Green business travel at risk in the recession

Companies’ commitment to improved Corporate Social Responsibility is no passing fad, according to the latest annual opinion poll by the Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE) and KDS, the European leader in on-demand travel and expense systems. 

However, ‘green’ forms of business travel are suffering in the recession, as organisations prioritise cost-saving over supporting sustainable travel.
 
This is the fourth consecutive year that ACTE and KDS have gauged business opinion on issues around CSR and business travel. 

The latest survey was conducted between December 2008 and January 2009 and captured the opinions of 329 travel managers and business travellers from around the world, the largest-ever response to an ACTE/KDS survey and a 52% increase from last year’s respondents. 
 
Confounding the sceptics, the study found that companies are not being blown off course by the global recession in seeking to promote CSR:



  • 61% of organisations now have a CSR charter (versus 59% in 2008)

  • 27% of organisations prefer to do business with suppliers and partners with a CSR charter

  • 28% of corporate travel departments are required to report to management on carbon emissions performance

  • The most common CSR activities are reducing energy waste within company buildings (76% of companies), contributing to the local community (55%), cutting carbon emissions in production plans (34%) and using carbon offset arrangements (25%).

However, this commitment to CSR does not automatically translate into greener travel choices, as these often entail higher financial costs. 

The survey finds that companies see cost-cutting as the top business travel concern (rated a high priority by 79% of companies), while environmentally sustainable travel is a high priority for only 17%. 

Overall, environmental sustainability is rated only a mid-level priority for business travel, ranked at this level by 48% of organisations.
 
Greater concern about our impact on the environment appears to be more of a European phenomenon.  Only 35% of US respondents said they would consider their carbon emissions when planning business travel, compared to 42% of Europeans.
 
Meanwhile, the United States has already seen a greater focus on cost-cutting in the travel budget, suggesting that the situation in Europe may well worsen during 2009. 

Overall, 70% of respondents said their company has sought reductions in the travel budget to save money, but for US organisations the figure was 80%. 

Similarly, while 54% of respondents said they had been asked to cut their number of business trips because of the economic crisis, for US respondents the figure was 64%.
 
Susan Gurley, executive director and chief staff officer of ACTE, said:

“The survey shows that, contrary to some predictions, Corporate Social Responsibility has not fallen from favour in these challenging times.  Instead, the figures show that it is steadily gaining ground and becoming part of the DNA for organisations around the world. 

“However, it also puts to rest the myth that good CSR practices automatically include greener travel choices. Under present economic conditions, green travel choices may frequently conflict with the greater urge to cut costs.”
 
Yves Weisselberger, CEO of KDS, commented:

“At this stage, green travel choices remain scarce and are usually more expensive.  For example, European companies can send their staff by high speed rail, which is low in emissions but often more expensive than a low-cost flight.  However, in the current economy, paying a premium is hard to justify, so green business travel will lose out. 

“Longer term, though, the picture is brighter – companies clearly want to do the right thing through CSR, so once the financial premium is erased, or the economy permits, we should expect to see green business travel become far more popular.”

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