take to support a more sustainable travel infrastructure. That includes opting for airlines committed to more sustainable fuel sources.

All members of the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group have pledged to support the aviation industry’s goal of carbon-neutral growth beyond 2020. One member, Virgin Atlantic, hit the headlines recently when it partnered with Lanza Tech for the first commercial flight powered by the group’s sustainable fuel.  

The volumes aren’t yet there for mass adoption of sustainable fuel sources, admits Burton. Safety approval processes are lengthy, but “at the moment it’s about being aware of what’s available. What consumers can do is be clear that they want this and be always asking for it, even if it’s not available, so airlines will realise people want it and push it out more.”

In the shorter term, buyers can ensure the most direct route is booked, adds Chris D’Arcy, of Travel Counsellors for Business, and fly with less luggage. “Hand luggage requires less fuel and burns less fuel, making the journey more efficient.”

Once buyers have cut carbon emissions by taking these steps, they can then choose to offset what’s left by using one of a growing number of services that calculate a carbon cost and channel that into charitable or sustainable projects.

An accredited carbon offset plan has been in place at PwC since 2007, says Jackson, and “not only mitigates the climate impacts of our operations, but also protects important natural habitats and endangered species, and provides livelihoods for indigenous people in countries including Madagascar, Indonesia and Peru.”

It’s a calculation that can also be performed by a TMC, says D’Arcy. “If a company has a sustainable policy then we, as agents, can help them to manage it. For example, we calculate carbon emissions by flight which can be reported back to the client.”

Buyers can use one of a growing number of accreditation schemes that rate and rank travel organisations by their sustainability policies. Options include Eco Vadis, which assesses companies across 21 criteria, or Travellife, a certification scheme for tourism companies committed to sustainability, which recently accredited Canadian Affair and parent company, Transat.

Finally, but arguably most crucially, travel buyers need to ensure the whole company is engaged in working toward more sustainable travel, from the boardroom all the way down. Clear internal policies, incentivised KPIs and engagement days or workshops on sustainability can all help. Platforms such as Do Nation allow individuals or organisations to make a pledge, create personalised campaigns and track data on progress. It’s a system already used by Network Rail, Ella’s Kitchen and Pukka Herbs.

“We’re seeing growing demand for Do Nation, which helps encourage employees to make sustainable travel choices,” says founding director Hermione Taylor. She doesn’t find the growth surprising either.

“With climate change on the public and business agendas in a big way, more businesses are looking at what they and their employees can do to create a positive impact.”

As UN scientists have spelled out, the time for making a difference is now. “We don’t have much time,” says Lanza Tech’s Burton. “The reality is it has to be in the short term and happen as soon as possible. The recent IPCC report has hopefully been a catalyst for people to say we need to do something, and we need to do it now.”

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