12 December 2022, etc.venues Monument, London
Business Travel Show Europe, presented by The BTN
21 November, London Hilton Metropole
ABTN's editor Stanley Slaughter asks whether the environment really matters in business travel and takes a closer look at some startling figures
There seems to be a steady drip of surveys finding that environmental issues take second place to economic ones when companies consider their bottom line. That being the case, the latest findings of the annual Barclaycard Commercial Business Travel Survey that the "deciding factor" in decisions on travel spend is short term economics, "not longer term environmental impact", should come as no surprise.
But what is startling about the findings of this poll are some of the figures it has thrown up. For example only 1% of the 2,202 people polled, including ceos, chairmen, non-executives, financial directors, executive directors, managers and personal assistants, said they would travel less because of environmental reasons. This is pretty discouraging from a green point of view.
Some of the other figures are not much better. More than a quarter (26%) of respondents thought it was the company's job to manage the effects on travels on the environment. More than a third (33%) said the government should have responsibility for the environment.
Only 19% said it was up to the individual while 12% said it was up to the suppliers including the airlines.
And worse: only 18% of companies have an environmental programme while 11% did not know whether their company did or not. Only 7% monitor their travel carbon footprint while only 4% do anything to offset it.
Remember these respondents include ceos, chairmen and executive directors.
So where does this leave the green movement, the move to make those in travel not only aware of the carbon footprint their activities cause but also do something positive to reduce it? If these figures are reasonably accurate, clearly not in the best of health.
But on an optimistic note, these figures suggesting indifference and buck passing on environmental issues, seem to be at odds with is actually happening.
For example, there is the work that Paul Tilstone and ITM have done through their brilliant Icarus project to make companies think and act green. Dozens of travel buyers have adopted green policies from deciding which car to hire to persuading travellers to use trains not planes where feasible. Airlines like BA have been in the forefront of moves to adopt green policies while many carriers vie with each to claim they have the greenest fleet in the business. Just ask Mr O'Leary, Sir Stelios or Jim French at flybe. They all think going green is a good way to attract customers.
Hotels are also reporting that more and more corporates are asking them about their green credentials, from waste management to locally grown food in their restaurants.
Finally just last month the UK World Wildlife Fund launched its One- in-Five Challenge to persuade companies cut 20% of their business flights by 2014. It has already attracted the support of companies of the size of Capgemini which has a significant travel spend.
This all seems to belie the Barclaycard findings. But there is still the grave worry that the respondents really don't care about the environment or the affects of climate change or really do think it is someone else's business.
But they may be a different reason for the depressing response. Remember the wise words of Bernard Harrop, former industry affairs spokesman for American Express Business Travel and now a consultant with IG Management. No company is going to adopt green policies for travel or anything else unless it is in their economic interests to do so, he said. Companies are in business to make money; they are not, necessarily, publicly minded bodies.
The trick, perhaps, lies in persuading them that going green can and will bring economic advantage. For example, if customers make a choice which included a company's attitude to the environment, that would quickly concentrate minds. If swapping trips for videoconferencing saved money, that could also bring change. Decisions to hire smaller cars or go by public transport could also save money as well as cutting carbon emissions.
It seems to be a question of education but what is so depressing about the Barclaycard responses is that the green movement has a great deal more work to do than it may have thought. Its message does not seem to be getting home.