Airlines are in the business of transporting people around. Or maybe it’s about curating and creating the best experience in air travel? Or about building a brand? Or is it about bringing people to places and catalysing activities, businesses for locations that would otherwise be overlooked by travellers? Seen that way, the fuel cost of an airline would always be considered a cost. Therefore, to keep cost low, or deliver the greatest profits, the airline will see their fuel as a commodity.
What if the choice of fuel they use starts impacting the customer segments they are targeting or they can serve? What if using sustainable aviation fuel allows them to attract more premium customers? What if they could sell their air tickets at a higher price when they are demonstrably emitting less carbon dioxide? And what if doing so also help them comply with some ICAO requirements?
The market for green premium turns various cost parameters in businesses into a tool for something else. There’s an opportunity to use these new parameters to disrupt the business. Years ago, the low-cost carrier disrupted some of the most traditional airline businesses. Would a low-carbon carrier do the same? What other elements of the whole airline business can be refashioned to fit the whole sustainable, low-carbon identity?
There are a few dimensions to consider in the debate and wider issues around the consumerist culture and system we have created. For the longest time, it pays off for companies to upsell: by providing better materials, packaging, a little more space and convenience, they can sell at higher price than it costs them to deliver the service or product. In fact sometimes they spend additional costs to cheapen the alternative because encouraging you to consume more and creating the cheaper alternative simultaneously enhance their customer base without cannibalising on some of their profits.
But as we step into a world where sustainability matters increasingly, these values and strategies we used to leverage on becomes more complex. We no longer just trade off customer experience, price and the costs of providing that experience. Now we have to consider how much being sustainable adds or subtracts that experience, how perceptions will be reshaped. And how important this is, for our culture to shift towards more sustainable consumption.