The Future of Meetings is Not Traveling. #42 #cong16 

By Sean Brady.

I recently participated in the Climate Launchpad competition where the organisers show a caricature of a polar bear on a melting iceberg and we were asked what this meant for the climate. Of course, we all pointed out Global warming and how it was effecting the polar icecaps and therefore the polar bears’ environment and their future. The key point that the organiser asked us to take for this image was “Polar Bears don’t have money!” and we needed to relate our climate change idea to language of business. Our vision for the future of meetings is about positive travel avoidance rather than a blanket “Don’t travel” policy which encourages and rewards employees to find sustainable ways to achieve their business objectives without opting to travel.  

Well, I was selected as an ESB eCar Ambassador in 2015 where I was asked to write a blog of my experience with the electric car so I decided to calculate my Carbon footprint reduction compared to my VW Petrol car which came to an annual savings of 3 tonnes of CO2 by changing my mode of transport. This was my road to Damascus moment about the climate impact of business travel and formed the genesis for the OnlineAssist idea. Our dream is to go from that basic CO2 comparison calculation by using my electric car last year to a solution that will save millions of tonnes of CO2 assisting employees to opt for Online meetings in preference to Business travel.

So why avoid travel when conducting business?

According to the Climate Change book by Joseph Romm ( and reviewed by as follows ), our effect since the Industrial Revolution shows that GHG Emissions today are six times higher than they were in 1950. Moreover, CO2 levels have now hit 400 parts per million. As a result, the Earth has warmed 1.5°F (0.85°C) since 1900. Most of this warming, approximately 1°F, has occurred only since 1970.

To have a significant chance—greater than 50%—of keeping total warming below 2°C, we need to cut the emissions of carbon dioxide and other major GHG pollutants by more than 50% by mid-century, which in turn means that global GHG emissions must peak within a decade or so and start a rapid decline. That means that a third of oil reserves, half of gas reserves and over 80% of current coal reserves should remain unused from 2010 to 2050. So, clearly, we need to change our behaviour.

In the future, hot summers occur twice as often as they did, and cool summers occur far less often than they did. Dangerous heat waves will see a 50-fold increase. By the middle of this century. Even the coolest summers will be hotter than the hottest summers of the past 50 years. By 2050, the United States will see wildfires twice as destructive as today, and some 20 million acres a year will burn. Storms will be bigger. Tropical diseases will spread. Fresh water will become more scarce. Feeding the global population will become very difficult, and we will have an increase in civic unrest. 

This is a strong statement but, despite the future predictions on climate change, businesses are unlikely to change their behaviour without making the case in the language of business. (i.e. making it worth their while)

So here is how Business Travel contributes to CO2 levels ( in language of the environment ) as follows:

  • 1 Tonne of CO2 per 3,000 miles in a medium size petrol car
  • 1 Tonne of CO2 per 5,500 miles when flying on a commercial airplane
  • The average annual CO2 created per employee is 4 Tonnes.

And here is the case for travel avoidance in language of business ( i.e. not talking about the environment or polar bears ) but in terms of increased productivity, cost saving and compliance.

Productivity improvement - 32 hours of productivity gained for every tonne of CO2 saved. This is a direct benefit for businesses to opt travel avoidance which takes into consideration the productivity loss when traveling.

Cost saving - the projected annual spend on Business travel worldwide will be 1.1 Trillion euros this year which is based on over 2 billion business meetings that will involve travel by one or more participant. Despite the advancements in online conferencing and global connectivity, this upward trend is set to increase to €1.5 trillion euros spend by 2020. According to the Global Business Travel Association, Business travel equates to an average of 15 days per employee with an average of €300 per day in expenses which equates to €4,500,000 per annum for a 1000 employee organisation.

Compliance - At the end of the year, a new EU Directive for non-financial reporting that will come into effect on the 6th of Dec this year that requires Enterprises with 500 or more employees in the EU to disclose their carbon impact including the CO2 equivalent created by business travel. With the likes of the CDP (Carbon Disclosure Project), there is also a value in demonstrating your sustainability which will directly impact on your bottom-line as investment funds become more green.

Fines & Taxes – According to an article in the Irish Times, Ireland will likely to be fined up to €610 million in 2020 for missing Green House Gases emissions which could be as much as €5.5 Billion by 2030 unless positive changes which would obviously benefit the taxpayer and businesses if reduced.  

All these issues will impact positively on cost of sale so the next time that you see an opportunity to persuade a new client to go with an online meeting rather than making that sales trip, point out that your cost of sales will be less from having an online meeting which will directly benefit the client. Think of all the energy, both yours and your mode of transport, that you need to travel to a client and then put a fraction of that energy in making your online meeting effective.  You can even go further and make your Online Meeting policy a meaningful part of your CSR and reward your clients and employees for opting for a better and more sustainable way of conducting business thus creating Carbon Empathy. Remember, the future can only be shaped by what we opt for today.

© Eoin Kennedy 2017 eoin at congregation dot ie