The world of modern business is an amazing place to explore. The distances may be vast – whether you're jetting over to LA for a convention or doing a series of midweek meetings in Hong Kong – but with the luxury afforded to regular flyers, working for a global company has never seemed more appealing.
For the responsible traveller, however, there's always the carbon footprint conundrum. How do you maintain that high-flying lifestyle while keeping your travel emissions down? According to Jonathan Clarke of Essential Travel, London, it’s a commitment that companies need to make on behalf of their staff. “In going green, your staff feel better, you feel better, and the environment does better” he says, “and those are things that matter to me. But being a green company also improves efficiency, helps save money and subsequently attracts new clients. So it makes business sense, too.”
Hold on – a businessman actually advocating going green? Doesn’t that go against the received wisdom that it takes a hefty amount of green to go green? It turns out that Clarke bucks trends elsewhere, too. As the head of a travel company, one of the more unusual things he encourages his staff to do is questions his clients’ need to travel in the first place.
“We arrange travel for companies that are looking to minimise their carbon footprint as well as their overall costs,” he explains, “and part of that is looking at making their travel budget go as far as possible. Of course we recognise the need to travel – our clients are in a global business, where face-to-face and personal relationships really matter – so the first thing we do is put a robust travel policy in place. It amazes me how few of these big corporates actually have a travel policy, but the truth is that with careful planning – looking at video conferencing costs, or making use of someone who is already in the country to deliver a pitch – you can make significant savings, both financially and environmentally. Ours is a holistic approach, and one that sets us apart from many other travel companies.”
Clarke’s background is in transport and logistics, and it was through this that he began to notice the tolls we are taking. “I travelled extensively,” he recalls, “and I got a taste for it, and for this wonderful world that we live in. But the more you travel, the more it becomes evident the damage that has been done.” As far back as the late 80’s, he was helping structure client services around a sustainable strategy. “We were pioneers in using push-bike couriers around London,” he recalls, “and we were just as quick to adapt to Prius and other hybrid models. In fact, we've been on the sustainable travel journey all the way, and we're as involved as ever, booking client travel on the Dreamliners and A380s at fantastic fares."
"In the case of the Dreamliner," he says, "we're talking 20% cuts in fuel consumption, while the A380 produces just 75g of CO2 per passenger when full – that's less than your average car. Booking onto either of those is like car-sharing in the sky. It's amazing for the environment, and because of the relationships we've built up with the airlines, we're able to get amazing prices for our clients, too.”
Rightly, one of Essential Travel’s proudest achievements was helping to slash travel emissions for their clients, M&C Saatchi, by up to 40% – impressive for any large corporate, but seriously significant for what is actually one of the world's largest advertising companies.
“We wanted to have a positive effect in a business that creates a huge amount of environmental nasties,” explains Clarke, “so we looked at the whole thing – travel patterns, policies, approval processes, the lot. We work closely with the agency's operations team and environmental consultants, and we use reporting supported by DEFRA, so when an employee really needs to travel, we’re able to compare options to see what works out better in terms of mileage and CO2 emissions – whether they should be taking the plane, car-sharing or taking the train – every step of the way.”
He shakes his head and smiles. “It still amazes me the amount of people we see jumping into a cab to get up to Luton Airport, which costs a hundred quid and all that carbon, when we can get them first-class tickets on the train for under a tenner! Going green is not about planting a few trees here and there. A huge part of it is changing people’s mindsets so that they’re more conscious of what they're doing to begin with.”
One of the ways that Essential has sought to change the mindsets of those they come into contact with is by partnering with the World Land Trust. It's all too easy, says Clarke, to tick the boxes and talk a green game, so he works hard to ensure that his company and clients are putting something back into the environment in a way that makes a measurable, visible difference.
“With the WLT, we’ve been exploring carbon offseting – specifically through a Brazilian reserve just four hours from Rio,” he explains. “The World Cup and the Olympics have made the land in that area very valuable, and put it at risk of being flattened and built upon. By buying that land, we're able to stop development and therefore prevent further carbon emissions. The reserve is home to some 460 species of bird, as well as a colony of Brown-throated Three-toed Sloths. The World Land Trust ensures that this land and its wildlife is protected and able to flourish, saving the local environment so that these species can thrive.”
And to keep the ideas developing, he is encouraging his clients to think up new and better ways to save company money while getting more involved in the move to sustainability. The prize for the most impressive, workable idea is an all-expenses-paid trip to REGUA to stay at the lodge and see the reserve in action.
Ultimately, making such a difference is about making real changes. If you’re running a company and you’re proud of the people that help make it what it is, then you’re in a position to make changes that will directly affect them in a hugely positive way. For Jonathan Clarke, that meant re-thinking one of the most environmentally unfriendly industries from the inside out – not the easiest change to make, one that he feels benefits those he works with, both staff and clients alike.
You can see the area of forest in the Matumbo Region of Brazil that Essential Travel has helped to fund with WLT and REGUA here.
To find out how you can develop a sustainable travel strategy, give Essential Travel a call on 020 3212 1040, or check out their website at www.essential-london.com. Image credits: main image (Chemtrails) by art_es_anna/Flickr, second image (REGUA) by OneGreenWorld.org