Monday, August 31, 2009

It's All About Leverage

One of the best ideas I have seen in a while in respect to industries doing their bit for the environment would have to be the carbon offsetting programs now being created by airlines. Unlike most industries where the 'green companies' are voluntarily undergoing carbon audits, reducing, reusing and so forth, the airline industry is going a step further and actually asking its customers to offset as well. Aside from the obvious environmental benefits, there are many more reasons why this is a great idea.

Like all good projects, it's a sustainable idea. It does not create a financial strain on the company itself, it works by them simply asking their customers one more question as they book their ticket - "Would you like your kids to have a planet in the future?". It's the environmental equivalent of being asked - "Would you like fries with that."

The second reason I love this idea is that they are actually offering something that their customers want. Virgin Blue, Australia's first airline to offer its customers a carbon offset program now claim that around 12% of its passengers are voluntarily offsetting their flights. Considering that there is no human involvement in a vast majority of their bookings, it becomes patently obvious that these passengers are doing it solely because they care about the planet. Carbon neutral makes sense and is important to them. They are not given big green seats, gold stars or any form of recognition that identifies them as 'the environmentally conscious passengers', it is totally without endorsement. On some routes, the percentage of passengers who offset is markedly higher. Jetstar claim that one in three passengers flying into or out of Ballina airport are offsetting. That's a staggering amount! For those of you not familiar with Australia, Ballina is a beautiful part of the world and the nearest airport to Byron Bay which is one of the most eco-conscious communities in the country.

The last reason I love these programs is that they raise awareness as well as money for renewable energy projects. Virgin Blue is a relatively small airline but even their program which launched in March 2007 has already raised over $1M for renewable energy projects. Around one million environmentally passengers made that possible and all it took from Virgin was one question or more specifically, one line of code in their website on the bookings page.

For the longest time marketers have been teaching us, "It's five times more expensive to find a new customer than to make another sale to an existing one", and this is truer now than ever before. These days, one of the greatest assets a company has is the attention of its customers. When it comes to saving the planet the role you can play, especially as a business, goes well beyond just reducing your own carbon footprint. As demonstrated by companies like Virgin, by leveraging the attention of your customers you can have a massive impact without spending a cent. It's a sustainable strategy and makes good commercial sense.

If you would like to do something like Virgin and start your own offset program then check out our Zero Carbon Computer Challenge. It's all about people and businesses challenging their customers to offset the emissions caused by their computers. Have fun!
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