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Large, multinational corporations increasingly are assessing and responding to the contribution that business travel makes to their overall carbon footprints, and sources anticipate awareness of the matter to increase as travel departments improve collaboration with corporate social responsibility and environmental officials.
The transnational organizations that have detailed business-travel initiatives in their latest publicly released corporate social responsibility reports are showing that they take environmental protection seriously, potentially guiding other multinationals on the beginning steps. In the reports, corporations tend to cite goals of becoming "carbon neutral," emphasize remote conferencing and other low-impact alternatives, or simply acknowledge that business travel contributes to carbon emissions.
"Travel has been off the radar, but the message is coming down from on high to travel [departments], saying 'What are you doing about this?' We're also starting to see service-based companies introduce environmental systems at all levels," said IG Management managing director Bernard Harrop.
According to David Tibbles, Carlson Wagonlit Travel global product director for online booking and the environment, about one-quarter of CWT's clients are "actively looking at" sustainability relative to business travel. "Most of this [reporting] comes from the CSR and environmental officers," he said. "If a travel manager isn't aware of it yet, I think they will become aware fairly quickly. Often, the environmental officer isn't aware of the level of reporting they can get from the travel management company."
Data from travel management firms help companies estimate their overall business-travel emissions, allowing the clients to outline steps they are taking to reduce those impacts. Comprehensive narratives on business travel appear, for example, in the latest CSR reports from drug maker Bristol-Myers Squibb, publisher Reed Elsevier and financial firms UBS and HSBC.
"The travel we undertake for business has a significant environmental impact," according to Reed Elsevier. "We collect data for our two core markets, the United States and United Kingdom (from our travel companies World Travel BTI and BCD Travel, respectively), which account for 71 percent of total [revenue]. Between 2005 and 2006, CO2 emissions from our business travel increased by 5 percent." The 2006 production was 53,696 metric tons of CO2, versus 51,366 a year earlier. "We are striving for a 2 percent reduction in transport-related CO2 emissions by 2008 (from a 2004 base line) but to do so we will have to increase efforts already underway," including increased use of rail and remote conferencing.
Eighty-three percent of Reed's "transport emissions result from business air travel, 16 percent from our car fleet and the remainder from rail travel. Air travel increased by 5 percent ... short-haul travel makes up the bulk of our transport emissions and 71 percent of the total is due to flights within the U.S. Although our rail usage is increasing considerably (50 percent from 2005) this was not enough to offset the overall rise in transport-related emissions. We will continue to promote rail travel as a preferred alternative to flying when video- or phone-conferencing is not an option, but the high cost and limited routes for U.S. rail travel remains an obstacle."
Having increased by 24 percent between 2005 and 2006, business travel contributed about one-quarter of the total carbon footprint for Swiss banking firm UBS. The company offset all 100,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions resulting from 2006 business air travel, according to its 2006/2007 strategy handbook. Offset purchases allowed the company to "indirectly neutralize our business air travel emissions by investing in third-party projects that reduce an equivalent amount of greenhouse gas emissions. We selected four projects in Brazil, Russia, India, and China, on the basis of their adherence to international quality standards ... additional environmental and social benefits and ... geographical proximity with important emerging markets." New projects included hydro power plants in Brazil, a biomass heating plant in Russia, methane capture in India and wind turbines in China. Overall, UBS is aiming to slash 40 percent off its 2004 carbon footprint by 2010.
Bristol-Myers Squibb's travel management provider tracked data in 48 countries to determine that the firm "flew a total of 374 million air miles in 2005, representing approximately [66,000 metric tons] of annual CO2 emissions, or nearly 6 percent of our facilities' global CO2 emissions," according to the 2006 BMS Sustainability report. "Between 2004 and 2005, CO2 emissions from air travel have increased by 23 percent. Videoconferencing is being used throughout Bristol-Myers Squibb to save time, costs, and the environmental, health and safety impacts of traveling to attend company business meetings. We have videoconferencing facilities in 23 countries. By using these videoconferencing capabilities, our employees are conserving energy and reducing pollution. We estimate that we avoided several million air kilometers and hundreds of thousands of automobile kilometers annually by using videoconferencing."
Other firms that detailed specific figures related to business travel's impact included Citigroup, which indicated business air travel emissions rose 10 percent between 2005 and 2006, to 195,071 metric tons; Hewlett-Packard, which cited a 4 percent increase to 289,000; and Deutsche Bank, which estimated its 2006 business-travel impact at 103,195 metric tons.
Among the simplest of disclosures:
Even these basic statements are "incredibly important in a wider context," according to Institute of Travel Management executive director Paul Tilstone, whose association provides CSR resources and accreditation of carbon-reduction initiatives as part of its Project Icarus.Tilstone said seven organizations including the BBC and PricewaterhouseCoopers had committed to reducing their business travel emissions as part of Icarus, while another 15 are expected to join.
"We don't envisage that we're going to be swamped by companies publicly committing to Icarus," said Tilstone. "We think it's the beginning of a long process. To commit to reducing CO2 in line with Icarus requires you to change the way you do business. It's not an insignificant change at all, and not to be entered into lightly."
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