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Budding from a grass-roots effort to transform Grant Thornton LLP's environmental consciousness, Cheryl Geib, who until recently served as the company's national director of travel and meetings, and a handful of employees encouraged others to make greener choices when planning meetings and shift traveler behavior toward booking greener options. Grant Thornton started by implementing basic "reduce, reuse and recycle" policies within U.S. offices. As the policies took hold with employees, the initiative grew into a corporate strategy.
In August 2007, Grant Thornton's senior leadership created a task force of 25 employees to develop green practices that would not compromise the company's corporate culture. Bringing together such departments as human resources, information technology and procurement, as well as other "passionate partners," the team created basic policies nudging the company toward green practices.
"We are all passionate about what we are doing and we work very hard," said Geib, speaking during a December Business Travel Media Group webinar. "Did [the task force] start the initiative? No. Were we instrumental in moving to the masses? Most definitely."
At the November 2007 partners meeting, the task force introduced its green philosophy by implementing key environmental initiatives, such as eliminating bottled water, lowering electricity use and reducing paper consumption.
Grant Thornton annually holds four large company meetings, but employees typically attend several training meetings to maintain their Certified Public Accountant certificates. For the company's larger meetings, Geib said reducing and reporting the carbon footprint of their audiovisual equipment is most challenging.
"There is a lot of energy draw in your AV production," she explained. "We are dragging a lot of energy out of the building, moving trucks around the country. We are working with our providers to be a little bit more green-conscious and therefore also cost-conscious because we end up paying for the energy at the hotels. This definitely is a 'green is gold' initiative for us."
[PROFILE_1]In 2009, Geib requested LEDs for all stage lighting. "We won't even look at anything else," she said. "They work well, they reduce your energy consumption and we save money."
Grant Thornton in May 2008 began calculating per-meeting emissions using data from its travel management company and Climate.org. Now, the firm is "evaluating recommendations for calculators that are a little less cumbersome and more accurate," said Geib.
Greening meetings is not without its learning curve, Geib admitted. The task force initially decided to replace one large meeting with a virtual conference to cut the overall carbon footprint. However, "post-event surveys clearly indicated that [employees] preferred face-to-face," according to Geib. "Personal interaction is critical for the achievement of our goals and growth initiatives."
Green Momentum Trickles Down To Travel
Stemming from increased companywide green awareness, Geib began incorporating such ideals into the travel program. Within its requests for proposals, Grant Thornton created questions using green criteria to rate vendors. If the vendors did not incorporate some green aspects into their business models, they typically would not be selected.
"When all factors are the same, a greener vendor will get the business," Geib said. "If there is only a slight financial differential, we will continue to consider the greener vendor in our matrix model. There are very few instances where we will go with the lower bidder when they don't have a green portfolio or philosophy. It is always in the RFPs and always weighed in discussions and analysis."
Typically, Grant Thornton promotes to travelers car rental suppliers that offer hybrid intermediate cars at the corporate rate without a surcharge. Preferred rental car companies also provide the firm with a breakout of miles traveled and types of vehicles rented in order to better calculate carbon emissions, Geib said.
For hotels, Grant Thornton rates properties' environmental programs by asking in RFPs if there is an active recycling program, water conservation efforts, eco-cleaning supplies, staff eco-training, energy-efficient lighting or any green certification. If a property possesses five or more components, it is considered dark green. Having three or four components earns a hotel a medium-green rating, and two or fewer components earns it a light-green one.
Grant Thornton's U.S. hotel program currently includes 51 dark-green properties, 17 medium-green locations and no light-green ones.
It is sometimes difficult to "to walk away for a materially cheaper room rate for the sake of dark green versus light green," Geib said, but Grant Thornton has "done so, because if a hotel is not actively pursuing sustainability, it has issues elsewhere that eventually lead to unhappy travelers."
[PULL_1]Grant Thornton is moving toward requiring hotels in its program to be listed in Green Hotels Global, which is a database that includes a property's carbon footprint based on a calculation derived from an assessment of its green practices. Properties can request to be added to the database, and after a review conducted by Green Hotels Global, it is rated and listed. Properties also are subjected to random green audits conducted by group representatives.
"That will become part of our RFP process," Geib said. "If you want to be in our RFP process, you have to be in Green Hotels Global. It gives us our per-night carbon footprint and we can get it out there to the individual travelers. I can load it into the systems and there are reports that are available."
Grant Thornton communicated the task force initiatives on its internal travel website and lists hotel green ratings in the online booking tool. "It's in their face every time they search around," according to Geib.
As for tracking and reporting the company's carbon emissions, Geib estimated roughly 10 percent of data is lost because Grant Thornton does not mandate corporate card use. "Ten percent is large enough for me to be concerned," she said. "I would like to have a little bit less of a gap there."
Grant Thornton has "a long way to go before we get to measuring the return on investment of a green trip versus not so green," Geib acknowledged. "Travel demand management is a buzzword. We have to be careful when we say that videoconferencing, etc., is green. That is not the main reason companies install the technology, and we all know that. Green is a byproduct, not the purpose. Being better global citizens and changing traveler behavior on the road is where I feel we have the most impact as travel directors."
Employees Green From Within
These efforts helped employees in local offices become more mindful of their own impacts on the environment and increased the company's involvement in other environmentally friendly initiatives, such as carpools and "green caterers" for local office meetings (eliminating Styrofoam and bottled water and using recycled paper). Individuals set up their own recycling stations and "for the first time, partners were exposed to green and corporate social responsibility [initiatives] at this level," according to Geib.
The task force issued awards to offices with the most robust eco-friendly initiatives, according to Geib. Grant Thornton developed a minimum criteria and a point system for each local office. Collectively, the employees decided how they were going to compete.
"Some were definitely more aggressive than others as far as wanting to be involved in this, but overall all the offices put forth some effort," Geib explained. "What was most successful in getting those efforts out to the individual offices was a local office competition."
Consulting Corps. On Green
The completed environmental policy, named Experience Green, launched on Earth Day 2008 and has been promoted as a corporate strategy offered to the marketplace through Grant Thornton's consulting arm.
"The initiative continues today because it created internal green committees and it created office champions," Geib continued. "Once you start on this journey, it is very hard to stop."
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