Sarah-Jayne Russell investigates the business benefits of getting to grips with sustainable travel plans
Work-related travel can generate more than half of an organisation’s carbon emissions and, for many companies, travel costs come second only to salary bills as their largest controllable expense.
Reducing the number of journeys made by staff is, therefore, good for the environment and the bottom line, and yet, according to Heather McInroy, programme director of Business in the Community’s ways2work campaign, business travel remains the least understood and the most neglected area of corporate responsibility.
“In general, there is a real lack of action, but for those organisations that are addressing this issue there are substantial reductions in costs, lost man hours and emissions, as well as improvements in productivity, employee wellbeing and profits,” she says.
The first obstacle for most organisations when tackling business travel is a lack of information. Few businesses, according to McInroy, really understand the financial impact of commuting (the maintenance of a single car-parking space can be as much as £1,000 a year) or have an overview of travel across the whole organisation.
GlaxoSmithKline, for example, overhauled its travel policy, discouraging international travel after it transpired that 500 of its employees were stranded overseas by the volcanic ash cloud in 2010.
For those examining work-related travel, the finance department will hold data on travel expenses, which will reveal where the most significant business costs lie.
Meanwhile, carbon footprinting will provide detailed information on environmental impacts, and the Department for Transport has published guidance specifically to help firms measure and report emissions from work-related travel.
“For some organisations travel will be a tiny proportion of their emissions; for others it could be as much as 75% of its carbon footprint,” advises McInroy.
The right initiatives
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to sustainable travel; the appropriate action depends on the type of organisation, its size, budget and objectives. For large firms with global operations, reducing international travel is a key concern, for which telecommunications technology is a useful tool.
Ernst & Young, for example, is saving £585,000 a year on travel costs and avoided flying 6.8 million air miles during 2009/10 after investing in video and teleconferencing facilities.
For smaller firms the priority may be travel within the UK, where getting staff to use public transport might be more appropriate.
For those with limited parking, tackling the commute will be important. E.ON has saved £100,000 in parking costs at one of its offices and cut commuters’ carbon emissions by 151 tonnes by providing passes for local buses and promoting car sharing.
Once organisations have a clear understanding of work-related travel patterns, the task is to prioritise initiatives. WWF in its position statement on business travel advises firms to first look at reducing the need to travel; second, consider how to reduce the distances to be travelled; third, cut emissions from travel through low-carbon technologies; and, finally, offset emissions generated by travel.
“Sustainable travel needs a staged approach over time,” advises Sam Pickles, environment manager for the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS), which is working to reduce the fuel consumption of its vehicles by 25% by April 2014. “The key is to set targets and get buy-in from central leadership. Then you need to find the right technological fixes and behaviour change initiatives to deliver those targets.”
The first initiatives the GMFRS introduced were low-cost process checks, which ensure, for example, that drivers know when calls are not emergencies and so can travel at normal road speeds.
The next step was looking at how to better design its fire engines, including developing a lightweight polymer to replace the steel bodywork panels on the vehicles.
The panels have reduced the weight of the engines by 750kg and cut fuel consumption by 6%–7%. The GMFRS has also installed engine management systems to ensure vehicles use less fuel, and trained staff in fuel-efficient driving techniques.
While each organisation’s approach to sustainable travel will be unique, there are common elements and a wealth of support available through business networks for firms starting out.
The ways2work website, for example, has case studies detailing the approaches of firms such as BT, Capgemini and EDF, as well as template policy documents, a 12-step plan to developing a sustainable travel programme (see below) and useful information to develop business cases.
“Don’t reinvent the wheel. The odds are someone has already done all the leg work for the change you’re contemplating,” advises McInroy. “It’s also really useful to talk to other people, to find out the challenges they came up against and what they did to overcome them.”
ways2work’s 12 stepsways2work’s 12 steps
Before collecting detailed data, outline your organisation’s headline travel-related challenges.
Know the business environment
Successful plans need to work within your organisation’s physical environment, management structure, business activities and future strategies.
Create the project team
It is vital to have representation from all internal stakeholders, from business leaders to employees, with a central programme manager.
Evaluate current resources
Identify existing tools or initiatives that might fit with your programme. Survey your employees to identify their demographic profile, work roles, travel needs and location.
Create the core framework
This framework will detail how your programme will be funded, delivered and measured. It is developed by realigning your existing travel provision; identifying any gaps; and then establishing how staff will access the programme.
Needs analysis and KPIs
Undertake a needs analysis of employee travel patterns and their associated environmental impacts, to enable future comparisons against key performance indicators (KPIs).
Clarify initial objectives
Evaluate and prioritise your initial objectives for the programme against the results of the needs analysis.
Develop a 12-month programme
The programme should include: targeted sustainable travel initiatives; management activities; needs analysis; and data collection and interpretation.
Find the right partners
Partners will fall into two categories: core providers (usually insurers or administrators of health-related employee benefits) and ancillary providers (specialists who deliver targeted initiatives).
Communicating the programme
Every initiative should be supported by a relevant communication campaign to staff.
Launching the programme
Consider the expectations being raised and how to ensure the programme meets them. Don’t forget to demonstrate that feedback is being taken on board.
Evaluation and ongoing management
Once the programme has been launched, steps 5 to 12 will continue to be relevant. It is important to share with stakeholders the programme results.