Irish businesses cling to growing global drive to cut air miles after Covid
As companies around the world make tentative plans to bring staff back to the workplace, ditching Zoom, while tempting, can be a step too far for once-top executives.
A year and a half of consecutive video calls from makeshift home offices may have made people who normally travel regularly for work forget how exhausting it is to deal with crowded airports, delayed flights and to live in a suitcase.
But while airlines and hoteliers dream of a rebound in international business travel, all-expense-paid travel may never again become the hallmark of the corporate world it once was.
Zurich Insurance Group grabbed the headlines this week, saying it aims to cut air travel-related assignments by 70% next year from its pre-pandemic level, as it unveils plans to accelerate its efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
“The experience of the global pandemic has shown us a way to improve many aspects of our daily and professional lives, and there is no turning back,” said group CEO Mario Greco.
It can, of course, be dismissed as an empty sign of virtue by another company keen to put forward its ecological credentials to attract an environmental, social and governance (ESG) wall of money looking for investment. . But companies can expect more questions from investors in the future about their post-Covid travel policies as they peddle their sustainability reports.
Zurich is far from the only one. Confectionery giant Mars – unlisted but regular bond issuer in the market – has said in recent weeks that it plans to cut business travel in half and book 145,000 fewer flights each year – saying to personnel that they should only board a plane for purposes, rather than presence ”.
Elsewhere, UK lender Lloyds Banking Group has pledged to cut carbon dioxide emissions from travel to less than 50% of 2019 levels, while consultancies such as EY and Deloitte have sought to have a length of ahead of many of their clients by publicly describing their plans. to reduce business travel.
Irish businesses are changing their ways
Irish public limited companies are also changing their ways – although most seem reluctant, for now, to set firm targets.
Bank of Ireland had already cut business travel costs by 20% in the two years leading up to the pandemic. “We anticipate further reductions in business travel for 2022 and beyond as we continue to incorporate technology and new ways of working,” a company spokesperson said. “Video conferencing is also a key part of how we operate and will remain so in the future, reducing the need for business travel unless it is necessary. “
Rival AIB said it had also worked prior to Covid-19 on permanently reducing business travel. “This reduction has naturally been accelerated by the Covid-19,” said a spokesperson. “We don’t plan to revert to our previous travel levels. “
Smurfit Kappa chief executive Tony Smurfit, whose own international cardboard box manufacturing company has been boosted in recent times by environmental concerns surrounding plastic, said earlier this year that the typical travel and entertainment bill of the group of 50 million euros per year would be halved. -pandemic.
“We spend around 50 million euros per year at Smurfit Kappa on travel and entertainment. You sit down and say, “Was it necessary, to go to Amsterdam for a one hour meeting or a three hour meeting?” “,” Smurfit said in an interview.
Meanwhile, Dalata Hotel Group, which is awaiting a resumption in international travel to restart its Dublin and London hotels as restaurateurs have kept the show on the road for its regional locations over the summer, is looking to bring adjustments without pointing out something that would damage his. Business.
The compromise ? Fewer flights but more overnight stays. “The company continues to place great importance on doing business face-to-face, especially visiting hotels and meeting people across the group,” said a spokesperson. “Outside of hotel visits, Dalata will seek to build stakeholder relationships with customers, suppliers, investors, etc. through a combination of face-to-face and virtual meetings.”
CRH, which employs nearly 77,000 people worldwide, plans to control business travel after the pandemic by continuing to use online conferencing to interact with staff, customers and suppliers.
Of course, air travel emissions matter only marginally to the building materials giant in its journey over the next three decades to ‘carbon neutrality’ – a lesser target, it must be said. , as net zero emissions as it can be achieved through offsets such as purchasing carbon credits from mature tree planting projects or sophisticated carbon removal technologies.
Kilkenny-based global nutrition group Glanbia, which recently started reintroducing business travel only on an essential basis, has already used technology more and more in recent years to reduce business travel, according to a report. spokesperson.
A reduction in carbon emissions from travel is part of the group’s broader goal of reducing so-called Scope 3 emissions (mainly those generated by purchased goods and services) by 25% by the end of the decade, she added.
Still, the impact of managing director Siobhan Talbot and her team cutting down on air miles will be minimal when you consider the larger problem of belching cows in the group’s supply chain.