Companies put cost savings before environmental concerns as recession impacts business travel
Fri 20 Feb 2009 – The annual global survey by the Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE) and corporate travel management solutions company KDS has found that companies now see cost-cutting as the top business travel concern – rated a high priority by 79% of respondents – while environmentally sustainable travel was only a high priority for just 17%, compared with 29% the previous year. Overall, environmental sustainability is rated only a mid-level priority, ranked at this level by 48% of organizations.
There is also an Atlantic divide on the importance of the environment when making travel plans. Only 35% of US companies say they would consider their carbon emissions compared to 42% of Europeans.
The survey was conducted between December 2008 and January 2009, the fourth year that ACTE and KDS have sought out the opinions of travel managers on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) issues.
“At this stage, green travel choices remain scarce and are usually more expensive,” said Yves Weisselberger, CEO of KDS. “For example, European companies can send their staff by high-speed rail, which is low in emissions but often more expensive than a low-cost flight. However, in the current economy, paying a premium is hard to justify, so green business travel will lose out. Longer term, though, the picture is brighter – companies clearly want to do the right thing through CSR, so once the financial premium is erased, or the economy permits, we should expect to see green business travel become far more popular.”
Indeed, the survey found that 61% of organizations now have a CSR charter, up from 58% in the previous year. It also found that 28% of corporate travel departments are required to report to management on carbon emissions performance and 25% are using carbon offset arrangements.
ACTE and KDS see this ‘eco-friendly’ stance in travel procurement behaviour as an important trend in how corporations manage their travel. It is a trend that has an impact on every player in the industry, say the two, from buyers to suppliers. This, they believe, is also confirmed by the fact that 27% of respondents say they prefer doing business with suppliers complying with a CSR charter, although this has grown only marginally from 2008’s 26%. Among those organizations that have yet to implement a CSR policy, 23% say they would like to have one in place.
Susan Gurley, Executive Director and Chief Staff Officer for ACTE, commented: “This survey shows that, contrary to some predictions, CSR has not fallen from favour in these challenging times. Instead, the figures show that it is steadily gaining ground and becoming part of the DNA for organizations around the world. However, it also puts to rest the myth that good CSR practices automatically include greener travel choices. Under present economic conditions, such choices may frequently conflict with the greater urge to cut costs.”
It remains difficult for travel managers, says the survey report, to measure travel-related carbon emissions and 61% of respondents say that their travel department is not tasked with providing reports to senior management on carbon emissions produced by staff travel.
This is both because little reporting capability in this field exists, it explains, and because measuring the entire door-to-door travel process is nearly impossible. Current reports are usually limited to the air and rail portions of carbon emissions. Incorporating ground transportation (taxis, car rentals, public transportation) plus hotel stays into the trip’s total carbon emission report is quite difficult and subject to interpretation.
However, ACTE and KDS believe that as technology advances and industry moves towards a generally agreed reporting format, travel departments will increasingly be asked for complete travel-related carbon emissions reports.
When asked the question “Will travel-related carbon emissions ‘travel-guilt’ factors influence individual business travellers’ decisions on their travel patterns?”, the number of ‘Yes’ responses increased slightly – from 41% to 42% – compared to last year.
“Clearly, however, for most people, feeling guilty about travel done on business is not a factor. Yet 116 persons out of 164 who answered this question do feel some travel-related guilt,” conclude ACTE and KDS. “As stricter travel policies are put in place and more travel avoidance alternatives come into play, we are confident that, when given a choice, these travellers will trade a seat in a plane for one in a train – or even for a tele- or video-conference option.”