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Environmental concerns set to put brake on future business trips

Research finds nearly half of UK workers are concerned about the negative environmental impact of business travel, with almost two-fifths actively wanting to reduce the number of times they travel for work

Three months after the UK’s Covid-19 lockdown was mandated, a study from O2 has found that UK workers are set to shun travel in favour of remote working, because of environmental concerns.

For the research, O2 Business partnered with ICM, YouGov and Cenex, a non-profit centre of excellence for low-carbon technologies. With ICM Unlimited, O2 conducted a survey of 2,019 working adults, aged 16 and over, covering all UK nations and regions, between 20 and 27 March 2020, just as the UK moved into lockdown.

A separate online survey was commissioned with YouGov with a total sample size of 4,509 adults, of whom 2,394 were workers. Field work was undertaken between 22-26 April 2020.

O2 Business said the coronavirus crisis has simply accelerated existing trends for flexible working, and placed greater demands on business to change. UK businesses have had to pivot quickly and embrace technologies such as videoconferencing, enabling meetings to take place online in the absence of commuting and business travel.

The top-line finding of O2’s The flexible future of work report was that nearly half of UK workers (48%) were concerned about the negative environmental impact of business travel, with almost two-fifths (39%) actively wanting to reduce the number of times they travel for work. Indeed, they actively want to scale back non-essential business trips, forcing businesses to reconsider the future of work-related travel in a post-lockdown world.

The research also showed that 46% of UK workers are concerned about the environmental impact of travelling to and from work – which increases to over 50% among generation Y and Z workers. This is in stark contrast to working life pre-lockdown, when many UK workers spent time travelling for business – nearly one-fifth took a trip at least once a week, and one in 10 travelled abroad at least every month. That is in addition to the commute, which averaged 31 minutes each way.

O2 Business calculated that if the number of UK domestic business trips (excluding air travel) taken by full-time workers was reduced by just 10%, a megatonne of greenhouse gas emissions would be avoided from the atmosphere every year – the equivalent of all home, business and road transport emissions in the London Borough of Bromley.

It added that if UK workers who could work remotely choose to work from home twice a week, the UK would see an annual decrease of 14.3 megatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions from travel – more than the total emissions for Northern Ireland.

The research found that not only were UK workers conscious about the environmental impact of business travel and commuting, but more than three-quarters (77%) think it is very important that a business is environmentally conscious when they are considering a new role. This figure rises to 82% of the generation Z workforce, demonstrating how UK businesses that prioritise and care for the environment are more likely to attract the next generation of talent.

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Katy Liddell, director of business sales and service at O2, said that for all the “obvious” negatives of lockdown, it has confirmed that with the right technology in place, flexible working works. “It has become increasingly clear that many businesses can operate without the need for continuous, and often unnecessary travel, with a positive impact on the environment,” she said.

“Connectivity should be at the heart of our economy as we rebuild from the pandemic – keeping businesses connected and helping to reduce our negative impact on the environment.”

Keith Budden, head of business development at Cenex, added: “Transport accounts for just over a quarter (26%) of UK emissions. The most effective way that our nation can lower the production of these harmful emissions is to reduce carbon-intensive travel, and our calculations have shown the massive environmental and economic benefits of reducing business journeys.

“This isn’t to say that business travel should and could be eliminated entirely – there just needs to be a better balance. When business travel is required, it is important to do so in the most environmentally friendly way – using trains, public transport and electric cars. Now is the time for UK business to listen and take action.”

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