by By Michael J. Shapiro | February 01, 2009

When the employees of Milwaukee-based Johnson Controls book business trips, they get a brief lesson in carbon emissions. A carbon calculator integrated into the booking tool now displays emissions for flights on an approval screen, which is sent to both travelers and their managers for pre-trip OKs.

The tool has been rolled out gradually since this spring and should be accessible to all of the company's 11,000 U.S.-based employees by next month. For now, it's meant to raise awareness and inspire travelers to make better decisions, says Michael Hall, manager of global travel services for Johnson Controls. "It's not going to happen overnight," he admits, "but I'm hoping it will happen."

His bigger-picture vision is that carbon emissions will be a growing part of preferred-supplier selection, and as more firms make ecological concerns a priority, airlines will realize that greening their fleets is critical to remaining competitive.

Johnson Controls is using a calculator powered by the Carbon Consultancy (, which, says Hall, "is not perfect yet, but it reflects a more accurate figure based on aircraft type." Tools that estimate emissions, on the other hand, don't take into account details such as the fuel efficiency of a particular plane, seat configuration and other variables.

But a calculator only goes so far. An effective approach to greener travel, says Hall, must measure, offer a motive to improve and tell how to improve. To that end, Johnson Controls debuted a portal on its intranet last month, with a carbon calculator that shows emissions between specific points and tips for going greener. The site notes which aircraft are more fuel-efficient, as well as which airlines have more fuel-efficient fleets. Additional guidance will come from a blog by four or five travelers, describing their steps to cut emissions on the road.
Selling sustainability
While Hall tackled the effort in-house, some suppliers are making it easier for clients to incorporate a green perspective into their booking tools. Often, this means displaying carbon-emission calculations for an itinerary before it's booked.

Southlake, Texas-based GetThere unveiled GetThere Green in October 2007 and began rolling it out to clients in the first quarter of 2008. The program gives travel managers the opportunity to activate a carbon calculator within the booking platform, as well as indicate preferred suppliers from a green perspective. The solution is customizable: Clients choose which carbon calculator they'd like to use, the types of messages they want to convey, and where and when in the booking process they want to convey them.

Yukari Sison, director of travel services for Silver Spring, Md.-based Discovery Communications (parent of TV's Discovery Channel), unveiled the first phase of GetThere Green in April, to coincide with Earth Day. "We are a green company, from top to bottom," Sison explains, noting the headquarters building's platinum level of LEED certification. She adds, "We are launching a new network in June, called Planet Green, and we wanted to actually 'walk the talk' within our building and with our employee base."

The booking platform encourages Discovery's travelers to make green choices. It does not, however, include a carbon calculation. "Discovery is not here to make our employees feel guilty for having to fly to New York or L.A. for business," Sison explains. "So we decided, at this phase, not to provide information on the carbon emissions. We felt that was sending a negative message to our employees. Instead, by using dynamic messaging and supplier designations, we show our employees who our green partners are, so they can make those decisions when they're making their travel reservations."

As industrywide standards are developed, says Sison, she plans to designate hotels by level of green certification. And if the industry lags, she foresees Discovery creating its own standards.

Green travel advice also is presented during the booking process. For instance, Sison says, if a traveler is going to Chicago, a message might pop up that recommends a local restaurant with an organic menu, or a vendor offering hybrid rental cars. Or, a traveler looking for a flight from D.C. to New York might see the prompt: "Have you considered a train?"