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Sustainability advocates in corporate travel management are opening the new year by examining whether it costs more to be green and if the economic environment is overshadowing initiatives for the natural environment.
"Can you truly cut costs and emissions at the same time?" asks the tagline of the Institute of Travel Management's Eco-nomics forum, scheduled for Thursday in London. A current KDS/Association of Corporate Travel Executives study (results to be announced 10 February) seeks to answer whether the "financial crisis" is "stopping" corporate social responsibility efforts. "2009 is a turning point for the travel industry facing two major crises: a financial recession and an environmental calamity," according to the KDS/ACTE poll.
Experts said these discussions are likely to find that, as before, the answers are not simply yes and no. Some recent headlines, however, have positioned the topic in absolutes: "Economic woes push green initiatives off the agenda," according to an October piece by Business Travel World. Business Travellerin December wrote, "Will 2009 be the year green issues are forgotten?"
"It is a persistent misconception that 'green' initiatives automatically lead to higher costs," according to a comment posted by Advito's Torsten Kriedt on the Business Travel WorldWeb site. "While some 'green' efforts have a price tag, others actually save money; e.g., reducing the number of trips or steering travelers toward alternative means of transport that are not only environmentally superior but also cheaper."
Though they have argued for several years that efficiency and savings in fact do jibe with one another, ITM's Paul Tilstone and KDS' Stanislas Berteloot today said they welcomed the debate and the opportunity to acknowledge that even though being green does not necessitate a higher expense, it can derive one depending on the program.
"If you freeze travel and switch every meeting online, using videoconferencing and all this, you will both save money and reduce carbon emissions," said Berteloot, KDS marketing director. On the other hand, he said "a lot of travel is by train in Europe and it could be--this is where costs come into play--cheaper to do Paris-Berlin on a low-cost carrier than by train. The green alternative is the train, but is it the cheapest one? Really it's not."
Asked whether carbon efficiency is always cheaper for vendors, Berteloot said: "It requires an initial investment, but in the long term the answer is yes, it would be cheaper because you are reducing energy consumption. So in the long term, the investments are warranted, but as you are confronted with the crisis, I'm afraid--and I'm not the only one--that in the immediate moment people are looking at surviving and postponing the investments."
There are exceptions. One KDS client last month told Berteloot that the firm's CSR program was now "part of our DNA." It was budgeted and "the price is not stopping it," he said.
For the ITM event, executive director Paul Tilstone said the theme evolved as market conditions changed. "When the economic environment started to worsen, we decided to change the event's last session to explore exactly where economy and environmental efficiency go hand in hand," he said. "Now is the perfect time to capitalize on the situation and explore it in greater depth. It's a deeper answer than yes or no, which is why we're having the session. I have been asked if CSR issues have been pushed back. It's a good question, but when it comes to reducing emissions, I don't think it has been pushed back."
Expecting to participate during the ITM event, BT Group is one of a growing number of firms that is measuring the impact of business travel on carbon emissions and taking steps to cut it--saving money as well. The telecommunications and IT conglomerate last year reported to the Carbon Disclosure Project, an investor coalition, that its 2007 business travel emissions totaled 21,643 metric tons. "Cutting down on unnecessary travel" is one of BT's initiatives, complemented by "the use of audio- and videoconferencing [to] reduce the need for commuting to the office and traveling for meetings."
BT is a teleconferencing vendor. "In 2007, data shows that use of BT Conferencing eliminated 859,784 face to face meetings," according to the company. "An average call avoided travel of 247 miles," saving "at least" a total of 97,628 metric tons of carbon dioxide during the year.
Like many of the hundreds of other corporate participants in the Carbon Disclosure Project, which published its global report in September, BT found that business travel generated most of its indirect (or "Scope 3") emissions.
"The most frequently disclosed primary Scope 3 source was employee business travel," according to the CDP's Global 500 report, which called business travel impacts "easy to calculate"--because of travel agency and expense system data tracking--compared with "more complex issues, such as supply chain or product usage."
The CDP's global report assesses the FTSE Global 500, which had market capitalization totaling $22 trillion as of March 2008. Global 500 companies, the CDP estimated last year, accounted for 5.8 percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions.
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