How Green Are You?

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As carbon footprint initiatives become government-legislated requirements in countries such as South Africa, more travel industry players are feeling the pressure to toe the line in offsetting or reducing their carbon footprint.

“Where travel policy is concerned, it is probable that future government ‘carbon taxation’ will provide the impetus toward widespread adoption of environmental travel policies,” says Sure Travel corporate manager, Jim Weighell.

He adds, however, that ‘green taxes’ on air tickets, although a common practice internationally, do not seem to be making a significant impact on sustainable tourism. Further to that, the biggest challenge in achieving required outcomes is likely to be the higher cost of direct flights versus less expensive, indirect alternatives.

“The only issue with carbon offsetting is the price of direct flights over a shorter route as opposed to multi-legged flights. These are often cheaper but longer, which obviously increases mileage and the footprint,” says Wings Corporate Travel head of products and solutions, Pano Stamatiadis. 

Stamatiadis adds that although Wings strives to offer the shortest route possible to their clients, that objective is not always achievable. “In this recessionary time, it is often the cost that dictates the route and not the length”, he says.

Weighell concurs, whilst offering a slightly different take on the issue. He says that “it is the developers of new technologies such as aerodynamics, engine design and alternative fuels that will provide real carbon reduction”.

Airlines

Setting a good example for the rest of the continent, Kenya Airways has become the first African carrier to subscribe to a United Nations (UN) initiative aimed at carbon reduction. South African Airways, Egyptair and Mozambique Airlines are expected to follow suit later this year. The UN’s Clean Development Mechanism, which is being administered by the International Air Transport Association, will see participants earning credits in the form of certified emission reductions.

Online travellers booking flights with Kenya Airways have the option of paying a surcharge on their tickets to offset the carbon footprint of their flight. The surcharge is voluntary and, therefore, has no implication for those travellers who decline the opportunity to do their bit for the fight against global warming.

Outside of Africa, the Asia & South Pacific Initiative to Reduce Emissions (ASPIRE) partnership is launching regular ‘green’ flights across Asia and the Pacific. The initiative offers gate-to-gate environmental best practice flights between pairs of airports across the Asia-Pacific region. The first of these flights – Auckland to San Francisco – became operational in February 2011, followed by the second, between Los Angeles and Singapore, in May.

ASPIRE was established in 2008. It’s a partnership between Airways New Zealand, the Federal Aviation Administration and Airservices Australia. Membership has since been extended to include the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore and the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau. “We are pleased to be able to implement these flight procedures and will be monitoring the flights closely to track fuel and emissions savings. But we expect to reduce fuel burn by two tons and achieve a carbon emission savings of around 6.3 tons for each Los Angeles-Singapore sector,” says Singapore Airlines senior vice-president of flight operations, Gerard Yeap.

The aviation industry is currently responsible for approximately 2% of the world’s carbon emissions, but this figure is expected to increase due to the strong growth anticipated in this sector. In Europe, commuters are encouraged to use efficient rail services as an alternative to road and air transport. Although there are significant carbon output benefits to be derived from the use of rail, Africa currently lacks the rail infrastructure to follow suit. With developments in this space, though, it’s hoped that that situation will change in the future. Stamatiadis says that Wings Corporate Travel has developed a product called ‘goCO2‘to which they subscribe and their clients have the option to join them.

“This allows us and our clients to consolidate all travel mileage, be it car or air, and monitor our travel-related carbon footprint using this data,” he says.

“We have also partnered with a carbon offsetting company, which allows this data to be fed directly into a programme for carbon offsetting.” Stamatiadis says they encourage customers to subscribe to their product. They also provide CO2 data on each customer quote to make them aware of their carbon footprint.

Carlson Wagonlit Travel’s (CWT) carbon footprint strategy has its roots in a partnership with CarbonNeutral®, a world-leading carbon offset and climate consulting company, which provides emissions management services. These include greenhouse gas assessment, independently verified carbon footprint analysis, internal and external emissions-reduction programmes, access to a portfolio of verified carbon offset projects, and certification of CarbonNeutral® travel status.

