How to...

Factor in carbon

Sustainability is back on the agenda and Bernard Harrop of the Global Business Travel Association's Project Icarus advises on the best way to keep it a priority

Factor in carbon

The financial crisis may have placed sustainability in the shadows, but it has not disappeared from a CEO’s agenda. After over three years in heads down survival mode, business leaders are once again starting to think strategically and engage in sustainability.

The message from the boardroom is clear; carbon management matters. Devising, implementing and monitoring a carbon-focused travel and meetings strategy need not be costly or overly complex, but it does require planning and preparation. The six steps below will help guide you through the key principles of building a business case, identifying a return on investment and implementing a programme.

STEP 1: Start by understanding the current status of any company-wide carbon management programmes already in place. Linking into existing company initiatives is always the best place to start to understand your company’s attitude and approach to the subject. It will also often enable you to identify potential supporters.

STEP 2: Measuring carbon emissions. There are many tools available to help you calculate your basic carbon footprint but the best place to start is your travel management company. Most TMCs are able to provide travel reports which include the total carbon emissions by mode – air, rail, car etc – and by company/traveller/journey and more.

Once calculated, the challenge is to use these reports to drive down the carbon footprint in a sensible way using ‘smart choices’. It’s all about getting the right balance between what is good for the company and what is good for the environment. This approach will cause minimum disruption and also encourage travellers to want to be involved, change their habits and support the company objectives.

STEP 3: Once the data is received and understood, there are many ways to minimise travel-related emissions and continue to do business efficiently. You might reduce the need to travel and meet, and reduce emissions by asking: are our journeys really necessary? Is there an alternative to travelling? Do all attendees need to travel to the meeting? Are we using the most convenient location? Why are multiple people from one office travelling to meet one person at another office? Or you can consider using lower carbon options for transport, such as the train instead of the plane or car, or try implementing videoconferencing and conference calling.

STEP 4: The data gathered and analysed in the steps above should be used to build a business case and return on investment calculation for presenting to your senior management. When providing information to management teams, it is important to align the strategy with corporate initiatives, present the impacts of policy changes to operations – both positive and negative – and identify the cost-savings that may result from changing travel patterns and working practices, which will help deliver procurement savings in the future.

STEP 5: The next step is to integrate the changes into the travel programme and enable it to become ‘business as usual’. There are six areas that you need to focus on: appoint travel and meeting 'champions' to promote and advise executives on policy and carbon emissions; introduce emission reduction targets and integrate them in a new travel policy which will help to shape traveller behaviour and communicate strategic goals; engage with experts and devise a tailored communication plan for travel and meetings; align with wider corporate communications on CR or climate change; organise travel fairs, information days, training and/or best practice guidance; tell a good story and encourage travellers who have changed their behaviour to share their experience with others.

STEP 6: Implementing a carbon-focused travel policy is only the starting point. On-going monitoring and performance reviews will identify new policy successes and new opportunities for smarter travel. You should now include travel data in wider company reporting, such as CR reports or the company balanced scorecard. You should also implement key performance indicators (KPIs) aligned to travel targets which can be used to improve reporting and focus attention on the important issues. This is just the start. Success only comes by building ‘smart choices’ into everyday business activities and making awareness of carbon output a way of life.