Business travel: clean up your act

To all but the most hardened sceptics, the recent report from the
intergovernmental panel on climate change was a watershed in the debate on
global warming.

This authoritative study confirmed that climate change is indeed a fact and,
in all probability, has been caused by man. As a result, companies are bracing
themselves for far greater scrutiny of their environmental conduct from
government, regulators, investors and customers.

In most businesses the finance function is on the front line of this effort,
whether collating data on carbon emissions, overseeing investments in cleaner
technologies, or, increasingly, managing the financial impact of carbon
offsetting schemes.

But while executives are increasingly accustomed to stating their companies’
green credentials, recent research has shown that few businesses are yet taking
serious action to manage the environmental impact of their travel.

Corporate environmental awareness has come a long way in the past ten years.
While the early torchbearers were socially conscious retailers and the more
farsighted energy majors, we now expect virtually every organisation to consider
its carbon impact.

Travel has naturally come in for lots of attention and airlines have found
themselves under particularly close scrutiny. The spotlight will increasingly
fall on other types of business, however, and how they manage the impact of
corporate travel, a highly visible and potentially controllable aspect of their
carbon output.

We recently teamed up with the Association of Corporate Travel Executives in
a global survey of green corporate travel behaviour. Our research into the
opinions of over 200 travel managers and senior executives revealed a gap
between the good environmental intentions of many businesses and the travel
measures they currently employ.

It is clear that companies recognise corporate travel as an important area
for financial saving – 88% of respondents had travel policies in place to govern
issues such as ticket prices and choice of provider. But only a third of
respondents said their travel policy was used to encourage sustainable travel

Although a further 35% said that their company had such a travel policy under
development, a number of other responses suggest that most companies have much
further to go before they can claim to rigorously monitor and manage their

Many of the sustainable travel policies already in place appear to lack
teeth. Only two thirds prioritised vendors with lower carbon emissions or a
proper environmental charter and less than a quarter of the companies surveyed
said they encouraged staff to cut down on travel to help the environment.

Overall, environmental sustainability was felt to be a relatively low
priority when considered alongside the more traditional travel concerns.
Employee security was top, with 81% citing this as a high priority. Cost
reduction followed as a close second, ranked a high priority by 77%.
Environmental sustainability, meanwhile, trailed a good way behind with only 20%
believing companies consider this a high priority.

Nevertheless, most businesses are sincere in their desire to manage their
carbon emissions and see travel as an area where improvements can be made.

One obstacle to better conduct has been a lack of tools to do this
efficiently or on a large scale. Businesses need to be able to gauge emissions
when planning a trip, weigh up greener alternatives at a glance and generate
reports to understand this vast new area of data.

Only the smallest and most environmentally committed organisations could even
consider doing this manually.

However a new generation of travel management technology is finally set to
automate the green travel challenge. Some of the early headlines have been about
tools offering important pieces of the jigsaw, such as pre-journey carbon
information on intended rail travel. While useful in isolation, what was really
needed was a single solution to manage the emissions of every business journey,
whether planned or taken. Happily for finance departments, many businesses have
the foundations for such a system already in place.

In the past decade, more and more businesses have adopted self-booking tools
to manage their business travel, offering reduced travel costs, improved booking
efficiencies and the ability to compile comprehensive management reports. It is
a logical and comparatively small step for such travel and expense applications
to also integrate carbon calculators, thereby creating a complete picture of
emissions across any journey.

Not only will businesses be able to choose between green travel options when
booking, they will obtain complete reports on business travel emissions and,
potentially, the ability to offset these at the click of a mouse.

Travel technology is no longer a barrier for companies seeking to enhance
their social responsibility. However, while this can provide the means to manage
emissions, only management can provide the will. One of the most striking
findings of the global survey was how little insight senior executives have into
corporate travel emissions.

Only 20% of respondents said their top management receives reports on this
topic. As executives square up to the added responsibilities that global warming
has given them, it is important that corporate travel receives the same standard
of oversight and governance as other key concerns.

With this sharpened focus, and the tools now available, management should be
able to make significant progress in closing the gap between good intentions and
good deeds.

Yves Weisselberger is chief executive of online travel and expense management
company KDS

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