Faculty & Research -Hitting net-zero without stopping flying

Hitting net-zero without stopping flying

Although airline companies have introduced voluntary carbon offsets (VCOs) to neutralize their carbon footprint, the percentage of air travelers participating in it remains low. A recent study by Yi Liu from Rennes School of Business, Qiqi Jiang and Rob Gleasure from Copenhagen Business School showed that different strategies of presenting VCOs should be adopted to effectively increase consumer participation.

Voluntary carbon offset (VCO) programs offer air travelers opportunities to neutralize their carbon footprint. In the flight booking process, air travelers can financially contribute to reforestation projects or purchasing sustainable aviation fuel to neutralize the carbon emission from their flights. However, how to present VCOs to effectively appeal to air travelers in different conditions remains to be studied.

VCO description and temporal distance to the flight

When presenting VCO programs to travelers, airline companies can manipulate the concreteness of program description. Specifically, airlines can present concrete messages that emphasize specific actions, by focusing on how carbon offset works, or abstract messages that emphasize general initiatives, by focusing on why carbon offset is needed. Which message to use for VCO programs depends on the temporal proximity of the flight.

More proximal flights may benefit from more specific action-related information and ensure that VCOs are seen as practical and visualizable. More distant flights, on the other hand, may benefit from more general value-driven information and help VCOs seem desirable and aligned with larger general initiatives.

Thus, travelers who receive concrete messages that emphasize specific actions are more likely to opt-in to VCOs when flying in the near future. In contrast, travelers receiving abstract messages that emphasize general initiatives are more likely to opt-in to VCOs when flying in the distant future. When travelers book their flights online, airline companies can determine the temporal proximity of the flights and adjust the presentation of VCOs accordingly.

VCO projects and consumer empowerment

The nature of VCOs pushes the responsibility for climate action back to the traveler who is booking a flight. This responsibility requires those travelers to feel empowered and proactive toward the climate initiatives supported by VCOs. Altering the description of an initiative may empower a traveler to perceive a close connection with the initiative proposed by an airline, thereby motivating that person to opt in.

Airline companies can propose different projects to offset or reduce carbon emission, such as reforestation projects, and using sustainable aviation fuel. Travelers are more likely to opt-in VCOs when they have an option to independently select between alternative VCO projects, since they can make an individual choice that may possibly positively impact solving the respective environmental challenge.

In addition, consumer empowerment relies on the availability of information, so they can have the opportunity to learn more about a decision. When presented by VCO messages with specific actions, individuals may experience a stronger sense of empowerment by having multiple options because such decision-making power helps them to understand the direct impact of their choice of carbon neutralization, as well as allowing them to see the options they understand well enough to evaluate them. Thus, the positive impact of consumer empowerment is higher when travelers receive concrete messages that indicate specific actions.


Three experiments were conducted. Different strategies of motivating air passengers to opt-in VCO were presented in the ticket booking process.

Applications and beneficiaries

The findings afford actionable solutions for airline companies, which can adopt the dynamic presentation of VCO messages to increase the likelihood of VCO opt-in. Airline companies can raise more money from VCOs to fight against the climate challenge and boost social responsibility.

Reference to the research

Liu, Y., Jiang, Q., & Gleasure, R. (2023). Hitting Net-zero without stopping flying: Increasing air travelers’ likelihood to opt-in to voluntary carbon offsetting. Journal of Travel Research, 62(1), 21-38.

Consult the research paper

Link to media

Hitting net-zero without stopping flying, EurekAlert!

Hitting net-zero without stopping flying, Techxplore

Transport aérien. Comment convaincre les voyageurs d’adopter un programme de compensation carbone? Ouest-France