4.3 Business travel

In non-manufacturing companies, employees’ travel to work is often a major source of carbon emissions, whether or not you choose to include them in your carbon footprint. Even smaller organisations can draw up a travel plan. This may include encouraging car sharing, providing information about public transport services (and, for larger bodies, negotiating with bus companies to facilitate employee use) and ensuring that there are facilities for cyclists such as secure cycle racks and showers. Alternatively, you may prefer to offer incentives such as free bacon butties for employees who cycle or walk to work!

Apart from commuting, business travel is an important area of energy use. Free petrol for employees’ private motoring has now been largely taxed out of existence, but there is still evidence that company cars encourage greater private use, including longer commutes (as well as discouraging lower carbon options such as train travel while on business). Look at the mileage rates for business travel – are they higher than they need to be, and are there hidden issues such as an insurance policy that discourages employees sharing a car when driving to meetings? Also, do you pay for cyclists’ business mileage? HM Revenue and Customs allows up to 20p per mile to be paid tax-free.

It may also be possible to replace physical meetings with video conferencing. This is particularly true for international meetings when air travel can be avoided; again, try using a carbon calculator to see the immediate benefit. Of course, there are some downsides to the lack of personal contact, but how great a carbon cost can these justify? Large companies can use video conferencing, but this could just as easily be done by small firms with a webcam using a low-cost tool such as Skype.

For many white-collar organisations, flights are the single largest contributor to their carbon footprint. In economy class for medium-haul flights, the quoted emissions per passenger-kilometre are roughly double those of rail travel, but half that for a single occupancy petrol-driven car. However, there are additional global warming effects caused by aircraft, principally the emission of water vapour in jet exhaust at high altitude. To account for these non-CO2 climate change effects, the CO2 emissions figure needs to be multiplied by a factor in the range of 2 to 4; DEFRA recommends 1.9 but many environmentalists believe that this underestimates the effect and a factor nearer 3 should be used. Class matters too: business class travellers should double their emissions compared with those at the back of the aircraft, and first class passengers should multiply their emissions by around 3.5.

While it is not possible to avoid some overseas travel, for journeys within Northern Europe rail travel may be a viable alternative. For some short-haul flights, such as from London to Brussels or Paris, rail (Eurostar) is quicker, not least because of the shorter check-in times at international railway stations compared with airports. The same is true for many other trips between Western European capitals, where high-speed networks such as France’s TGV have slashed historical journey times. High-speed trains can be more expensive than budget airlines, but this is less pronounced for business users than leisure travellers. Even travel by rail and ferry can sometimes be competitive for meetings in locations such as the Netherlands or Ireland.

Web-based resources

The Man in Seat Sixty-One gives practical advice on alternatives to flying around Europe and further afield.

Travel Plans is a website devoted to explaining how to set up travel plans.

Activity 5

Finally, here are some questions to reflect on. Much of this unit is simply about applying common sense in a workplace environment. It is true that there is a need to define carefully what is being measured, and to apply the results consistently, but it isn’t rocket science. And yet many organisations miss easy opportunities to cut their bills and save carbon.

  • How can we improve our message to organisations about saving energy?

  • Is there a problem with jargon, or are organisations just too focused on making money (or surviving in a recession) to listen to new ideas? Or do they see saving the environment as belonging to the ‘beard and sandals brigade’ and not a matter for companies to bother about?

    It is too easy to see behavioural measures in terms of the simple instruction to ‘Switch It Off!’

  • Can you devise more subtle, positive approaches to saving energy and reducing carbon emissions that might achieve a higher buy-in from fellow employees?

  • Will staff who have grown used to attending boozy conferences welcome being told that they should teleconference instead?

  • How can you share information with other organisations when running the risk of being accused of anti-competitive behaviour (or of risking loss of confidentiality)?

  • Which energy-saving techniques apply to almost all organisations, and which are best used in large ones?

4.2 Working from home and teleworking