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Most companies do not have sustainable travel considerations written into travel policies, according to a recent survey by the Association of Corporate Travel Executives and travel technology firm KDS. Many do not suggest travel reductions to lower carbon dioxide emissions, do not actively encourage travelers to book with environmentally friendlier travel suppliers and do not measure their current level of CO2 emissions. The study--predominantly of travel managers and travelers working for large companies based in Continental Europe, the United Kingdom and the United States--found that most organizations prioritize employee security and cost savings ahead of environmental sustainability.
However, several individual companies this year have announced sustainable travel plans, and a spate of new products and services from travel management companies and online booking tool providers should help more do the same.
The New Oxford American Dictionaryanointed "carbon neutral" as the word of the year in 2006. While David Miliband, the United Kingdom's Secretary of State for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, in a recent presentation said 2006 was "a big year for climate change," he added that "2007 must be a bigger year."
Already in 2007, Salesforce.com, EDS in Australia and New Zealand, and British insurance firm Aviva announced plans to reduce and/or offset their travel-related carbon footprints, joining companies that announced similar programs last year, including Cisco Systems and the Virgin Group. Survey results showed that such companies are in the minority when it comes to applying sustainable travel policies.
Travel guide publisher Lonely Planet for the past 18 months has been offsetting its internal travel through Climate Care and encourages staff to consider rail rather than air flights, according to sustainable travel manager Tom Hall. "We also are investigating the case for reducing travel, where we can."
Lonely Planet rival Rough Guides similarly uses carbon offsets for all staff travel. The two companies last year jointly announced that they would include sustainable travel information in their products and encourage their readers to essentially "make every journey count," Hall said. "It was the first time we made a joint platform statement on anything."
In the ACTE-KDS survey, only one-third of more than 200 traveler and travel manager respondents said their companies have policies supporting sustainable travel. Another one-third said they were working on it. More than 80 percent of respondents said travelers' transportation choices are not influenced by company policies that favor low-emission or otherwise environmentally sensitive vendors. Nearly that many said their companies have not suggested travel reductions on the grounds of environmental concerns. Roughly 80 percent of more than 160 travel manager respondents said senior management at their companies have not asked for reports on travel-related carbon emissions.
"There is such hype about this issue, but as the survey mentions, there are very few travel policies in place, and the ones that are in place are not being enforced," said ACTE executive director Susan Gurley, speaking last week during the Business Travel Show in London. "Everybody is talking about [corporate social responsibility]. Corporations have directors of sustainability but often those directors of sustainability are not talking to their travel departments. There is no communication."
Despite being "sincere in their desire to cut and manage their emissions," most companies "are currently held back because the market doesn't offer them the right tools to do this efficiently, or on a large scale," said KDS CEO Yves Weisselberger. To address that need, KDS is developing per-trip carbon emissions calculations as part of an updated version of its travel booking and expense management system, scheduled for commercial release later this year.
Travel management company HRG added a new feature to its HRG Online booking tool that it said would enable clients to "identify environmentally friendly hotels through the use of a 'green' tree icon, signifying their compliance to [International Organization for Standardization] environmental policies."
The KDS and HRG developments follow Carlson Wagonlit Travel's early effortslast year to provide to travelers at the point of sale itinerary options based on estimated carbon emissions. CWT last week said it activated that feature with its beta test client, the United Kingdom's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. "Further development is already underway, leading towards a new online, integrated self-booking tool which will show travelers the amount of CO2 emitted by a planned journey alongside the financial cost--and suggest a less 'carbon-heavy' option," according to a CWT statement. "It is envisaged that the tool will be made available to other CWT clients from April 2007," and that similar functionality for hotel bookings soon would be considered.
Other newer, reactive products provide post-trip carbon emissions reporting and options for offsetting those emissions. TRX, for example, said it would help clients calculate travel-related carbon emissions using "historical travel data," and then donate 15 percent of its "proceeds" from the service to carbon-offset and renewable energy-credit provider Native Energy. The service costs $8,500. New York-based travel management company Ovation Travel Group also moved to offset carbon emissions from its business travel and is offering similar opportunities to its clients. Ovation partnered with Carbonfund.org to measure emissions and invest in renewable energy. Meanwhile, Sustainable Travel International said it now offers for US$99 a co-branded carbon calculator for measuring "CO2 emissions associated with flying, driving, home electricity, and hotel stays." Customized calculators start at US$299.
STI also announced a new "Green Tags" carbon offset initiative for hoteliers, enabling guests at check-out to buy $1 carbon offset certificates. Each is "equal to offsetting 35 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions and represents 25 kilowatt-hours of electricity supplied by new wind and solar power."
Meanwhile, a new report by the Carbon Trade Watch, a project of the Dutch research organization the Transnational Institute, faults carbon-offset programs for practicing "future accounting," offering "a justification to maintain our carbon-intensive lifestyles" and promoting complacency.
"Offset companies give the idea that emissions are instantly 'neutralized' when in fact the supposed 'neutralization' can take place over periods of up to a hundred years," according to a statement by the group this week. "Projects that look great on the Web site or in the leaflet are often, in practice, mismanaged, ineffective or detrimental to the local communities who have to endure them."
Such criticisms, and other questions related to climate change and carbon offsetting programs, require companies to tread carefully when approaching the topic and to provide ample information to their travelers, said Lonely Planet's Hall. "Giving people a carbon calculator and putting it on a Web site is one thing," he suggested, "but you have to explain the issues behind it and why it is not a perfect a science. The tone you take when addressing this issue is critical. You cannot have a holier-than-thou attitude."
As a starting point, new products and services can at least help corporations begin to measure where they stand, the degree to which they impact climate change and what practices should be applied. "The increasing adoption by companies of online systems to manage their travel, expenses, and increasingly both, means that the ground is being prepared for improved environmental compliance once the next generation of 'green' travel management systems is introduced and corporate travel suppliers provide greater information and choice with regard to the environmental impact of their offerings," according to an ACTE-KDS statement.
"Climate change is not an add-on to your business or matter of corporate social responsibility," said the U.K.'s Miliband, speaking this month at a FTSE4Good meeting. "It will change your business and is a matter of financial self interest."
According to FTSE, the FTSE4Good Index "is used by investors as a way to identify companies with positive records of CSR practice; and by listed companies as a framework for best practice." FTSE this month said it created new climate change criteria to be implemented starting in Jan 2008. "Just over 250 companies have been identified as having the highest impact on climate change," according to a FTSE statement, "and of these, under 50 are expected to already meet the climate change strategy, system, disclosure and performance requirements."
The CarbonNeutral Company
Clean Air-Cool Planet
Sustainable Travel International
Carbon Trade Watch
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