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The Institute of Travel Management on Wednesday released a set of tools created to guide companies interested in reducing the environmental impact of their business travel. The initiative is part of ITM's Project Icarus, launched last year in collaboration with Cranfield University's Department of Air Transport to help business travel buyers and suppliers understand corporate social responsibility.
The toolkit's launch coincided with ITM's 2007 conference here. Themed as "Responsible Travel Management," the 33rd annual event focused heavily on climate change and drew more than 400 attendees. Speakers explained how suppliers--due either to genuine concern, political pressure, public relations considerations or efforts to curry favor with clients--increasingly are latching on to environmentally friendly strategies. On the buyer side, there was universal acknowledgment that much more should be done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions resulting from corporate travel, and that interest is mounting quickly.
According to informal electronic polling during the conference, delegates ranked the environment as the single most important issue in U.K. travel management. ITM also said its research found that two-thirds of British companies either have a CSR program or plan create one in the coming months.
"What has changed in the last 12 months is both how we internally have raised the profile and how, externally, the profile has just gone beyond recognition," said Tony Pilcher, head of business travel and expense management at HSBC. "Last year, after we had spoken and debated and answered a lot of questions [during the annual ITM conference], there was still that feeling that it was just going to be talk and would never gain momentum. Not only has it gained momentum, but it is in every boardroom now ... Certainly those assumptions were wrong last year."
Portman Travel marketing director Bob Govan went a step further, suggesting that "CSR is starting to become a redundant term." Such initiatives, he added, "will become akin to having a competitive advantage by having a Web site. The real opportunity for users of business travel is to have a strategy so robust that there will be no need to wear the lapel of green credentials."
But in many cases, interest has not translated into action. While the onsite polling found that the majority of delegates (73 percent) consider CSR a strategic, board level issue, and roughly 60 percent said they believe the travel industry can make a difference in terms of combating climate change, only 23 percent said their companies have significant or "deep, systematic" engagement with external stakeholders on CSR issues, and 43 percent said their companies have no formal environmental policies.
"Are we serious about changing behavior, about responsible travel?" asked Eurostar director of communications Simon Montague. After asking delegates if they had flown to Edinburgh (and finding that the vast majority had), he then asked how many had offset their emissions from the journey. Very few hands were raised. "Today, we are starting something," he said, "but we still have a long way to go."
That "something" is ITM's Environmental Impact Reduction Toolkit, which includes pointers on developing a companywide environmental program, adjusting travel policies, sourcing with "responsible" suppliers, collecting and measuring carbon data, and finding relevant resources.
It also includes case studies showing the tangible benefits of such initiatives. Unilever, for example, revamped its car services polices and contracts, asks travelers to use public transport or to share rides, and asks suppliers to use more fuel-efficient vehicles. According to ITM, Unilever expects to save £150,000 in the first year of the new program and to lower emissions by booking fewer overall car journeys.
Meanwhile, Vodafone since 2005 has emphasized videoconferencing to cut costs, improve employee well-being and minimize the company's carbon footprint. According to ITM information, Vodafone now has a full-time global videoconferencing manager, 200 videoconferencing units and a pre-trip policy requiring travelers to consider videoconferencing as an alternative. In 2006, the company estimated that videoconferencing saved 5,520 tons of carbon dioxide.
Speakers at this week's event acknowledged that videoconferencing is not a panacea. "The use of technology--videoconferencing, audio conferencing and webcasts--will become increasingly popular but you still need those face-to-face touch points," said ITM chairman Mark Avery.
"Building relationships is key," added Barclaycard card services director Denise Leleux. "Later on in the process, you can resort to alternative methods."
Speakers also suggested that carbon offset programs, while among the more popular green travel initiatives, should be used as part of a holistic strategy. "We need to change behavior," said HSBC's Pilcher. "Just by offsetting, perhaps you are buying your way out of your responsibility. Offsetting can play a part, but it is not the sole way to reduce our footprint."
"There are many different flavors at the moment in terms of climate change," Avery added. Referring to philosophical conflicts related to the wide array of opinions on the true benefits of offset programs, he said, "It is a problem. We should look forward, but maybe [the carbon-offset industry] is an industry that is trying to invent itself."
ITM, which received £100,000 in U.K. government funds for Project Icarus, by June expects to finalize "a set of environmental accreditation standards" to recognize buyers who successfully implement carbon reduction programs. Awards along similar lines will be established by the end of the year.
Institute of Travel Management Project Icarus Environmental Impact Reduction Toolkit
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