Commercial benefits and demands from staff and consumers are driving travel companies to adopt a more serious approach to green issues.

Speaking at an Association of Women Travel Executives lunch, Lufthansa general manager UK and Ireland Marianne Sammann said traditional “tree-hugging issues” had become “serious commercial issues” in recent years.

She said reducing fuel consumption had become a commercial issue for airlines as well as an environmental one. “Fuel is so expensive everyone has to save fuel,” she said.

She added: “Being green involves a lot more than signing up to emission schemes. Our job is to organise traffic in a sustainable way not to tell people not to travel. People need to be mobile.”

Carlson Wagonlit human resources director Sue Kavanagh, who also spoke at the lunch, said staff were proving a driving force behind the business travel agency’s green strategy.

“We have found it becoming increasingly important to staff they want to see the type of company they are working for,” she said.

The company had already made commercial savings by introducing green initiatives. “If you put vending machines on standby overnight you can save thousands of pounds,” she said.

As recruitment becomes more competitive, the issue has become vital for companies to attract new staff, with candidates increasingly asking about the company’s corporate social responsibility stance, she added.

Carlson Wagonlit began to consider green issues about six years ago and started putting a serious strategy together in the last two to three years.

The company now has a green manifesto and has offered workshops on its strategy to agency managers. “I was gobsmacked by the enthusiasm of our staff,” said Kavanagh.

The company has scrapped Christmas cards in favour of buying an acre of rainforest.