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How Virgin Atlantic used behavior change communication to nudge pilots to use less fuel, reduce emissions

Roxanne Bauer's picture

The idea that there are untapped opportunities for improving the energy efficiency of individuals and homes is common.  Energy efficient windows, lightbulbs, and appliances are sold worldwide.  People are advised to “turn off the lights when you leave a room,” and schemes have been introduced to reduce energy consumption by tapping into social psychology. But what about large firms? Or entire industries? Companies, after all, want to minimize costs to save money, don’t they?  How about airlines, whose bottom lines are subject to the international price of fuel?
 
It seems rational, but the International Energy Agency does not mention the aviation sector in its Energy Efficiency Market Report, nor does Kinsey in their comprehensive catalog of potential energy efficiency measures. Most reports (that I could find) focus on regulation of commercial enterprises.  This is a shame. The environmental impact of aviation is clear: aircraft engines emit heat, noise, particulates, CO2, and other harmful gases that contribute to climate change. Despite more fuel-efficient and less polluting turbofan and turboprop engines for airplanes as well as innovations in air frames, engines, aerodynamics, and flight operations, the rapid growth of air travel in recent years has contributed to an increase in total aviation pollution. In part, this is because aviation emissions are not subject international regulation thus far and because the lack of global taxes on aviation fuel results in lower fares than one would see otherwise.
 
Interestingly, although perhaps not surprisingly, the National Bureau of Economic Research just released a working paper that suggests airlines’ fuel consumption can be reduced if they “nudge” the pilots to use less fuel, using behavioral interventions.