Monday, 25th of February, 2002
Post 11 September
A case for considering the environment
It perhaps seems a strange time to be advocating sustainable travel, which is by definition a long-term challenge, when the focus of everyone in the industry is on short-term survival.
The combined effects of 11 September, the recessionary economy and the war against terrorism have created an unprecedented situation with adverse effects for travel and tourism around the world.
Routes touching the US are most affected in the short term and it is a disaster for emerging markets where the capacity to absorb losses is most limited. The sector generally is slashing short-term business forecasts in the order of 15-25% with a seemingly long-term climate of hardship and uncertainty.
Europe is no exception with the carcasses of airlines and travel companies already littering the landscape. The hit is on both the cost and revenue sides of the balance sheet with security and insurance prices souring while business and leisure traffic slumps. The first casualty is labour with job losses matching the reduced business forecasts and aircraft orders taking a beating.
There are some bright spots - the inevitable European majors' consolidation has been put on a fast track - with benefits to those regional carriers designed to pick up the pieces. Carriers are reinventing themselves with lower cost bases: hitherto protected markets and slots are slowly becoming more open and low fare carriers are having a free air time field day.
Governments too are waking up to the fact that this is a long-term crisis and with the exception of the USA who moved very quickly, they are gearing up to "sustain the transport system, while keeping the playing field level." What that means in practice is to carefully consider claims for "9/11" related costs while desperately deciding whether to bail out the majors if the going gets even tougher. Hopefully it may also mean some accelerated push on the infrastructure and air traffic control fronts as a means to increase efficiency and create jobs. Realistically it will not change the general direction of the EU and national governments to promote and increasingly demand a more sustainable pan European travel system.
This latter point alone would be a good reason for regional airlines and airports to increase their focus on sustainability and making the case that a responsive, responsible regional airline sector can play a much bigger role in that sustainable travel future than the present rail focused draft suggests. Particularly if one measures sustainability in the generally accepted triple bottom line terms - economics as well as ecological and social. Then the thorny question of subsidies would have to be weighed in the balance - as well as the job creation value of the time conscious business supported by a regional sector which is following mainstream industrial sustainability patterns.
A good case for going greener
However, regulation isn't the only reason. There's a very good business case to be made for "going greener", beyond the major strides already taken in the regulated areas of noise and emission reduction. Adopting an environmental management system across all facets of operation - offices, terminals, maintenance facilities, ground transport and the like can reduce energy, reduce waste, reduce water and reduce costs.
The GREEN GLOBE Standard for example, which marries the widely accepted ISO principles to Agenda 21 from the Rio Earth Summit, has 10 specific areas of improvement for airlines and related but separate indicators for airports. As well as benchmarking and independent certification measures to help keep companies on the straight and narrow.
Perhaps most importantly there's the question of stakeholders. It's now well proven that employees like to participate in green programmes and that local communities with their own approaches to Agenda 21 are happy to embrace such initiatives. What is becoming clearer is that passengers are also on board. The polls clearly demonstrate that given a choice of a similarly priced green travel product and a non green one the vast majority of customers will prefer the former. They will even be more supportive if they know that this is helping to control costs and hence the price of their travel.
2002 is the tenth anniversary of the Rio Earth Summit. There will be another summit in September in Johannesburg - last time travel was not even on the agenda; this time it will be a key discussion point. Media interest will be high and hence public interest - marketing and environmental experts of regional airlines please take note.