Going Green

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The ‘green’ space has become serious business in the hospitality industry. From electronic tickets to hybrid car rentals, improved cleaning and water-use practice in hotels and car hire companies, to planes flying on bio fuels. Richard Holmes investigates.

Whether it’s throwing that draft presentation into the recycling bin, or ensuring your procurement policy favours audited eco-friendly establishments, corporate travellers are becoming ever more aware of the environmental impact of business travel.

Much of the global economy would grind to a halt if we didn’t hop on a plane to seal the deal, but what can you do to minimise the impact of your jet-setting? Luckily, a host of innovative companies are blazing an eco-friendly trail through the travel industry.

Airlines

According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), by 2014 global airlines will carry over 3.3 billion passengers per year. It’s a staggering figure, and although the global aviation industry is often fingered as the biggest culprit when it comes to global warming, airlines are less of a carbon culprit than you might think.

“In 2006 the UK government’s authoritative Stern report on climate change said global aviation was responsible for just 1.6% of greenhouse gas emissions,” says Stephen Forbes, spokesperson for British Airways in South Africa. “It estimated that even if the industry did nothing to clean up its act, aviation’s share would reach no more than 5% by 2050.”

Nonetheless, IATA wants airlines to halve their 2005-level carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, and the quickest way to produce less carbon is to burn less fuel.

“With crude oil prices staying stubbornly above the $100-a-barrel mark, airlines are literally queuing up to re-equip their fleets with new, modern planes,” says Linden Birns, South African spokesperson for plane-maker Airbus. “The new generation of jetliners uses modern engines, materials and designs.  They consume less fuel, emit less CO? and cost less to operate.”

The massive Airbus A380 ‘superjumbo’ – flown into Africa by Emirates, Air France and Lufthansa – is a good example. Its double-decker cabin, fuel-efficient engines and next-generation design make it one of the world’s most environmentally friendly aircraft.

“Its fuel economy and, therefore, CO? impact per passenger is similar to a modern compact motorcar,” says Birns. “No other aircraft currently in airline service and using a similar cabin layout comes close.”

But US-based Boeing is not far behind, with its carbon-fibre-based 787 Dreamliner rolling out to airline fleets across the globe, including BA.

“As well as being 30% more fuel-efficient than the Boeing 767s they replace, the 787s produce almost half the nitrogen dioxide emissions,” says Forbes.

But there’s no point having efficient aircraft burning dirty fuel, and airlines are at the forefront of research into the use of biofuels to replace fossil fuels.

“Biofuels are rapidly evolving, and indications are that over their lifecycle, sustainable biofuels could reduce the industry footprint by up to 80%,” says Birns. “But unlike surface or sea transport, aviation presents a unique set of challenges when it comes to finding suitable alternative fuels to Jet-A1 kerosene. Safety is paramount, and a primary requirement of alternative jet fuels is that they must have very low freezing points.”

Lufthansa German Airlines has been particularly pro-active in this field, operating over 1000 domestic flights, as well as a trans-Atlantic flight, on a mix of biofuels and kerosene.

“Our burnFAIR project went off smoothly and to our fullest satisfaction. As expected, biofuel proved its worth in daily flight operations,” confirmed Joachim Buse, Vice-President Aviation Biofuel at Lufthansa.

But in addition to physical changes to aircraft and fuel, airlines are also getting smart about the amount of time they leave the engines running.

Airlines such as British Airways and Emirates have pioneered operational changes such as ‘continuous descent’ approaches, allowing planes to descend in a smooth arc – rather than a series of steps – to reduce fuel burn.

“Airlines are working with organisations such as IATA to define optimised routes and airport approaches, most of which were not possible without the latest generation of aircraft, engine and navigation technologies,” adds Birns.

On the ground, Air France/KLM is using various means, from electric vehicles to the construction of new buildings with the highest environmental standards, to reduce its carbon footprint, says Ralf Karsenbarg, Commercial Director Southern Africa & Angola. And while these technologies and operational enhancements will go a long way to reducing the CO? emissions of travelling by air, some impact from your flight is inevitable.

