For Kellie McElhaney’s Strategic CSR course, I working on a consulting project for a major US airline. This airline has committed itself to making a significant capital investment in fuel efficiency efforts and is an industry leader in terms of integrating sustainable practices into its operations. Yet, a recent onboard passenger survey conducted by our client found that some travelers do not believe that there is an environmental crisis at all. In fact, some passengers believe that it is all a hoax. How does our client educate passengers of its sustainability efforts without alienating customers and their beliefs? How does our client communicate the value passed down from their intense capital investment to the customer?

Our client needs to know that its customers will not recognize the value of any greening efforts unless there is a direct benefit communicated to the customer. In the transportation business, it might go something like this: “We’ve invested in advanced technologies and use best practices to save millions of gallons of jet fuel each year to fly you where you want to go, and to get there safely and on time. Oh, and since we burn less fuel this way, the air you breathe and the air your family breathes is cleaner. And since we use less fuel, this saves us money and therefore also saves you money. We also recycle our onboard waste products, which means that we have less garbage to leave at the airports. Less garbage means less garbage in landfills, and less garbage pick ups, which saves us money and therefore also saves you money.” In one airport alone, our client has saved $20,000 per month because its recycling program resulted in less garbage and garbage pick ups went down from five pick ups a month to three. Forget about whether customers think we need to save the earth’s resources – these customers will respond if they know they are benefitting. Our client needs to be more vocal about its efforts to reduce its environmental impact, but it also needs to be vocal about how these efforts are good for its customers. Right now, airlines are jockeying to position themselves as sustainable airlines, but no one has emerged as the clear leader because no one is communicating their efforts and the resulting benefits to their customers effectively.

—Grace Samala

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