Across the United Nations, agencies are finding that travel policies first introduced to control costs are a valuable tool for delivering environmental benefits too. That is certainly what is happening at the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
Travel is an essential element of IOM's work. One entire division is devoted to airline negotiations, policy and quality control, and over 200 of its staff worldwide are responsible for coordinating the movement of people, using web-based procedures and tools based around a comprehensive travel policy.
At least six elements of this policy have a direct impact on environmental sustainability.
• All flying requires authorization. This applies to all IOM staff, and is only granted if they can explain why alternative forms of communication aren’t viable. This rule has reduced the number of flights taken by staff, and ensures that all air travel is fully justified.
• Everyone flies economy class. Even IOM’s Director General abides by this rule – which is critical in highlighting its importance. For the last ten years it has applied to all air travel by IOM staff, regardless of the length of the flight (although business class seats are allowed in exceptional cases for medical reasons, and staff can take a rest day after long haul flights of more than eight hours). Flying economy class causes significantly lower emissions, as well as being cheaper; the average business class passenger is responsible for twice the greenhouse gas emissions of someone in economy, and a first class traveller for three times as much.
• Staff are encouraged to 'bundle' missions. Several meetings or destinations can be covered in one trip.
• Local staff are deployed when possible, reducing the need for long-haul travel from head office.
• No more than three people travel on the same mission. Exceptions are made for important conferences, to a maximum of 30, but this must be approved by the Director General.
• IOM purchases its tickets direct from the airline. Each office is equipped with AMADEUS terminals to allow immediate access to routings and fares, bypassing the travel agents (and their fees) while helping staff find the most sustainable and convenient routes quickly and easily. Their ticket requests are directed to a centralized contact point, and upon receipt of the tickets all information (price, taxes, routing, which mission placed the order, and so on) is entered into I-Gator, IOM’s web-based Integrated Global Ticket Order. This is linked to the accounting system, enabling instant payment by the Manila-based invoice settlement unit.
IOM's experience shows how effective travel policies, supported by senior managers, can achieve significant financial and carbon savings. IOM Director General William Lacy Swing emphasises how this relates to the organization's mission. "Climate change, demographic trends and globalization all point to more migration in the future. We need to think ahead and plan for change; we need to come up with integrated solutions that link migration and climate change adaptation; and we need to be prepared to respond to the humanitarian challenges that climate change is already posing today."