View of an airplane wing mid-flight

Google launches feature to track flight emissions

What’s Happening

Google recently announced that their Google Flights platform will show the amount of carbon emissions each flight produces, allowing users to compare the environmental impact of their flight options. Flights between a particular origin and destination with the fewest emissions will showcase a green badge. Experts generally agree this feature will make consumers more mindful of their carbon footprint and put pressure on airlines to reduce their carbon emissions to stay competitive. Others suggest that relying on travelers to choose lower-emissions flights unfairly places the responsibility on the consumer, rather than on the airlines. Google hopes to extend this type of sustainability measure to hotel booking services and other types of travel companies.

Here’s our take

UC Davis researchers Nina Amenta and Angela Sanguinetti looked at whether flight emissions information could influence consumer decisions in a May 2020 National Center for Sustainable Transportation study. They found that UC Davis employees were willing to pay more and travel to a less convenient airport for lower-emissions flights. They calculated that just providing emissions information to UC Davis business travelers could reduce the university’s air travel emissions by 4% annually while saving money, since some non-stop flights were cheaper. If other travel bookings and search platforms were to follow Google’s lead, this could have a cascading effect. Many consumers choosing lower-carbon flights could push airlines to invest in more efficient aircraft and sustainable aviation fuels. Highlighting emissions information could also increase consumer awareness of the environmental impacts of air travel. This could ultimately build support for emissions reduction regulations and investments in more sustainable travel alternatives.

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