Helen Roby of the Open University asks whether it should be up to employers to ensure that their employees travel sustainably.
Personal travel either for business or for the commute is often ignored by organisations when they are setting strategies to reduce carbon emissions, improve productivity or reduce turnover and absenteeism. However, travel should be considered as it plays an important part in all of them.
In research I completed looking at sustainable business travel practices in London I talked to a number of big corporates that were working to reduce their carbon emissions from their operations as part of the Carbon Reduction Commitment. In the process of auditing their carbon emissions they also looked at travel and realised that it accounted for a third of their overall carbon emissions.
Admittedly, these organisations were the type that did a lot of business travel as part of their everyday practice, so consultancies, accountants and legal firms, but they realised that if they didn’t take action to manage the carbon emissions from travel that as they drove the emissions down from other parts of their operations, those from travel would become a larger and larger proportion of overall emissions.
These organisations had some innovative ways of raising awareness and changing behaviour of employees, specifically tailored to the culture of that organisation. Capgemini is developing Carbon Travel Statements; another company set carbon targets that were linked to appraisal goals, whilst another tactic used interdepartmental rivalry to encourage change by awarding acres of rainforest in response to a reduction in corporeal miles and an increase in virtual miles.
A number of other companies including, BSkyB, BT, Capgemini, Lloyds Banking Group, Marks & Spencer, Microsoft, Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), Scottish Government, Skanska, Vodafone UK, and WWF-UK have made a public commitment through the WWF One in Five Campaign to reduce one flight in five.
But others refused to reward their staff for something they considered they should be doing anyway, emphasising the need to match policy to the culture of the organisation. What was interesting in the research was the way that some of these organisations were making what appears to be the obvious link, (but often ignored) between policies to reduce business travel with wider issues of carbon emissions, productivity and work-life balance. By making these connections it was not such a big step to then also include the commute.
The problem you often see is that where business travel is obviously the responsibility and cost to the organisation, commuting is seen as the responsibility of the employee. Yet, with the development in communication technologies to facilitate mobile and home working, and a technically savvy younger workforce familiar with and keen to use these technologies, those boundaries between the office and the home are blurring. In this context can organisations continue to ignore their responsibility?
There are some great examples on the Ways2Work website of organisations that have been proactive in supporting sustainable travel alternatives, for example EDF who combine a “Work Life Solutions” policy, with tailored travel packages and a tool to deliver benefits and incentives for walking, cycling, car sharing and public transport.
Alternatively, GlaxoSmithKline offer cycling facilities far beyond the odd bike stand that include training and repair facilities, plus changing rooms with showers, towels, irons, driers and storage. As well as on-site services to make life much easier for staff, comprising a fitness centre, dry cleaning facilities, shoe repair, post office services, Oyster top-up, ATMs and catering outlets. These are organisations that are taking responsibility for how and why their staffs travel and are beginning to see benefits to the environment and human resources issues of absenteeism and staff turnover.
Ultimately, as the structure of organisations change to those that use geographically dispersed project and innovation teams, decisions need to be made about how people communicate, whether virtually or face-to-face. Coupled with pressure to cut costs and reduce carbon emissions, more organisations are looking to rationalise their office space and move away from an allocated desk model to one of hot-desking and greater use of virtual communications. The good news is that this reduces the need to travel to the office or elsewhere on business, but surely with this blurring of the boundary between home and the office; employers should be taking more responsibility to support their employees in travelling sustainably.
Also on this topic...
In September we spoke to Jeff Senne, Director of Environment and Marketplace at PricewaterhouseCoopers, about how his company is encouraging employees to travel sustainably. Click here to read the interview.
Earlier this year we looked at this topic in our webinar 'How to develop a green travel plan and bring your employees with you' with Global Action Plan and Accenture. Click here to listen to the recording. [Business level members]