• Strategy
  • CFO Europe Magazine

Road to Reform

Green business travel turns a corner.

Margaret Hansen expects to be in big demand on the corporate speaking circuit. Not that she’s the author of a top-selling self-help book or a reformed wrong-doer with salacious stories to tell. Rather, she’s the procurement director for global travel at Chicago-based consultancy AT Kearney. She recently returned from a gathering in Rome where she received an award from the Association of Corporate Travel Executives, an industry trade body, for her work on cutting carbon emissions at the consultancy. What she has to tell her peers in corporate travel offices could light a fire under long-simmering sustainability efforts.

Her award-winning project — part of a larger drive at AT Kearney to become carbon neutral by the end of 2009 — aims not only to measure and offset carbon emissions resulting from travel by its 2,500 staff, but also to establish new standards of reporting on the environmental impact of business travel. “I thought everyone was doing this,” she says. “But people are typically just measuring air travel. Nobody is going as far as we are.”

Indeed, most eco-friendly business travel programmes are patchy at best, and a lot of companies are simply playing lip service to efforts to make corporate travel policies more environmentally friendly. For example, many requests for proposals received by corporate travel service providers “now have some sort of green criteria but it’s mostly just a tick in the box,” says Steve Gostling, partner success manager of GetThere, a travel management firm owned by online agent Travelocity.

As Hansen notes, few corporate policies encompass the full travel experience, instead focusing primarily — if not exclusively — on air travel. “It seems like an easy target to punch,” says Jonathan Breeze, CEO of Lisbon-based Jet Republic, a new private-jet operator that offers carbon-neutral travel.

Grounded

Indeed, in these cash-conscious times, the “green” strategy that many companies are employing is simply to slash budgets by grounding staff. This is potentially good news for the makers of tele- and videoconferencing products, who have been trying for years to convince corporate users that static-filled, lag-ridden video calls are just as good as face-to-face meetings.

Fortunately, advances in technology and more affordable prices are making videoconferencing appear a more viable option. When the Institute of Travel Management, a nonprofit organisation, polled 175 UK travel managers, more than half said that the chances of their companies adopting videoconferencing would increase if economic conditions continue to worsen.

Jennifer Clark, head of sustainability of the UK arm of Skanska, a SKr139 billion (€14.4 billion) Stockholm-based construction firm, says that it didn’t take a downturn to convince her of videoconferencing’s merits. A few years ago, she leapt at the chance to test a new system when a project manager in northern England agreed to run a trial. Clark immediately began gathering data for every videoconference that took place — from who attended a meeting to how much petrol would have been used if people had to drive to the meeting instead — which helped her show sceptics within the company that cost savings were being made. “Real, raw data helped convince people,” she says.

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