57% of travellers choose to pay a premium for a less polluting flight

June 27, 2009

A year ago Hugo Kimber of the Carbon Consultancy, one of our ICRT associates, and I were arguing over coffee about whether carbon offsetting had contributed to raising consciousness about the pollution caused by flying, or whether it had done little more than convince people that for a small additional cost they could buy an offset and forget about it. My view is that carbon offsets are like medieval pardons purchased from the church – they do little good in the world. The voluntary take up for carbon offsets remains very low – less than 10% which demonstrates that travellers are bright.

I suspect that the majority of travellers, the potential purchasers, are unconvinced by the carbon offset product. There are three fundamental problems which undermine consumer confidence

1.    the polluting effect of the flight is immediate but the carbon offset does nothing to reduce the pollution caused by the traveller’s flight AND it puts no pressure on the airline to reduce its pollution.
2.    many of the offsets in the market place lack credibility, they are uncertain and they are provided by for profit companies often with high transaction costs.
3.     if a traveller uses more than one carbon calculator they begin to see the problem – carbon offsets are available at a range of very different prices, the cost of carbon offsetting is way below the UK government’s shadow price of carbon at £26.50 per tonne in 2009.

Hugo and I agreed that we need to convince people to flysmart – instead of flying dumb. To flysmart travellers would need to

1.   flyless and prefer the train over a plane
2.   fly direct and fly with the most carbon efficient airlines – by choosing to fly with those airlines making the biggest efforts to be reduce the pollution they cause.  The traveller achieves two things
a.    the traveller encourages the good guys; and
b.    causes less pollution by their own flying
3.    Travellers should also make a charitable contribution to assist others to mitigate or adapt as they deal with climate change. Carbon Philanthropy, with gift aid, rather than carbon offsetting.

To test the idea of flysmart we needed to be able to provide travellers with a flight search engine which would enable them to choose the cheapest greenest option. Hugo persuaded Global Travel Market to create the Carbon Friendly Flight Search site. Go online and try it out, or download the screen print of choices for London to Rome  The engine enables travellers to choose to fly with the most carbon efficient carrier based on the fleet – with more accurate data on particular routes and loadings the tool would be even more effective but we have used the best available data sets.

Over the last few months 57% of users of the Carbon Friendly Flight Search have paid a premium, averaging 19%, over the cheapest flight offered by selecting to book the cheapest and greenest flight offered. Over 10,000 flight searches have been made on the site.

This demonstrates that if mainstream search engines offer a choice a majority of consumers will choose a more responsible flight.

As Justin Francis of responsibletravel.com adds
“Surveys have consistently shown that people say they would pay more for more environmentally friendly travel products. The travel industry response has generally been ‘well they would say that wouldn’t they.’ For the first time with this data we see the proof. In the future more and more people will choose their flight based on not just price and convenience, but on their carbon emissions. The message to the airlines is clear; carbon becomes an area for competitive advantage.”

Is there any valid reason why all search engines should not offer the consumer the opportunity to make a more responsible, greener choice?

We have demonstrated that there is demand for it.

For a copy of the press release

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