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Experts say demand for “green” business travel is growing

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Demand is growing for “green” services in business travel, a panel of experts told more than 225 travel managers and suppliers gathered in Toronto last week at a two-day conference sponsored by the National Business Travel Association (NBTA) Canada.

Panelist Michelle White, Director of Environmental Affairs for Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, said many organizations’ requests for proposals (RFPs) for business travel agreements now include questions about what the chain is doing to mitigate its carbon footprint. Meeting planners, too, are looking to “green” their events, she said. “They are all looking at how to minimize the impacts of those meetings, and the expectation is that you will have these strategies in place because it is a key component of any venue selection.”

Helen Brough, Director of Advisory Services for American Express, says the majority of American Express business travel clients are asking similar questions. The problem is that these questions about environmental programs are typically answered in vague language from marketing departments: They say, “‘We are very committed to this. We are putting procedures in place,’” she said, but, “There’s no hardcore detail.”

Fairmont Hotels’ White says such vague assurances are no longer relevant; clients want concrete, measurable details. White says such vague assurances are no longer relevant; clients want concrete, measurable details. Fairmont recently signed a contract to have the World Wildlife Fund assess the company’s carbon footprint and recommend a strategy for change, she says.

Until that plan is complete, White adds, “We largely focus on minimizing the environmental impacts of our hotels, looking at, for example, waste management strategies, energy and water conservation.”

Assessments such as the one Fairmont is conducting are vital, according to panelist Charles Johnson, director of sales for Agresso Travel Industry Solutions. In the past, he said, CEOs might have announced their intent to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10% with little or no idea of what that meant. Now, there is a trend toward releasing carbon statements similar to financial statements, he said.

Although green demand is growing, Brough said, higher costs for environmentally friendly products or services can be a barrier for travel buyers. “If a hybrid car rental is more expensive, that is still an issue.” She added, however, that some companies are benefiting from being green, citing a survey in which 20% of American Express business travel clients said they had actually been awarded business based on their environmental programs.”

Brough, Johnson and White were among more than 225 business travel industry professionals taking part in NBTA Canada’s 4th Annual Conference & Exhibitor Showcase, held this week in Toronto.

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