Irish companies are banking on growing global drive to reduce airline miles after Covid

As companies around the world work out tentative plans to get employees back into work, abandoning Zoom can be a step too far for once high-profile executives, though tempting.

A year and a half of consecutive video calls from makeshift home offices may have resulted in people who normally travel to work on a regular basis forgetting the stress of dealing with crowded airports, delayed flights, and life out of a suitcase.

But with airlines and hotel owners dreaming of a recovery in international business travel, the all-inclusive junk may never be the hallmark of the corporate world that it once was.

Zurich Insurance Group made headlines this week saying it plans to cut air travel by 70 percent over the next year from pre-pandemic levels when it announced plans to accelerate its carbon emissions reduction efforts.

“The experience of the global pandemic has shown us a way to improve many aspects of our everyday and working life, and there is no going back,” said CEO Mario Greco.

It can, of course, be dismissed as a blank virtue signal signaled by another company wanting to flag its green credentials to attract a wall of environmental, social and governance money (ESG) buzzing around in search of investment. However, companies can expect more questions from investors about their travel policies after Covid in the future when they sell their sustainability reports.

Zurich is far from alone. Confectionery giant Mars – unlisted but a regular issuer of bonds 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 instead of attendance “.

Elsewhere, UK lender Lloyds Banking Group has promised to cut carbon emissions from travel to less than 50 percent of 2019 levels, while advisory firms like EY and Deloitte have tried to stay ahead of many of their clients by publicly making plans outline business travel shorten.

Irish companies are changing their ways

Irish public companies are also changing their approach – even if most of them seem reluctant to set hard targets for the time being.

The Bank of Ireland had already cut business travel costs by 20 percent in the two years before the pandemic. “We expect further reductions in business travel in 2022 and beyond as we continue to embed technology and new ways of working,” said a company spokesman. “Video conferencing is and will remain a key part of the way we work by reducing the need for business travel when it is not required.”

Rival AIB said it had also worked to permanently reduce business travel before Covid-19. “This reduction was of course accelerated by Covid-19,” said a spokesman. “We do not plan to return to our previous level of travel.”

Tony Smurfit, CEO of Smurfit Kappa, whose own international paperboard manufacturing business has recently been charged by environmental concerns related to plastics, said earlier this year that the group’s typical travel and entertainment bills were around 50 million euros per year according to the Post halved pandemic.

“In Smurfit Kappa, we spent around 50 million euros annually on travel and entertainment. You sit back and say, ‘Was it necessary to go to Amsterdam for a one-hour meeting or a three-hour meeting?’ ”Smurfit said in an interview.

A compromise

Meanwhile, the Dalata Hotel Group, awaiting a recovery in international travel, is trying to restart their Dublin and London hotels as the Staycationers kept the show for their regional locations on the way over the summer and are trying tweaks without signaling anything that would harm their own companies.

The compromise? Fewer flights, but more overnight stays. “The company continues to place great emphasis on doing business face-to-face, especially when visiting hotels and meeting people across the group,” said a spokeswoman. “Outside of hotel visits, Dalata will try to build relationships with customers, suppliers, investors, etc. through a combination of face-to-face and virtual meetings.”

CRH, which employs nearly 77,000 people worldwide, is known to plan to keep post-pandemic business travel in check by continuing to use online conferencing to interact with employees, customers and suppliers.

Air traffic emissions will of course only play a marginal role for the building materials giant on its way to “CO2 neutrality” over the next three decades – a lower goal than net zero emissions, as it can be achieved through compensation payments such as the purchase of emission certificates from projects like mature tree planting projects or sophisticated carbon removal technologies.

Kilkenny-based global nutrition company Glanbia, which recently began reintroducing business travel on an essential basis, has increasingly used technology to reduce work travel in recent years, according to a spokeswoman.

Reducing CO2 emissions from travel is part of the group’s broader goal to reduce so-called Scope 3 emissions (essentially those caused by goods and services purchased) by 25 percent by the end of the decade, she added.

Still, the impact of CEO Siobhan Talbot and her team’s reduction in airline miles will be small, given the larger problem of cow belching in the group’s supply chain.

About Nina Snider

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