Knowledge for better food systems

Moving on: why flying less means more for business

In 2008 WWF published Travelling Light: Why the UK’s biggest companies are seeking alternatives to flying. It was one of the first reports to capture the interest among FTSE 350 companies in alternatives to business travel.
In 2008 WWF published Travelling Light: Why the UK’s biggest companies are seeking alternatives to flying. It was one of the first reports to capture the interest among FTSE 350 companies in alternatives to business travel. The report revealed that there was an appetite among businesses to use emerging technologies, such as high-definition videoconferencing, to reduce staff travel – especially flying. In September 2010, WWF commissioned Critical Research to carry out similar market research to that of Travelling Light. WWF wanted to understand changes to business travel and meetiNg practices within large UK companies during the past two years, while the UK has been in a recession. From a sample of the largest 500 companies, 158 interviews were undertaken. Key findings
  • 86% of companies are either reducing their carbon footprint from business travel or intend to do so.
  • 47% have reduced the number of business flights they’ve taken in the last two years.
  • 63% of companies that responded now have a policy in place to reduce business flights, or are intending to implement one. This reduction in business flying is likely to be permanent.
  • Of those companies which have cut their flying, 85% do not intend to return to ‘business as usual’ levels of flying. From this same group, the vast majority agreed that it’s possible for a company to fly less and remain both profitable and competitive.
There has been an increase in the use of different types of conferencing, with video conferencing deemed as the best alternative to flying. As the technology improvs and staff become more familiar with it, further uptake is expected. It’s clear that change is being driven from the top and that businesses have made board-level decisions to reduce their business flights. Respondents reported thatthey expect to encourage more use of all conferencing technologies in the next two years. This research has shown that there have been changes in the patterns of flying. Domestic and short-haul flights are easier to cut than long haul flights, with audio and videoconferencing the best substitutes. Improvements to the UK and European train network have contributed to a modal shift from the plane to the train, especially for domestic flights and only marginally less so for short-haul flights. Eurostar and other high-speed rail companies continue to shorten journey times, and provide staff with a mobile office – with laptops and smart phones enabling staff to remain productive while travelling on the train. Main reasons for reducing travel The findings and case studies in this report demonstrate these key benefits of cutting travel:
  • Significant savings to travel budgets
  • Reductions in companies’ carbon footprint
  • Increased flexibility for staff, and improved work-life balance
  • Ability of staff to continue working during disruption to train or air networks
  • New culture of working and collaborating – questioning the need to travel
  • This research has highlighted that businesses would like to see a more affordable and efficient rail network in the UK and Europe. Investment in high-speed rail would reduce journey times. And if the cost can compete with domestic flights, it’s likely that there would be a continued shift from domestic flights to train journeys. There was also widespread support for nationwide high-speed broadband. Tax incentives to reduce the cost of videoconferencing and tax exemptions for company ‘green schemes’ to encourage staff to hold more virtual meetings were also seen as important in reducing business travel. With so many of the UK’s largest companies saying that they can remain profitable and competitive while flying less, and the widespread and continuing corporate commitment to flying less, the economic case for significant expansion of UK airports remains in doubt. WWF supports more efficiently run airports - not bigger ones. And greater investment in high-speed rail in the UK and across Europe. These improvements will enable a modal shift from plane to train. A reduction of flights to many of the closer destinations in Europe would also free up capacity for other destinations which are not so easily replaced by train.

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