Want to increase the appeal of voluntary offsetting schemes? Change the messaging

Over the past year, there’s been media coverage suggesting the participation in some airline voluntary offset schemes is very low – sometimes as low as 1%.

This was addressed in a recent interview between CarbonClick’s founders and SimpliFlying’s Shashank Nigam, in a recent episode of the “Sustainability in the Air” podcast.  

The point was made that voluntary offsetting isn’t explained, the consumer isn’t reassured that it will actually have an impact, and that it often isn’t even in the booking process.

This is key, as if they are offered the option after they’ve booked, for example via an email when they’ve already paid, the chances are that very few will offset their flights.

A research paper put together by three academics from the University of Queensland –Improving Carbon Offsetting Appeals in Online Airplane Ticket Purchasing: Testing New Messages, and Using New Test Methods” – goes further and looks at the kind of messages that might work best.

The paper says that the way the information is presented to the customer, can make a big difference to the level of participation.

In particular, the researchers found that pictorial and short textual information around three key themes – effectiveness, transparency and choice – worked best.  

Study participants were given five messages around carbon offsetting, using the Australian airline Qantas.  

The boilerplate message that Qantas had at the time – “Want to fly carbon neutral? By flying carbon neutral you will be helping to conserve the environment and nourish communities” – worked worst.

What did work and increase participation were visual messages around effectiveness, transparency or choice.

The effectiveness message involved participants seeing a series of boxes with an image.  

One small box had a picture of some soil held in someone’s hands with a short text that talked about the “reforestation of 20,000 acres of rainforests across the Amazon.”

The transparency message had the heading “where does my money go”, with another series of pictorial boxes representing different projects with a % figure beside each (e.g. 30% to conserving Tasmania’s wilderness, 30% to improving Cambodian air quality” etc).

The choice message then allowed consumers to say where their contribution would go, again with picture boxes (e.g “Protecting Amazing Rainforest”, “Vietnam Biogas Project”, “Ugandan Cookstoves.”)

The authors conclude by stressing that you only have a relatively small amount of the passenger’s time and attention during the booking process and how the information is presented is key

According to the authors:

“Online bookings are time sensitive and so short text and images showing the outcomes of offsetting could encourage adoption. Our findings are of practical importance. They point to specific features about such messages that elicit stronger reactions from study participants and therefore are promising elements for use in carbon offsetting messages on actual online booking platforms.”

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