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Flygskam – Coming to an Airport Near You?

02.24.2020 | Mary Ellen Eagan |

Flygskam: (noun, Swedish) the feeling of climate guilt associated with airline travel, literally ‘flight shame’

I’ve just returned from a couple of weeks in Europe. At the Global Business Summit, co-sponsored by ACC and BAG, I was pleased to see that environmental issues are now being discussed as a serious factor that could affect aviation economics over the next several years. John Heimlich, Vice President and Chief Economist (A4A), highlighted the need for aviation to both continue the advances and commitment the industry has made, as well as doing a better job of “telling the story.” I moderated a panel on environmental constraints to airport growth and Flygskam was a significant part of the discussion.

So what are the facts? Here are a few:

  • Commercial aviation contributes about 2% of US emissions.[1]
  • While 2% doesn’t sound like much, the aviation industry takes its contribution seriously, and is the first industry to make a real commitment to address climate change.[2]
  • In the long run, the only real solution to manage the problem is sustainable aviation fuels[3] or electric aircraft (which will still need to be powered through sustainable electricity).[4]
  • In the interim, the industry has committed to CORSIA, the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation, as an interim measure (2021 through 2035)[5]. CORSIA will require airlines to offset growth in emissions from international air travel.

As a former/recovering/occasional Irish Catholic (that is a subject for an entirely different blog post), I am highly susceptible to any kind of guilt or shaming effort. So, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how Flygskam applies to me. In the end, I think it comes down to two factors: (1) personal awareness and (2) choices. So, to that end, I will start my confession:

Research shows that about 12% of the American population was responsible for about two-thirds of all flights in 2018[6] – that would include me, I’m afraid. In fact, I used the Terrapass personal carbon calculator and determined that my carbon footprint is HUGE – almost three times the national average! This is in large part due to the amount of business travel I conduct as the President and CEO of our company.

 

Source: Terrapass, 2020 and my Delta airlines profile

 

So how do I sleep at night? As a start, HMMH offsets all our corporate travel through The Good Traveler Program[7]; we are proud to have been the first private sector firm to join the Good Traveler – and I’m pleased that at least one other firm used HMMH’s commitment as its own version of Flygskam to convince the senior leadership of its firm to join.

The reality is, however, that HMMH clients are all over the country – and the globe. I do not have the luxury of time to take a boat to Europe, or a train across the country. But I do have other choices. I now give serious thought to all my travel: Is this a meeting I must attend in person? [Ed. Note: my absolute pet peeve is mandatory pre-bid conferences: a dozen or more consultants fly to airport XYZ for a 15-minute meeting at which the airport procurement officer reads the RFP and asks if anyone has any questions – no one does of course – and then we go home. Can we please stop these??] Can I take the train (to our New York office, for example)? How many conferences do I really need to attend? Balancing environmental concerns (and some measure of work-life balance) with the value of face-to-face interaction with clients is a constant calculation.

Mostly though, I continue to support and promote all the good work that goes on in the sector, try to conduct our own business in as sustainable a manner as possible, and to the extent that HMMH’s work is all about minimizing the environmental impacts of transportation, I can manage to get through the night. And on to the next worry…

[1] https://www.airlines.org/airlines-fly-green/

[2] https://www.atag.org/our-activities/climate-change.html

[3] http://www.caafi.org/

[4] https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190325130524.htm

[5] https://www.iata.org/en/policy/environment/corsia/

[6] https://theicct.org/blog/staff/should-you-be-ashamed-flying-probably-not

[7] https://hmmh.com/resources/news-insights/news/hmmh-commits-to-offsetting-carbon-from-air-travel/

About the Author

Mary Ellen Eagan

President & CEO

As President, CEO, and Chairman of the Board of Directors of HMMH, Mary Ellen is responsible for providing strategic, innovative leadership…

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