What went wrong with 'The Greenest Airline in the Sky' & can it be fixed?
Updated: Aug 21
It seems that trees are being offered with everything we buy these days – do this and we’ll plant a tree, do that and they’ll plant a tree. More and more companies are also being pulled up by advertising standards for greenwashing – for example, Etihad plant a tree (not with us) for every economy passenger, claiming that ‘Under the initiative, every guest who books an economy space seat will become carbon neutral over time’ – aviation emissions advocacy group Flight Free Australia accused Etihad of misleading customers through advertising that promoted its emissions reductions plans, with Australia’s consumer watchdog now considering action against the airline amid its crackdown on greenwashing. (https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2023/mar/23/etihad-accused-of-misleading-customers-with-greenwashing-in-net-zero-ads)
Whilst Etihad’s case doesn’t involve their tree planting activities the ACCC’s deputy chair, Catriona Lowe, said: “Consumers are now, more than ever, making purchasing decisions on environmental grounds” – so if you want to plant trees, especially in travel, then you must ensure that you are delivering what the traveler *believes* they are getting.
The perception of tree planting is that carbon will be removed from the atmosphere, so when we see the effects of climate change through more extreme storms, forest fires, the devastation from floods, we have an urge to plant a tree to do some good – and yes, they will absorb CO2, rewild damaged areas etc. the problem however is that if we don’t fix the ‘root cause’ (excuse the pun) carbon being emitted, then these trees can again burn or die.
Tree planting is GOOD – actually, it’s GREAT, however it’s no silver bullet to the climate crisis. As part of a company’s emission reduction strategy, it does have a very important role to play when you consider that 30% annual emissions are already absorbed by existing forests and that reforestation can help with an additional 20% to 30% of carbon drawdown, so when tree planting is done properly with integrity and transparency, and when claims are made, they must be accurate and not misleading.
Suggesting that planting a tree alone will remove emissions and save the planet would be wrong, we’re not in control of nature, and no one can guarantee that the tree will achieve what is hoped. It’s also wrong to wait 10 years for a tree to absorb the emissions that we make today – trees are fragile, and even more so with climate change - there’s no guarantee they will survive, so to ensure that our promises don’t ‘go up in smoke’ we believe it’s important to also remove the CO2 as quickly as possible through investments into renewable energies but also to support the all-important development of sustainable fuels – we must do it all - measure, reduce, remove and repair the damage that’s been done and prepare for a climate friendly future with permanent solutions so we bring back the natural balance of our planet.
Our industry and many others are faced with the conundrum of growth and reducing emissions at the same time, and for our planet to really thrive we must not forget that the foundations of all life on earth depend on nature.
With millions of bookings happening every day, and if each booking came ‘with just one tree’ along with an investment into renewables and sustainable fuels, the impact this industry could make would be huge. UNWTO announced that 917 million tourists travelled internationally in 2022…that could have been quite a few forests and could have funded a number of sustainable fuel installations.