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Why WWF's one in five challenge makes good sense - for business and the planet
In an ABTN Comment piece on August 24, Sam Gilliland, chairman and ceo of Sabre Holdings, criticised WWF's One in Five Challenge as being the wrong way to approach aviation and the environment. Jean Leston, senior transport policy officer at WWF UK explains how its scheme can actually benefit both business and the planet, via cost savings, improved productivity and most importantly, carbon emission reductions.
Helping companies save money and carbon
Flying has by far the highest carbon footprint of any mode of travel, creating four times the emissions of rail travel and 50 times the emissions of a videoconference. In order to address the growing emissions of the aviation sector, WWF launched the One in Five Challenge, a guided programme encouraging companies to cut flying by 20% over five years and promoting lower carbon alternatives to flying wherever practical.
Obviously, in the course of day to day business, some types of meetings may need to be conducted face-to-face, for example initial sales meetings with new clients overseas, and these will most likely mean taking a flight. But many other types of regular internal meetings do not require a physical presence and, indeed, could be conducted more effectively, involve more people, and be held more frequently if they used conferencing technologies instead. What WWF would like to see is an over all shift in working, where companies develop lower carbon ways of staying connected.
This can easily be done by holding more virtual meetings to replace long haul flights, or by taking the train instead of a plane for domestic and short haul travel. The benefits of using these alternatives are substantial. More virtual meetings enable faster decision making, mean less time spent out of the office, and cause fewer disruptions to family life. Rail allows greater work productivity while travelling and can save money that would have been spent on airfares and accommodation.
Flying looks set to become an increasingly expensive option in the coming years. Oil prices have already begun to rise as the economy picks up and air fares will follow. In addition, there is a growing cost to carbon itself due to policies to tackle climate change. So doesn't it make good business sense to reduce your company's carbon footprint wherever possible? Cutting flights is a simple way to do this.
Reducing one of the fastest growing sources of emissions
The argument has been made that there is no reason to reduce aviation emissions because they currently represent a very modest percentage of global CO2 (around 2%). What this fails to take into account is the fact that aviation is one of the two fastest growing sources of CO2 emissions contributing to climate change. The other is shipping.
According to the latest science, aviation is expected to account for 35% of global CO2 by 2050 which by anybody's standards is a big chunk of the total carbon pie. As work-related travel is a major driver of aviation growth, any efforts by companies to reduce their flying will not only help them to save money, they'll also be doing their bit to help combat climate change.
Technology improvements versus growth
And what of the silver bullet presented by shiny new technologies, or bio fuels and efficient route planning to reduce aviation emissions without needing to reduce the amount we fly? In short, industry figures don't support these options. The chair of the UN's International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) recently announced an aspirational goal of improving aviation fuel efficiency by 2% per year to 2050. Yet emissions are forecast to grow at 3-4%per year-so aviation emissions will continue to rise even if the industry manages to achieve its current targets to curb them.
Cows and green IT
WWF's focus on the One in Five scheme has not meant that we have stopped working on other issues. We are well aware that there are many other sources of carbon emissions, from deforestation and energy to the much-maligned, methane filled cows, which is why WWF is hard at work to combat illegal logging, encourage alternative energy sources and to reduce the carbon footprint of our food supply. Eating less meat and flying less often are both environmentally friendly choices and we need to be looking to reduce emissions in every part of our lives.
However Mr Gilliland's comment that flying should be treated the same way as IT, because both sectors account for similar levels of global emissions, misses two very important points. First, aviation emissions have a multiplier effect at high altitude. So, globally, flying already creates twice the climate damage of IT. Second, unlike flying, IT often saves far more carbon than it creates, helping to reduce our overall reliance on even more energy intensive alternatives. Videoconferencing is just one example where the judicious use of IT replaces the need for (more carbon intensive) air travel.
Staying connected and managing sustainability
WWF agrees whole heartedly with the assertion that companies need to manage sustainability as a business strategy across their entire operations. We see the One in Five Challenge as helping companies to do just that, by seeking to reduce reliance on the least sustainable part of business travel - flying. Far from advocating a ‘crash diet,' WWF is advocating healthier, lower carbon business travel and more sustainable ways of staying connected as a source of competitive advantage. That's got to be a win-win situation for business and the planet.