For travellers who want to ensure their flight is entirely ‘carbon neutral’, a number of major airlines offer ‘carbon-offset’ programmes, whereby a surcharge is added to the cost of your ticket, with the proceeds invested in renewable energy and carbon-reduction programmes worldwide.

“Customers may offset their journeys thanks to CO? compensation services via Air France’s partnership with the GoodPlanet Foundation, or at KLM via its CO2ZERO program,” explains Karsenbarg.

Similarly, British Airways offers the ‘One Destination’ offset programme and Lufthansa is partnered with Swiss non-profit organisation myclimate.

“We have noted a trend that more and more large corporate companies are enquiring about our carbon emission policy and programme,” notes Axel Simon, Director Southern Africa for Lufthansa German Airlines and Swiss International Air Lines.

On the continent, only Kenya Airways currently offers the opportunity to offset flights, although South African Airways and LAM are also mulling over joining an IATA-led carbon-offset programme.

Hotels

With their landscaped gardens and serene lobbies, it’s easy to forget that your hotel stay comes with its own environmental cost. But with corporate travellers increasingly opting for environmentally sensitive accommodation, hotels are upping their eco-friendly game.

“Hotels and accommodation providers are making significant changes to their environmental practices, both in response to demands from the market and simply trying to be more sustainable themselves,” says Andrew Philips, Programme Director of monitoring organisation Green Leaf Environmental Standard.

“We want hotels to aim for up to 50% of their energy from renewables. We’d love to see wind turbines on hotel roofs, but there still needs to be movement in legislation and bylaws to allow hoteliers to implement incentive schemes on renewable energies.”

One establishment leading the way is Cape Town’s Vineyard Hotel & Spa. Awarded a silver certification by Green Leaf, the hotel has used its state-of-the-art conference centre as a showpiece for its green credentials.

“Our conference centre runs on green electricity generated by the Darling Wind Farm… South Africa’s first commercial wind farm,” explains Robyn van Oudtshoorn, the hotel’s conferencing and events manager. In addition, the conference centre recycles 100% of its paper, and offers jugs of filtered water instead of plastic bottles.

“There is a waste separation system in place in the back-of-house and more than 75% of waste is sent for recycling,” says Van Oudtshoorn. “Energy-efficient lighting has also been installed in the foyer areas of the conference centre, reducing the consumption in these areas by up to 70%.”

“It’s becoming more of a trend for corporates to search for accommodation that is environmentally sustainable,” agrees Graham Wood, Managing Director of Southern Sun Hotels, whose properties are monitored by the Heritage Environmental Rating Programme and have a number of environmental initiatives in place.

The popular Montecasino complex – home to the Palazzo, SunSquare and Southern Sun Montecasino hotels – is a case in point, with over 65% of all waste sent for recycling.

“These levels are increasing all the time as we embark on education drives with staff, tenants, suppliers, visitors, and guests on the value of recycling, how they can contribute and what difference it will make to their and their children’s future,” says Montecasino General Manager Steve Howell.

Another hotel in the pipeline is taking its environmental responsibilities extremely seriously. The 146-room Hotel Verde, to be built alongside Cape Town airport, aims to be the most eco-friendly hotel on the continent. Electric shuttles will transfer guests from the terminal to the lobby, with photovoltaic cells and wind turbines providing power for the hotel.

Grey-water systems will recycle water for toilets, while double-glazing and heat pumps assist with energy efficiency. A fleet of hybrid cars will be available for hire, and a weekly ‘Earth Hour’ will see power cut in public areas, with a wood-burning pizza oven providing both ambience and dinner. Hotel Verde also aims to make it worth your while to go green – guests who re-use towels and keep their air-conditioning at the recommended 24°C will receive discounts on future stays. 

Hotel Verde’s efforts to change our behaviour may sound draconian, but in the end it comes down to if you, the traveller, are willing to do your part. Hotels can offer all the green credentials they like, but they count for nothing if guests aren’t willing to pay for them.

