Setting a carbon, rather than financial, budget for an organisation’s travel is an effective solution to minimise emissions.

That was the message from Lauren Wiseman, environmental manager at the World Wide Fund for Nature UK (WWF-UK) – however, she warned offsetting should be seen as a last resort and that managers still needed to change their employees’ travel behaviours.

Speaking at the, Climate Action for Corporate Travel Urgent Sustainability Summit (CACTUS), Wiseman also outlined the WWF-UK’s own travel policy.

“We have a sustainable travel policy,” she told delegates. “First of all, it suggests to staff: ‘can you have a video conference rather than going anywhere?’

“That includes going on the train. Many people think that when you hop on a train, there’s no carbon associated with it. ‘I’m on public transport, it’s all good!’ But there are carbon emissions associated with that, and at WWF we monitor emissions from all forms of transport.”

The policy also recommends using public transport when possible. “Can you take a bus or train rather than taking a taxi or driving somewhere? We need to change these habits,” she said.

Meanwhile, flights in Great Britain were overall not permitted for staff, but Wiseman admitted the “rule is not set in stone”. “If they’re going to the Outer Hebrides and it’s going to take 25 hours by train, they can fly a portion of the way… we give flexibility but you set a nice precedent at the beginning,” she said.

For Europe, she revealed the organisation had a comprehensive rail policy: “If the journey time is six hours or under, you have to take the train there and back. If it’s ten hours or less from the UK into Europe, we say it’s acceptable to take the train just one way. We also offer staff a first-class sleeper carriage option on trains.”

And with many corporate partners across the world, the policy also ruled out those organisations offering to pay for flights. “We account for all WWF staff, regardless of who’s paying… it’s not a case of money, it’s a case of carbon,” she said. “It costs a lot more to go on the train than to fly, but once you have done that damage to the environment, by spending those carbon emissions on an aircraft, it’s just not good enough to offset at the end of the year; you should be stopping them at the first point.”

Carbon calculations
Wiseman also urged buyers to set up a carbon budget. “We have one pot of carbon that we divide up between departments. Year on year, we reduce that pot,” she said.

“If you have never set a carbon budget, just start monitoring your performance. We use Key Travel, and they can tell us how much carbon is spent each trip, but we also have our own spreadsheet and data collection. So you don’t even have to record it yourselves, you can hire people to do that for you.

“But as soon as you start monitoring it, you can get a picture of how much carbon your organisation spends. Then start reducing it – cut as much as you can. Or at least set targets, such as reducing 5 per cent each year. If that’s easy, keep reducing it more. Or set a science-based target which will give you a trajectory.”

At the WWF, she said each department submitted a request, and a forecast of flights they expected to be taking for the year ahead. “However, requests are always massive; everyone tries their luck!” she joked. As a result, a ratio of past performance against requests was allocated.

She continued: “Throughout the year, people can look at the spreadsheet and see how much they have used, so they need to try and come in under budget, rather than trying to use it all up. The more you can come in under budget, the better. We are responsible to our trustees, and the public who supports us. We also allow some form of trading between departments, but the pot never changes.”

But Wiseman was keen to insist that while, at the end of the year, WWF offset those emissions, it remained a last resort. “It’s not a get-out-of-jail-free card,” she warned. “It is a way to make amends for the carbon you have expended. The first priority is to reduce in the first place, because that damage is already done.”

Offsetting was done using gold standard carbon offsets, which WWF helped set up. “It’s a credible certification scheme. It’s not just ‘we’re going to plant 50 trees’, it has a lasting impact on the planet,” she concluded.

More than 60 delegates heard a series of presentations from organisations including Microsoft, the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, SkyNRG and the Carbon Disclosure Project at the summit, which was held at Barclays Bank’s HQ in London’s Canary Wharf earlier this month.

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