IEMA's Deputy CEO and Director of Policy and External Affairs, Martin Baxter travelled to Berlin to speak at the G7 conference on business responsibility and environmental due diligence this week, setting himself the challenge to do this in a low carbon way.


The opportunity to speak at a G7 session on business responsibility and environmental due diligence in Berlin is a difficult one to refuse. How to do so in a low carbon way is a slightly different challenge. Although remote participation could have been an option, the potential to have greater impact by speaking in-person, as well as the opportunity to network with a wide range of people, swayed the balance.

So….all things considered, it had to be travel by train. Here’s a quick blog on my experience, and a comparison of the carbon savings at the end!

ALARM: 4.45am on a Monday morning is an obscenely early start to the week. Cat fed, a minor grumble from Mrs B, noticed the sunrise & birdsong…then off to the station by 5am. Living in a rural location has many benefits – proximity to a mainline station isn’t one of them! An hour and a quarter later, arrive at the station and board the train to London. Hook up to the wifi and send comments to colleagues on our draft response to the Government's Green Paper on Nature Recovery – one job ticked off the to-do list.

Another added bonus….I was a late addition to the speaker programme so no booking way ahead of time for the cheap tickets. BUT…(and this is when you know someone is smiling kindly from above)…a first-class ticket was half the price of the standard class – how does that work? Anyway – the comfier seat and refreshments worked for me on the early train!

Monday

ON TIME: 7:50am arrive on time at Kings Cross and head over to the Eurostar Terminal….blimey, massive queue! Wasn’t quite sure how they’d segregated people …but the Brussels lane was a walk-through (rather than a long wait for Paris)! Also – this was my first overseas trip post-Covid – and more importantly, post the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) - so mildly surprised that my passport was stamped.

Colleagues organising my travel had kindly booked ‘standard premier’ – basically a first-class seat with a continental breakfast thrown in for not much more than the normal fare. The train was full – no spare seats – but everyone was well behaved and so lots of work was done before rolling into Brussels.

QUICK CHANGE: 12:03 (allowing for the time zone) and just under 20mins connection for my next train to Cologne. Not far to walk, platform very busy. Although I had a booked seat – it was clear that many people hadn’t and so lots of people were being shunted out of seats (including mine 😉).

This is a good point to fess up – my language skills are abysmal…registering -1 on the Richter scale. I try, but it’s genuinely embarrassing – I can manage 3 different languages in one sentence (pick any three from Spanish, French, Italian and German). Indeed – at COP23 in Bonn I remember arriving at the venue early one morning for a briefing and ordering my coffee in French! The point here is that arguing with people who’re in your pre-booked seat can be challenging (…or stereotypical…cough!).

DELAY: Not something I’d anticipated. Just passed over the border into Germany and the train stops at Aachen. The announcement from the train guard is that there’s a lineside fire ahead and all trains to Cologne are stopped. The problem is compounded by lots of people boarding the train and, unlike in the UK, the trains aren’t allowed to run if people are standing in the aisle. After 50mins going nowhere – and a good number of people having to leave the train due to a lack of capacity – we’re off again.

MISSED CONNECTION: 15:05 we arrived in Cologne…15mins after my connecting train departed. No problem, grab a sarnie and 30mins later board the train to Berlin.

This is the long leg of the journey, scheduled time of just over 5hrs. The good news is that the wifi on the train is pretty good – so lots of work done…including an online cyber security course with lots of interactive video clips. 100% in all the questions....highly recommend this course!

BERLIN: 20:56 and 15hrs after leaving home, I finally arrive in Berlin! Quickly record a vlog in the station and share through my social media (can also be watched below), before heading to my nearby hotel and grabbing a bite to eat….chill!

Tuesday

G7 CONFERNECE: a 30min walk to the venue took me past the Reichstag and Brandenburg Gate (I’ve travelled far and wide….Berlin is my favourite city). Covid vaccine check name badge and then wired up with a head mic. The focus of the session was to more firmly put the environment at the heart of global supply chains and the opportunity to influence the G7 communique later in the summer. The session was opened by the Federal Environment Minister and included a range of speakers from business, government, NGOs, FAO and OECD. This background paper by Adelphi perfectly captures all of the issues Strengthening The ‘E’ In HREDD.

Wednesday

BERLIN CENTRAL STATION: one of the challenges of more face to face meetings is that I often have 'hybrid days' – physical and online meetings. Today is a case in point. It’s the first meeting of the Government’s Green Jobs Delivery Group (Green jobs delivery steps up a gear) that’s been set up to help create and support over 480,000 new well paid green jobs. It’s an online meeting – with four government ministers (BEIS, Defra, DWP and DfE), business leaders and skills development organisations. Managed to find somewhere reasonably quiet before hopping on the train!

DEPART: 12:51 and the train leaves 5 minutes late. No pre-booked ticket on this leg and the train is packed. Luckily I managed to grab a seat!

COLOGNE: 10mins late arriving, but enough time to grab a quick sarnie for a late lunch (17:30). A bit of confusion on the platform (not just me….everyone) as the board wasn’t displaying the right info and so everyone was standing in the wrong place. Found my seat (all carriages full), popped on the facemask (still compulsory on all the trains from Eurostar onwards) and connected to the wifi.

BRUSSELS: 20mins late arriving. Fortunately, plenty of time built-in for the connection, so no problem (quite a few people missed their connection and had to rebook onto the next train). Straight through customs (passport stamped again) and on the train.

KINGS CROSS/ST PANCRAS: Eurostar arrives on time and an hour to wait for my next connection.

I realise I still have a fiver in my pocket, might come in useful for a snack on the journey north. I also reflected that I’d not carried any Euro cash with me, everything paid with card or phone…a sign of the times.

Can’t believe how busy the 11pm from Kings Cross is – it’s midweek for goodness sake, what’s going on? (I know…showing my age!)

Thursday

LATE: arrives at Grantham 00:23 over 10 minutes late. Long drive home.

HOME! Shush….it’s 1.45am. Aghhh….the dog is giddy as a kipper to see me and charging around! I expect Mrs B will get me back first thing in the morning.

FINAL REFLECTION: Taking into account driving to the station and all legs of the journey, travel by train gave an 80% reduction in GHGs compared with a direct flight. It’s a lot slower – 29 hours round trip - although the time was used productively; it was also about 4 times more expensive.

An interesting point as an aside, the Defra emissions factor for international rail travel is substantially lower (x8) than national rail travel, presumably due to the number of diesel units running.

Would I do it again? Absolutely! Plan your time, book your seat (top tip) and you’ll get through loads of work. And if you’re genuine about working within a limited carbon budget, you’ll take the lower carbon option….

Photo of Martin baxter
Martin Baxter FIEMA, CEnv

Executive Director - Director of Policy & External Affairs, IEMA

Martin works in the UK and internationally to support the transition to a low carbon, resource efficient and sustainable economy.

Martin leads IEMA’s policy and external engagement activity with government and business. A strategic thinker with the capability to lead and influence others, he has national and international experience in developing and negotiating global and European standards and developing capacity for effective and widespread implementation. Martin is head of the UK delegation to the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) on environmental management and chairs the ISO environmental management systems committee of ~100 countries.

Martin has experience of networking and communicating at all levels – including with senior parliamentarians, Government officials, business leaders and academia. He is an acknowledged expert on environmental management and a regular spokesperson on corporate sustainability.

Martin is a Board member of IEMA and the Society for the Environment (SocEnv).