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Business travel: cutting the carbon footprint

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Sunday, March 01, 2009

As the threat of global climate change grows, an increasing number of businesses are implementing sustainable practices to reduce their carbon footprints. But where recycling programs and sustainable building designs succeed, when it comes to business travel, most organizations fail to account for their emissions.

Business travelers log about 405 million trips in the U.S. each year, producing about 2 million metric tons of greenhouse gases annually. Oregon’s transportation sector accounts for 38% of the state’s greenhouse gas pollution, according to a report by Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s global warming advisory group.

“Organizations need to look not just at their carbon footprint, but the economic footprint of this process,” says Amy Spatrisano, a principal at sustainable conference management firm Meeting Strategies Worldwide.

Ideally, businesses should take a proactive approach to limit travel-related carbon emissions before they are made, says Chris Hagerbaumer, deputy director of the Oregon Environmental Council. Holding meetings electronically reduces the cost of business travel and decreases travel-related emissions.

“When travel is necessary, be more conscious of minimizing that footprint,” says Spatrisano. “Rethink your meetings, and who needs to be there.”

Mass transit options such as trains and buses are efficient transportation alternatives to air and car travel because of the shared passenger loads. However, those traveling long distances by air and car can limit their greenhouse gas emissions as well.

Carriers including Delta Airlines and Continental Airlines provide air travelers the option to purchase carbon offsets when they buy their tickets. Travelers should also look for direct flights as opposed to flights with layovers, which use double the amount of fuel.

For those driving, basic car maintenance will improve a car’s gas mileage and lower emissions. Regular tune-ups can increase a vehicle’s gas mileage by 4%, while replacing a clogged air filter can improve gas mileage up to 10%, according to a report by fueleconomy.gov. Nationwide, rental car agencies are expanding their fleets of hybrid and fuel-efficient vehicles for drivers wanting to leave their gas-guzzlers at home.

Hagerbaumer also recommends that businesses purchase carbon offsets to reduce the effects of employee travel. Organizations such as Carbonfund.org and TerraPass, a retailer of carbon offsets, allow individuals and businesses to purchase inexpensive offsets that are then invested into projects that support clean energy development and reforestation.

Many hotels are working to make their operations more sustainable by reducing both energy consumption and waste, providing business travelers with environmentally friendly lodging options. “Green hotels” such as the Doubletree Hotel Portland can be found using tools like the eco-tourism section on Orbitz.com and on the Green Hotel Association website.   NICOLE STORMBERG

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