Business Travel: Executive action can help to save the planet

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ALTHOUGH ENVIRONMENTAL issues are commonly discussed in the leisure tourism sector, green issues are a rather alien concept amongst business travel purchasers and sellers.

But the Institute of Travel Management (ITM), an organisation with around 800 corporate members who spend between pounds 50,000 and pounds 20m each on business travel - has seen the green light and produced a Business Travel Environmental Code of Contracting, which helps their members incorporate environmental criteria into their purchasing decisions.

This code has so impressed their partners around the world that the International Business Travel Association, which represents 14 national organisations in Europe and North America, including ITM, decided to adopt it as a global standard this month.

The idea for a code came from Lynne Bicknell while she was European Travel Manager for the US investment house, Salomon Smith Barney, which is a member of ITM.

"When travelling on holiday I could see there was a focus on the environment, but I realised that if I wanted to ask a company environmental questions for business travel, I wouldn't know where to start. What was needed was a practical tool that could be part of the contracting criteria in the same was as a business travel buyer might look at health and safety checklists when deciding on whether to place bookings with a hotel, for instance."

She persuaded ITM to take up the idea and a steering committee was formed, including Salomon Smith Barney, Lloyds Bank, Littlewoods and the International Business Travel Association, to take the idea forward. Environmental organisation, Tourism Concern, helped this process, including research and drawing up guidelines, and other organisations such as the International Hotels Environment Initiative, British Airways and British Airways Holidays were approached about environmental research they had done.

B&Q, the DIY store, was also consulted because of its well-developed ethical policy on how to source products in the Third World. "We didn't want to reinvent the wheel, and felt it was important to learn from the work that had been done in the leisure tourism sector and other industries," said Dianne Stadhams, Tourism Concern's Industry Liaison Officer.

With UK businesses spending pounds 23bn annually on business travel and seeing a growth of 4 per cent a year, the ability of corporations to prompt environmental change through business travel decisions is certainly worth tapping into, Ms Stadhams said.

"Most companies in ITM are multinationals, so the combined spend makes them strategic purchasers.

"Airlines make more money out of business travel than leisure travel as business travellers pay a premium for flexibility, so if all the people who are responsible for the pounds 23bn decided to switch airlines because of their environmental policy they would make a huge difference overnight."

The code, which takes the form of a checklist that business travel buyers can use, focuses on environmental questions aimed at hotels and airlines.

For buyers arranging hotel contracts, questions include whether or not the hotel has energy efficient lighting and other equipment, whether it purchases environmentally-friendly products, if it has a recycling programme and waste reduction system, whether environmentally-friendly cleaning fluids are used, and how water consumption and waste water treatment is managed.

Questions buyers can ask airlines include what the airline's policy is on energy efficiency, whether they are involved in research into cleaner, quieter, more fuel efficient aircraft, whether public transport facilities are available to the airports, policies on disposal of solid waste, hazardous waste and de-icing.

But will the code of practice be taken up by corporations' business travel buyers?

Surveys conducted by ITM and Tourism Concern of buyers' and suppliers' thoughts on policy and practise, suggested there was a need for information to help business travel buyers consider environmental issues alongside cost, location and services. Sixty eight per cent admitted they knew very little about the impact of business travel on the environment, but 34 per cent wanted to learn more about the issues.

One in five buyers said that they planned to incorporate environmental criteria into their travel policy within the next two to five years, and most buyers expected responsible environmental behaviour from their suppliers and said such behaviour would make the supplier more competitive.

"We found that most large companies have environmental policies in their office management, but most have never applied environmental criteria to their travel services," said Ms Bicknell.

"What was also interesting was that people buying the product hadn't realised that some companies had environmental policies, and people supplying the product hadn't realised the environment was a selling point.

We hope the code will bring the two groups together."

ITM see this as the first rung on the environmental ladder for their members. The code will be self-regulating, with members taking on as much or as little of it as they are able. The next phase is a similar code for buyers of ground transport and organising an auditing system. Environmental awareness in the business travel sector is also being taken up by Business Travel World magazine, which is setting up an environmental award.