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A.T. Kearney this year expects to achieve its goal of carbon neutrality. Because 80 percent of the firm's carbon footprint is generated by business travel, "there were more than a few who called this pledge crazy," said A.T. Kearney managing officer and chairman Paul Laudicina, speaking here at an Association of Corporate Travel Executives conference. To convert the skeptics, the firm partnered with a carbon calculator provider, set goals, built a new travel data warehouse, created a travel sustainability toolkit, began producing detailed information on carbon emissions from business travel and tracked reductions from specific actions.
The program started in earnest in 2007. "Consistent with this pledge will be initiatives to limit internal travel, shift necessary travel from air to rail as feasible and select services from among carbon-efficient airlines, hotels and rental car companies," the firm said at the time.
In travel, "We set goals of reducing by 5 percent in year one, 10 percent in year two and this year was 20 percent," said corporate travel director Margaret Hansen from the company's global procurement organization.
To become "fully carbon neutral" this year, Hansen added, "we will be buying carbon credits, and there is a cost. That might not be for everybody, but our CEO is very determined."
One of the "most surprising aspects," Laudicina told conference delegates, was a lack of green benchmarks from comparable organizations. "We couldn't go to other companies for best practices. We soon found out that for professional service firms like ourselves, we were in uncharted territory."
Working with carbon calculator Atmosfair, A.T. Kearney--which has 3,000 employees across 37 offices worldwide--first had to "understand what was required in order for us to measure the different categories, and then we mapped out the travel data according to those requirements," Hansen said. "Unfortunately, [emissions calculations] are not in some back-office reporting systems. We have had to create solutions internally."
Now, the company measures carbon emissions globally for air travel, hotel stays, car rentals, rail trips, taxi journeys and public transportation, and by unit, country and employee. Airline metrics, for example, are gleaned from A.T. Kearney's travel agency data and "filtered through our carbon calculator partner." Travel agency and corporate card data also is collected and analyzed.
Units are held accountable for their performance, and are guided by "czars" appointed by the company--usually principals or vice presidents--who hold regular conferences and "inspire each other to do things differently," Hansen said. "They talk about their travel initiatives, how they are managing meetings, who they are sending to project sites, how they can regionalize a little more. We talk about everyone's performance and why certain markets may have challenges versus other markets, and how they can help each other. A unit can take that data and look at an individual employee and know who has the biggest footprint, and see if there is something that individual could do differently."
"Those units that are the most aggressive in implementing our sustainability goals will reap the rewards of improved bottom-line performance that comes from attention to sustainability--and that performance we reward," Laudicina said.
Slicing And Dicing
Once the dedicated data warehouse was built, A.T. Kearney began analyzing its travel-related carbon output to uncover methods for making reductions. Because premium-class seats account for higher CO2 emissions per mile than economy seats, "one of the first areas we looked at was class of service," said EMEA travel manager Lisa Mosters from the firm's global procurement. "We looked at different routes where we still had business class usage and to see if we decrease business class by 5, 10 or 15 percent, what the impact on our CO2 emissions would be."
The company then examined its international travel patterns, where longer journeys obviously produce greater amounts of carbon emissions and are more likely to produce business-class bookings. "What if we could decrease long-haul journeys by 10 to 40 percent--maybe fly one time and the other time do a WebEx or phone meeting?" Mosters said. "By decreasing 40 percent just on the top five international [city pairs], we could save 2.7 percent of all our air emissions. That's making a significant difference."
By switching to rail from air on 40 percent of its 10 largest routes within Germany, Austria and Switzerland, A.T. Kearney "can reduce CO2 by 17 percent and costs by 13 percent," Mosters added.
Project leaders track carbon emissions with a set of worksheets from the firm's sustainable travel toolkit. Mosters explained that worksheets include both prepopulated travel data and information input by users, and can be used to compare project data to overall unit data and to determine the impact of travel cuts or changed traveler behavior. "It's Excel based," she said, "not rocket science."
A.T. Kearney's green travel efforts touch on "travel policy compliance, demand management, alternatives to travel, sourcing and negotiations, and advances in collaboration technologies," Hansen said. She acknowledged that such initiatives have been aided by the firm's single global travel policy and by "having one general ledger, corporate credit card, travel agency and some feeder reports from our suppliers."
A.T. Kearney now is "starting to profile our suppliers," Hansen said, for example, "giving credit for hotels that we flag as green hotels. We have to get into water consumption and energy, and almost do the calculation for them to determine if that hotel is eco-friendly and then promote that to our travelers." The firm's "next-generation" travelers, she added, "really care about this. They want to make a difference."
Laudicina said that after hearing laughter early on, "more people became engaged and patently support our sustainability pledge. This has been one of the real byproducts of becoming sustainable. Not only do we reduce our costs and enhance our value to the community, but we also engage our employees more effectively."
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