Transport Minister Norman Baker gave a video address as part of a lecture organised by BusinessGreen on how businesses can introduce green strategies.
I’m delighted to be able to be with you today, even if it is only remotely, though this virtual appearance does help me to discharge 1 of my portfolio responsibilities, namely encouraging alternatives to travel, of which more later.
Today’s topic of green travel seems the perfect platform for discussing green technology. This represents the cutting edge for the transport industry whether you’re talking about ultra-low carbon cars or low carbon buses.
The coalition government, is fully supportive of such innovations. We’re supporting ultra-low emission vehicles with our Plug-In Car Grant for both private and business buyers. We’re paying around £47 million to bus operators - through the Green Bus Fund - to provide around 540 new, low carbon buses by next April.
We’re also ‘greening’ the railways by electrifying lines, reducing consumption per train and taking forward a high speed network - offering a genuine alternative to domestic air travel.
And, if you want to get a sense of where the technology is going, a good place to start, ironically, is London’s Transport Museum - a short cycle from here. I was lucky enough to pop down there a few weeks ago. As well as glimpsing of one of those pristine new low carbon buses, I discovered the fantastic Sense and the City exhibition. For those with a passion for gadgets it offers a marvellous vision of our future capital - filled with driverless cars, unipods, emotion-sensitive scooters and the inevitable talking bus stop!
But there is another way to interpret that somewhat ambiguous phrase ‘green travel’. Instead of placing the emphasis solely on technology I believe we should also be concentrating on travel behaviour. Making use, for example, of telepresence, home and flexible working, or work hubs.
This matters because, as I was reminded by my museum trip, technological change is often driven by behavioural change.
As people seek faster, safer, more comfortable journeys, so their modes of travel evolve accordingly - the horse drawn carriages of yesteryear moving aside for the electric trams and buses.
But whereas the rising public tide has forced the pace in the transport revolutions of the past, we cannot afford to wait while the earth shakes and the seas rise. The reality of climate change means we must act now. So the government has set more radical interim limits on emissions than ever before. Our aim is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% from 1990 levels between 2023 to 2027. That’s equivalent to 1950 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. But the task of winning hearts and minds remains.
Transport remains the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions. And commuter and business travel are still responsible for nearly 40% of miles driven by car.
And despite the fact that many of you here today are at the forefront of using new technologies in business, you still tend to be the exception rather than the rule.
So it’s our job to make sustainable travel as essential to business as the balance sheet or the bottom line. That means three things. First, we must show companies that this approach to travel can be successful. Case studies from Cisco customers for example, show that video and web conferencing can reduce the need for business travel by 30%.
They are not alone. Microsoft has reduced travel by 27% through the use of technology.
And WWF-UK’s latest ‘Moving On’ research, shows nearly half of FTSE 500 companies have cut their flights by an average of 20% in the last 2 years - with alternatives to travel playing a major role.
Second, we must encourage companies to realise that sustainable travel is not a complication but an opportunity. After all, we’re looking to turn the UK into a dynamic, low carbon economy and companies with a green outlook will be the ones to benefit most. And with the Olympics just around the corner, the returns could come sooner than expected. Our transport system will be preparing for a huge influx of spectators during the Games.
Adopting sustainable alternatives and relieving pressure on the system will help ensure the smooth running of the Games.
Companies who adopt greener ways of doing things are already realising the benefits. For example, law firm Eversheds saved £1.3 million between 2008 to 2009 and 2009 to 2010 just by reducing travel. Interestingly, a report produced by the department shows that companies who think sustainably about their travel also receive a wide range of benefits such as: reduced absenteeism, increased staff retention, better productivity and improved resilience.
Third, and finally, companies looking for sustainable alternatives to travel, must plan, plan, plan. Research shows that a workplace travel plan - a package of measures to manage business travel - can reduce commuter car travel by 10% to 30%. Such a plan should be comprehensive covering business location, resources, working methods, technology, resilience and capacity to adapt to a low carbon economy.
However, your solution to the carbon challenge needn’t be the same as your competitor’s. In addition to working hard to fill its long distance distribution vehicles, Boots is also encouraging its employees to reduce the impact of their commuter travel through car sharing, flexible working and promotion of public transport. In contrast Capgemini is reducing carbon emissions from travel by 14.5%, cutting work-related flights and doubling the use of video conferencing facilities.
But government doesn’t expect you to shoulder the planning burden on your own. That’s why we’re supporting, financially and otherwise, the National Business Travel Network (NBTN), a business-to-business network enabling companies to share best practice and promote the business case for travel plans and smarter choices. You will shortly be hearing more on this from the NBTN programme director, Heather McInroy.
Government is also practising what it preaches. We’ve pledged to reduce our domestic business flights by 20% over the lifetime of the Parliament. And my department is looking to slash its travel by 50% during the period of the Olympic Games. During a recent trial week, we positively changed almost 70% of staff trips either by entirely removing journeys or re-timing, re-routing or moving to walking and cycling.
Green travel is about more than technology. It’s about sustainable ways of travelling. I know that you understand the issues and appreciate the opportunities more than most.
So I hope that your conference today gives you the platform for a stimulating debate about the changes ahead and takes us a step closer towards greener businesses and a flourishing low carbon economy.