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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Nudging consumers toward greener air travel by adding carbon to the equation in online flight search


This study explores the potential to promote lower-emissions air travel by providing consumers with information about the carbon emissions of alternative flight choices in the context of online flight search and booking. We surveyed over 450 employees of the University of California, Davis, asking them to choose among hypothetical flight options for university-related business trips. Emissions estimates for flight alternatives were prominently displayed alongside cost, layovers and airport, and the lowest-emissions flight was labeled “Greenest Flight”. We found an impressive rate of willingness to pay for lower-emissions flights: around $200/ton of CO2E saved, a magnitude higher than that seen in carbon offsets programs. In a second step of analysis, we estimated the carbon and cost impacts if the university were to adopt a flight-search interface that prioritizes carbon emissions information and displays alternatives from multiple regional airports in their employee travel-booking portal. We estimated potential annual savings of 79 tons of CO2E, while reducing airfare costs by $56,000, mainly due to an increased willingness of travelers to take advantage of cheaper nonstop (lower-emissions) flights from a more distant airport in the region over indirect flights from their preferred airport for medium-distance flights. Institutionalizing this “nudge” within organizations with large travel budgets could have an industry-wide impact in aviation.

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