Two weeks ago, I wrote here about the greenwashing inherent in some labels and the problems associated with carbon offsetting. Consumers have resisted purchasing offsets. I concluded by saying that: “Consumers have good reason to avoid purchasing carbon offsets, like medieval pardons, they may salve their conscience, but it takes the pressure off the aviation industry to decarbonise. And that is a bad thing.”
Since then, Google Flights has launched a new feature on its website that enables tavellers and holidaymakers to choose a lower emission flight. Google have worked their magic with big data and consumers can now choose a lower emissions flight.
In 2018 Atmosfair produced an airline index to assist travellers in identifying those airlines with the lowest carbon emissions but the information was not route-specific. Predictably those airlines flying the most modern planes, point to point and with the highest passenger loading performed best.
Go to the Google flights search engine and key in origin airport and destination. Select London JFK and sort by CO2 emissions. You could book a flight emitting 505kg CO2 (34% below average emissions on the route) and 1.65 tonnes (+116%). If you select the cheapest, the search engine also reveals the emissions performance, for the dates I searched on the airline’s emissions were 2% higher (+12Kg CO2). The data is not perfect. Where you sit on the plane will affect your emissions; first-class seats are heavier and take up more space, but it is a good start. ‘Google Flights uses over 300 partners, like airlines, online travel agencies and aggregators to display flight information including flight options, prices, and schedules.’
Selecting London Hrw – Brussels next week a round trip on Brussels Airlines – Lufthansa was available for £118 and 40kg CO2., 35% less than the average on the route. The cheapest was also the cleanest. On Lufthansa, it would cost £129 and 229kg CO2 267% of the average emissions on the route.
Google uses the European Environment Agency (EEA) emission estimates with the most up-to-date algorithmic model from 2019. They explain how they calculate the emissions here and here.
Buying a cleaner, less polluting flight is not necessatily more expensive. By exercising, informed choice consumers can pressure the airline to reduce their emissions
This form of labelling empowers consumers to make better, more sustainable choices, reveals the performance of different airlines and leaves the responsibility for reducing emissions with the airlines, which is where it belongs.