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Monday, April 30, 2007

Eco Future: Two airline approaches

Two press releases last week from the airline industry, one from Delta and one from Virgin Airlines. Both announce changed business practices to be more green, but the messages the announcements sent were quite different.

Virgin signed a multi billion dollar promise to buy 15 of Boeing’s fuel-efficient 787s, and announced it intends to fly the world’s first bio-fueled commercial airplane.

Delta now offers fliers the option to make a $10 donation per ticket purchase to The Conservation Fund to help offset their carbon footprint (which goes up significantly with flying).

As someone who is evermore environmentally conscientious, I think of solutions in two frames: correcting the now and protecting the future. Virgin is clearly taking strides toward both, and in significant ways. But the more I thought about it, Delta is doing neither—test this out: carbon offsetting is simply allowing us to sustain our current habits--instead of correcting the damaging action.

It gets back to the issue highlighted in Mya Frazier’s cautionary AdAge article this week. If you’re going green, make sure it’s for real. My opinion is that everyone (not ‘if’) should be going green, but companies’ fear of public backlash when they don’t go far enough-- being called out as “greenwashing”—is legitimate.

And for that reason, there’s a lot of opportunity in the “protecting the future” variety of solutions. It’s creating a vision. Virgin has made awesome announcements about its intent for the future, and it’s basking in goodwill now.

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