Carbon Emissions from Business Air Travel Elicit Turn to ‘Green Meetings’

Businesses facing the dual pressures of remaining sensitive to environmental impacts and a need to communicate by using in-person meetings and conferences have turned to “green meetings” to bridge the divide.

According to the Department of Transportation, airlines in the United States carried 62.4 million scheduled domestic and international passengers in March 2010 alone, which represents a 2.4 percent increase from the same month in 2009.

As the economy rebounds, the numbers are projected to keep rising, and according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, business men and women going to meetings represent a hefty portion of those travelers: 16 percent.

While business travel is rebounding, several companies are attempting to offset their carbon footprints by implementing environmentally sound practices in planning their meetings, and organizations such as the Environmental Protection Agency and The National Business Association have released guidelines on how to do so. 

According to the EPA Web site, “Anyone who has ever organized a conference or meeting knows the monetary and environmental costs involved in such an undertaking.” So the goal is to, “show hosts, planners and suppliers how to incorporate green principles into every aspect of conference and meeting planning.”

With simple tips such as, using paperless technology, reducing distances traveled for meeting locations, and choosing hotels that offer recycling and linen reuse programs, the EPA hopes to reduce the environmental impact of in-person meetings.

In a response to the popularity of the green meeting, Starwood Hotels, which owns popular brands such as W Hotels, Westin and Sheraton, recently launched sustainable meeting practices that will be implemented in all of their properties worldwide.

"Rolling this program out across North America formalizes environmental practices our hotels have been implementing and we are excited to encourage," said Sandy Swider, Starwood's Vice President for Global Citizenship, in a press release issued by Starwood.

Buyers Wary of Extended AT&T Contracts with iPhone 4

Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the latest smartphone in Apple’s repertoire, the iPhone 4, on June 8 at the WWDC, and though it boasts some fancy new features—a slimmer body, a “retinal display” with more pixels than the human eye can process, and video chat capabilities with FaceTime—some buyers remain wary because of the extended contract with AT&T.

After Apple first offered the device to Verizon four years ago and was turned down, they turned to AT&T, who agreed to the exclusive contract and reaped 4.3 million subscribers toward the end of 2008 in benefits.

According to comScore’s Data Passport report, AT&T is second only to Verizon in smartphone purchases, but leads the market in smartphone purchases by users over the age of 13. Since users in this demographic tend to download more data, AT&T collected 18 percent more revenue a month in data revenues per customer than did Verizon last quarter.

Data revenues, which come from Web browsing, messaging, and wireless application downloads, are projected to be the way of the future as they are quickly supplanting phone calls—and AT&T is positioned at the forefront.

However, several market analysts predict that the extended honeymoon for AT&T is quickly running dry, and some say that the iPhone may be available for use with Verizon in 2011.

A June 8 Wall Street Journal Article reported that executives at both Apple and Verizon speak regularly and say that Apple is even developing an iPhone that is compatible with Verizon’s service.

All of this bodes for shaky ground for AT&T customers, many of whom feel locked into contracts with a provider that has reportedly dropped three times more calls than any other carrier—including Verizon.

Additionally, it is speculated that AT&T is using stepped-up measures to lock customers in to their contracts. As of June 1, AT&T jumped the early contract termination fee from $150 to $325. Also, anyone who currently has a contract with AT&T that will expire in 2010 can purchase the iPhone 4 at a lower rate, provided they renew their contracts for another two years.

Is this a coincidence, or is AT&T trying to lock customers in before their exclusive contract is up?

Airline Fees Strain Corporate Travel Managers

The lucrative practice of charging ancillary fees has carved a niche in airline revenues, and corporate travel managers face a harried task in sorting through the complex and untidy charges.

Ancillary fees such as checked bag fees, additional charges for Wi-Fi, seat upgrades and charges for in-flight meals accounted for $7.8 billion in revenues for U.S. airlines in 2009, according to the Department of Transportation. That number represents a 40 percent increase from the previous year and accounts for 6.5 percent of all U.S. airline revenues.

As the recession dug its heals in and airlines went through several convulsions, consolidations and bankruptcies a new model for garnering revenue was needed, and airlines successfully alleviated that need with the ancillary charges in 2009. However, so great are the revenues streaming into the airlines’ coffers, travelers should expect them to be a permanent pest in their traveling road-maps.

According to a forecast issued by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the airline industry is poised to make $58 billion in ancillary fees in 2010 worldwide, and airlines in the U.S. stand to make $4 billion in baggage fees alone.

Since ancillary fees include everything from the charges for airport club access to on-board meals, entertainment and Internet, those in charge of managing travel expenses have a difficult task in determining which fees are basic flight necessities and which are mere luxuries.

One problem for corporate travel managers is that these fees are often lopped under one charge or listed under general terms, making it difficult to decipher what charges were made within corporate policy. A business traveler may be permitted under corporate policy to purchase an in-flight meal, but when that in-flight meal is not readily set aside on the bill from an upgrade to a seat with more leg room, the travel manager cannot properly budget and report these fees.

Additionally, several airlines unbundle the fees, so the traveler can acquire them at several different positions in the traveling process: they may upgrade their seat online, pay checked baggage fees upon checking in, and purchase Wi-Fi during takeoff. All of these instances are charged at different points and the airlines do not bundle them under one encompassing charge; therefore, corporate managers must rely on travel expenses submitted by their travelers.

A recent summit held by the Association of Corporate Travel Executives in Amsterdam on April 6 outlined three goals that the corporate travelers’ industry should strive to draw from airlines: transparency, uniformity and negotiability. The summit recommended that corporate travel managers grapple with ancillary fees by figuring them into their travel budgets, emphasizing regulations around the new fees in the corporation’s travel policy and by being specific about what is reimbursable and what is not.

Furthermore, the summit determined that the lack of uniformity and unbundled ancillary fees should, in many cases, “become deal makers or breakers in negotiations with carriers for the next year.”