Persuading companies that green is mean has been a useful tool in the armoury of the eco-conscious business traveller.

Businesses are more inclined to save the planet if they think they can make a profit along the way. It is undoubtedly why many hotel groups and travel businesses have embraced environmental policies. Although some merely pay lip service to the concept, there is growing evidence that the industry wants to reduce its carbon footprint.

So what can individual travellers do to make responsible environmental choices? The answer is quite a lot, but it can be time-consuming.

Take, for example, finding an eco-friendly business hotel. There are still remarkably few in big cities. Alex Conti, editor of Eco Hotels of the World, says: “We get a lot more applications to join than we’ve ever done and from a business perspective there are a few more hotels to choose from. We’ve recently added a London and a Paris hotel to our list, but it remains mostly leisure orientated.”

He says business travellers still face the same two big problems; their choice of hotel may be imposed by their company and, even if they are allowed a choice – as many senior managers are – finding an eco-conscious hotel near an airport or city centre is still difficult.

Finding a global green standard by which to measure a hotel is also tricky. Mr Conti says Eco hotels looks at raw data such as energy consumption, water usage and product replacement.

Before you stay in a hotel ask – or get your travel manager to ask – about sustainability and environmental policy. In many cases this will be freely available on company websites. A random computer search on hotel green initiatives threw up a policy by global hotelier Starwood. In April it announced an agreement with Clean the World to collect and recycle its hotel soaps, shampoos, conditioners, lotions and gels. The plan will initially embrace all 500 Starwood Hotels in North America and could lead to the recycling of 1.6m pounds of hotel soap every year.

Although detailed internet searches are out of the question for time-poor business travellers, a travel management company (TMC) could do much of the work. Global TMCs are almost without exception looking at the options for clients to reduce their impact on the environment.

Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT), for example, has developed a total impact calculator to enable customers to think about trips not just in terms of monetary cost and emissions, but also from the view of productivity, examining total travel time and time that can be used to work while on the move.

CWT says: “Many travellers find they can get more work done on a train journey than on a flight and quantifying this helps businesses to make decisions. Looking at the total impact of a trip really adds another dimension to planning and can lead to choices that are better for business and better for the environment.” CWT is working on ways to show customers the environmental impact of hotel stays and conferences.

Individual meeting planners can study the websites of IMEX, the travel industry exhibition, and the Green Meeting Industry Council for advice on best environmental and corporate social responsibility practices. The World Travel and Tourism Council has a best practice gateway on its website with a searchable tool providing insight into the industry’s progress on sustainability.

In terms of destinations, some countries are clearly greener than others. In Europe, Germany has taken a leading role in green travel initiatives, particularly in its meetings and conferences sector.

The German Convention Bureau (GCB) is involved in a new International Organisation for Standardisation project for sustainable event management. The idea is to offer an internationally recognised framework for staging green events. Planners, buyers and suppliers will be able to monitor venue management, supplier selection, communication and transport from a sustainability aspect and will be able to apply it to all types of events – exhibitions, sports contests or concerts.

The website has a separate green meetings area offering comprehensive advice on sustainable event planning, including a CO2 calculator.

The GCB is also keen to move travellers around in environmentally friendly ways and, within Europe, that usually means train. A journey from London to Paris and on to Brussels by train generates just a 10th of the greenhouse gas produced by flying, says Eurostar.

Travellers who have to fly can mitigate the effects of their travel by using newer more energy efficient aircraft, using busy routes where aircraft do not fly with half-empty payloads and asking or checking online at the booking stage about an airline’s eco credentials. (CWT data show that rail is now more popular than air travel on all UK domestic routes no longer than London-Newcastle for same-day travel.)

In short, business travellers can be cleaner and greener but the question is whether, in these financially pressed times, they and their companies are willing to put effort into finding such options. A recent KPMG survey of business leaders says 74 per cent of those surveyed will only improve efforts to “manage down” their carbon footprint once carbon taxes are levied, showing perhaps that there is still much work to do to raise consciousness of environmentally friendly options among the business community.

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