Eco-Friendly Options for Business Travelers
American business travelers log 240 billion passenger miles per year, according to the National Business Travel Association. Each of those miles is responsible for roughly one pound of carbon—and that’s before you factor in road miles, hotel stays and meals out.
Business travelers may contribute the most travel-related greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere, but they are also concerned about those emissions. When American Express asked its travel planner clients which areas of business travel were most important to them, the environment was one of their top three concerns. Despite budget cuts and rough economic times, American Express found that corporate clients were increasingly building “green” concerns into their travel requirements, particularly for hotel rooms.
Fortunately, reducing the impact of business travel doesn’t have to cost more—in some cases, it may even cost less, both for the travel company and the traveler.
In the air
According to the U.S. Bureau of Travel Statistics, American business travelers take 450 million long-distance (more than 50 miles) business trips per year. The emissions caused by air travel are more damaging than those caused by activities on the ground. Pollutants are released into the upper atmosphere, causing two to four times more damage, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The good news is that airlines are investing in new aircraft that are more fuel-efficient and therefore emit less carbon.
The most hyped aircraft in recent years are the Airbus 380 and Boeing 787 Dreamliner, but above and beyond their bells and whistles, these two planes are the most fuel-efficient options in the sky. While we wait for the Dreamliner (which may not begin delivery to airlines until mid-2010), look for Boeing’s 777-200LR, which is capable of flying longer distances without refueling and is equipped with aerodynamic raked wingtips that improve fuel efficiency. On shorter flights, Q400 turbo-prop jets from Bombardier burn fuel up to 30 percent more efficiently than similar-size jets.
Travelers will increasingly be able to access the information they need to make greener choices. Some travel booking engines and services are helping business travelers weigh carbon emissions as a factor in travel planning. For instance, Concur Technologies, which provides corporations with spend-management services (including booking tools), offers clients the option to search and sort flight options by emissions.
Many airlines are working with the FAA and other aviation authorities throughout the world to develop more efficient routes. By climbing unimpeded to cruising altitude and using a preferred route, for example, Emirates is able to take full advantage of prevailing winds and reach optimum cruise altitude as quickly as possible. United Airlines reduced CO 2 emissions by nearly 33,000 pounds and saved about 1,600 gallons of fuel on a recent flight from San Francisco to Sydney, just by using a few simple fuel-saving measures—including a more direct route, clearance to take off and reach cruising altitude in one fell swoop, and a smooth descent.
Reducing weight and waste on board flights benefits the environment, so airlines are urging passengers to think about consuming fewer amenities, advises Chris Rossi, senior vice president of Virgin Atlantic in North America. Virgin recently eliminated its travel packs in favor of allowing passengers to select only the amenities they need. “If you just need toothpaste, there’s no sense in giving you a big packet filled with other things that you’ll just have to throw out,” he explains.
On the ground
The best ground transportation option for eco-conscious travelers is public transit, but there are other environmentally responsible options, too. Car-rental companies are increasingly offering more eco-friendly rentals. Robert Stuart, senior vice president of global sales at Hertz, says his company’s Green Collection, which includes both hybrids and fuel-efficient conventional cars, has risen in popularity by 40 percent over the past year—and business travelers have greatly contributed to this gain, despite the fact that Green Collection rentals cost an average of $5 more per day.
In addition to opting for a greener car, Stuart touts GPS ($12.99 per day or $64.95 per week; AAA members receive a 25 percent discount) as an eco-friendly add-on to any car, because drivers who know where they’re going don’t waste gas (and emissions) on getting lost. In addition, eco-conscious drivers can incorporate the same small emission-reduction practices with their rental that they do with their own cars. Ensuring that the tires have the right air pressure, refraining from driving with a lead foot and avoiding idling are all easy, free measures that can add up to meaningful emissions reductions on the road.
Hotels have responded quickly to the growing demand for green lodging. Many have been certified by a third party, which flags those hotels for consumers who want to make green choices. The U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification is an easy way to tell that a hotel has been built to reduce energy use and emissions, but the Green Seal certification takes it one step further and audits a hotel’s operations to certify that they are run as efficiently as possible. California has set up a Green Lodging Program and Web site (ciwmb.ca.gov) that aims to list all of the green lodging options in the state. According to Joel Makower, executive editor of Greenbiz.com, other states may soon follow suit.
In addition to building green and updating rooms with energy- and water-efficient fixtures, hotels have started rolling out innovative new programs to help guests reduce the emissions associated with their stays. However, because these programs are all relatively new, in many cases guests must ask about them in order to participate. Many hotels now offer in-room recycling, for example, but guests must ask for a bin at the front desk.
For some waste or energy reduction measures, it’s entirely up to the guest to help. Gerry Link, general manager at the Hilton in Vancouver, Wash. (the first hotel in the world to be certified by both LEED and Green Seal), says one simple thing travelers can do is bring their own water bottles or coffee cups from home. “[It] really helps reduce the amount of waste going to landfills when people travel with their own cup, buy a cup on arrival or ask the hotel for a ceramic or glass cup to avoid the use of paper cups,” he says. “We use compostable paper cups, which is the [next] best step, but it’s still better to use something washable.”