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A general lack of knowledge on how to neutralize the damaging environmental effects of corporate travel and the perceived expense involved continue to stall the implementation of policies that would reduce global companies' carbon footprints, according to recent research and anecdotal reports.
An Association of Corporate Travel Executives report released in May, based on a survey of 137 travel buyers, found that less than 35 percent of ACTE's member corporations tracked their carbon dioxide emissions. Although buyers said the environment was a lower priority in the booking process than such other factors as price, more than 82 percent of employees said they would like to see their companies do more to "tackle" this issue.
"The corporate travel sector needs to confront the business challenges posed by shifting to a low-carbon economy. Leading corporations are already exploiting new opportunities associated with reducing the adverse effects of climate change, but the majority of companies have yet to take action," according to the ACTE research paper.
Some travel managers said greening their programs is difficult.
In asking green questions and moving environmentally friendly hotels to the company's preferred list, Estee Lauder travel services director Cynthia Shumate found the process to be more challenging than expected. "When we look at hotels, we struggle with the questions: How dark green or light green are you, and how do we measure you?" said Shumate during an ACTE panel discussion, referring to the scale at which companies have implemented environmentally friendly programs.
By asking environmental questions, Shumate has been able to rank hotels. "The level of commitment that hotels make toward a green effort will become very important as a buying decision for our travelers," she said, noting that questions on a property's recycling program or linen program to reduce water consumption are "baby steps."
Megan Epler Wood of renewable energy organization NativeEnergy Travel Offsets, said that although she has seen a spike in interest among corporations for sustainable development, many still do not have programs in place. "It's exciting to see that many [corporations] do have corporate social responsibility and environmental departments," said Epler Wood. While some are asking how to bring corporate travel under the CSR and greenhouse gas management umbrellas, she added, "everyone is just starting to formulate an action pattern."
Epler Wood referred to an ACTE research paper released last Octobernoting that 84 percent of travel buyers said they believe sustainable travel will become an important management goal for the travel industry. According to the report, 75 percent of corporate travel suppliers said they did not measure greenhouse gas emissions, and 53 percent of suppliers did not offer any green products or services.
"We are increasing our use of hybrid cars, and we have added two new ones to our fleet, but we simply can't get our hands on enough hybrid cars," noted Shumate.
Corporations have found that booking "darker green" hotels can help reduce their carbon impacts, but there are very few ways travelers can reduce the absolute amount of carbon emissions produced by air travel. Aviation is generally seen as responsible for 2 percent to 4 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, but the industry's share of total emissions is growing faster than any other sector, according to ACTE.
"Projections suggest that current emissions levels could triple by 2050, as the demand for flights continues to increase," the May report indicated. The European Union's total emissions dropped by 5 percent between 1990 and 2003, but those caused by flying grew by 73 percent." North America and Europe have produced about 70 percent of the total carbon dioxide emissions since 1850, while developing countries are responsible for less than a quarter, ACTE noted.
Some companies have begun to purchase carbon credits or fund renewable energy projects to offset their carbon dioxide emissions. The donated funds can be used to produce wind power or solar technology, or support such environmental initiatives as reforestation.
"Offsets are not tangible things, but they are real investments," said Epler Wood. She noted, however, that some corporations do not purchase offsets because of the pricing differentials among them and the general lack of knowledge surrounding the process.
Tracking each company's carbon footprint in order to know how many credits to purchase can be tricky, according to Margaret Hansen, director of corporate travel in global procurement at A.T. Kearney. Additionally, knowing which carbon tracker to use and whether it is a reliable source has been a struggle for some.
"It seems simple, but I find this to be the most challenging because the goal is to be as accurate as you can. After you research it and find your path, that becomes your baseline to work against," said Hansen. "We have made a pledge within the firm that we will be carbon neutral by 2009 ... we are measuring our carbon footprint by employee, country and unit level, as well as rank and other hierarchy details."
According to the May report, about 13 percent of ACTE's member corporations said their firms offset "some" carbon emissions from business travel, and about 6 percent of the offsets were certified or quality assured, according to ACTE. ACTE ranks commonly used offsetting organizations on a scale of poor to excellent and whether they have received the gold standard certification, which was developed by a network of nongovernmental organizations that review and certify the offsetting projects.
"In one way or another, most of you will need to familiarize yourself with what a carbon offset is and how it works," Epler Wood told ACTE conference attendees. "Every dollar that goes to an offset with a reputable firm and a reputable source goes to producing an alternative form of energy or reducing carbon emissions. It is, from my point of view, one of the most effective financing tools that I have seen in my lifetime."
During the conference, ACTE presented Shumate with its Corporate Social Responsibility Award for embracing the concept and taking "the extra steps to see CSR integrated within her travel program as part of a pragmatic business decision as well as a community obligation."
Separately, ACTE also announced that it hired Marie Morice as its first director for global CSR.
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