A carbon calculator at the time of making a travel booking and post-trip carbon reporting, both generate awareness for travellers and enable CWT clients to fully manage their carbon emissions, as they continue to travel and grow their businesses. Debbie Duncan, senior manager of global business development at CWT, says that although many organisations discuss the carbon footprint issue, they are not very proactive. “We need to remember that every little effort adds to the total result”, she says. “The more active companies become, the more their staff will recognise the importance of ‘going green’.”

Weighell believes that Sure Travel are well aware of this importance, to the extent that his company offers client advisory services, including advice on environmental policy development and carbon footprint reporting. But, he concedes that this area of the industry appears to be rather undeveloped. “Environmental policy is in its infancy insofar as business travel is concerned, and reporting by airlines and hotels is somewhat rudimentary”, says Weighell. He adds that although many companies do not currently have environmental policies in place, government initiatives are likely to result in an increased focus on carbon emission reduction in the short to medium term.

Sure Travel actively participates in environmental initiatives such as ‘Project Icarus’, which offers advice and policy modelling for companies wishing to develop effective carbon reduction programmes. The company also contributes to the National Business Initiative, a key participant in the South African government’s carbon disclosure programme, which is set to drive environmentally-friendly options within the travel industry.

“Adoption of an environmental policy is at the discretion of our client companies”, says Weighell. “The motivation for doing so will range from it being ‘the ethical thing to do’ to reducing exposure to possible new carbon emission taxation imposed by government,”

HRG Rennies Travel recognises the importance of environmental responsibility and is ‘committed to the conservation of natural resources, conducting business in a responsible manner and complying with local and national legislation’, says business development director, Bronwyn Philipps.

Their commitment to ‘greening’ is strengthened by their strategic partnership with Cleaner Climate, a leading carbon services provider. They are putting in place future strategies which include measuring and managing travel-related carbon emissions and supporting ‘green’ traveller behaviour.

“In 2009, HRG Rennies Travel undertook a carbon-footprint assessment to identify appropriate carbon emission goals, following which an HRG Rennies Travel ‘green’ policy document was formulated to guide employees on climate change issues and how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at work and at home,” says Philipps. 

“The company then appointed ‘Green Champions’ at each branch and they encourage staff to use natural resources efficiently and to reduce, re-use and recycle materials.”

HRG Rennies Travel’s global partner, the Hogg Robinson Group (HRG), recently won the coveted Corporate Social Responsibility Award at the 2010 Business Travel & Meetings Show’s Innovation Awards in London. HRG’s corporate social responsibility portfolio includes a number of solutions that assess the impact of travel plans, reduce carbon emissions and help organisations meet environmental targets.

Philipps says there has been strong interest from the corporate market about ‘green’ travel procurement. “Conservatively speaking, 40% of our customer base has made some sort of enquiry regarding greening options and we believe this figure will grow in future,” she adds. So, plenty of examples of how the travel industry is taking up the challenging of ‘going green’. But, still a long way to go, in terms of awareness and proactivity, yet a step in the right direction, with some major players already stealing a march on their competitors, as the issue becomes an even bigger talking point on the world travel stage.

Current travel industry initiatives:

  • The car rental sector of the travel industry is playing a leading role in the reduction of its carbon footprint, with major players such as Avis having initiated carbon reduction, waste recycling, energy and water conservation programmes.
  • Europcar has created water and waste recycling facilities at depots and uses energy saving sensor lighting.
  • Airlines operating new generation aircraft are contributing to carbon reduction, since these aircraft are more energy efficient.
  • Many hotel groups – among them, Three Cities – now include energy and water management programmes.
  • Southern Sun hotels use eco-friendly water heating in conjunction with South African energy supplier Eskom.
  • Other companies offer carbon offset donation schemes for ‘green’ projects or tree planting. 
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