Car Hire

With public transport in Africa proving woefully unsuitable for most corporate travellers, hiring a car is a given for most business people on the road. But just because you’re in ‘darkest Africa’ doesn’t mean that you need a fuel-guzzling 4×4 to get to your meeting in downtown Nairobi. Car rental companies are becoming increasingly eco-savvy, with fuel-efficient vehicles becoming more widely available in hire fleets.

“Europcar is the first car rental company in South Africa to introduce the ultra energy-efficient and eco-friendly Polo BlueMotion, which is currently SA’s lowest-CO?-emitting vehicle at 89g of CO? per kilometre,” says Dawn Nathan-Jones, CEO of Europcar.

Hertz Car Hire has a small range of low-carbon vehicles in their ‘Green Collection’, but in southern Africa Avis Rent a Car is the only agency to hire hybrid vehicles, first offering the Toyota Prius back in 2007.

“Currently we have the Honda Hybrid Jazz, an automatic, which goes for the same rate that one would charge for a normal small automatic,” says Wayne Duvenage, CEO of Avis Rent a Car South Africa. “Demand was initially slow when it was introduced, as the bulk of renters normally book manual drive vehicles. However, the take-up is growing.”

Inhibiting the more widespread availability of hybrids is, of course, demand. For what customers request, the rental agencies will supply, and at present it seems corporate travellers would rather pay less, and emit more CO?.

“We have seen a positive uptake of this vehicle group from the inbound market, as Europeans specifically are more conscious of environmental issues,” explains Nathan-Jones. “The demand from the local market, however, has been relatively low, but we see it on a slow yet steady upward trend.”

Hybrids aside, rental companies are working to reduce their own carbon footprints with a range of behind-the-scenes initiatives. Water recycling at depots saves millions of litres of water each year, while recycling of broken glass, oil and paper ensures that landfill waste is kept to a minimum.

“Driving green policies is a priority at Europcar,” says Nathan-Jones. “We have migrated to Microsoft virtual technology to green our IT environment. Europcar has completely eradicated paper rental vouchers, and 80% of invoices are sent electronically.”

“Avis is a carbon-neutral company through offset and energy reduction initiatives,” says Duvenage. “At all main depots we wash our vehicles with recycled and harvested rainwater, saving 85 million litres per year. We also recycle over three tonnes of landfill waste per month.”

Avis also reflects carbon emissions on each rental invoice, and corporate customers receive regular reports on their carbon tally.

“We plan to offer our customers the opportunity to offset their own emissions from their rentals with us in the near future,” says Duvenage. However, information only has power if it leads to action. As with hotels, the onus still falls on the traveller to play their part in choosing green, rather than choosing cheap.

“The corporate travel segment remains price-sensitive,” says Nathan-Jones. “Whilst there is certainly an increase in partnering with businesses that are making progress in their sustainability models, the traditional hatch and sedan vehicle groups remain the most popular options.”

Going Green – What You Can Do

  • Keep the lights and air-con switched off when you’re not in your room.
  • Set the thermostat to between a reasonable 22-24°C.
  • Think before you take a new towel, or use the second bathrobe. All of that has to be laundered, which takes water, detergents and energy.
  • Shower (quickly) instead of bathing.
  • Ask at reception about paper, glass and plastic recycling at the hotel. If they don’t offer it, challenge them on it.
  • Ask your hotel if they’ve undergone a third-party environmental assessment. If not, ask why not.

What About Rail?

According to Giovanna Green, Product Manager at Sandown Tours, who handle Europe by Train in South Africa, you should consider hopping on a train, purely because of the reduction in CO? emissions, energy and fuel compared with traditional air travel. “Trenitalia is one of our main suppliers and they have begun supplying the CO? emission on the actual rail ticket for the journey booked. In addition, there are a number of programmes which can calculate the necessary information based on the journey travelled,” she says. Green also believes that corporate travellers are taking greater care in considering ‘eco-friendliness’ when allocating their travel spend. “This trend is becoming more significant,” she says. “But, in order to drive compliance, there needs to be more incentives and rebates at government level.”

Richard Holmes