As the aviation industry faces mounting pressure to improve its environmental credentials, Lufthansa is introducing “green fares” for passengers to offset their carbon emissions. Available on all Lufthansa Group flights within Europe and flights to & from North Africa, these fares aim to make air travel more sustainable. However, critics argue that Lufthansa’s green fares may be an example of greenwashing, as the airline has reinstated fuel-inefficient aircraft while promoting carbon offsets.
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Carbon Offsetting: A Controversial Approach
Carbon offsetting allows passengers to pay extra to compensate for their flight’s carbon emissions, with the funds invested in environmental projects such as tree planting or solar panel installation. While some activists criticize carbon offsetting as an excuse to continue polluting, advocates argue that it contributes to environmental efforts. Many airlines, including Lufthansa, offer carbon offsetting schemes, but passenger uptake is generally low. For example, less than 1% of Lufthansa passengers participate in its existing carbon offsetting scheme.
KLM faced controversy over its ‘CO₂ZERO’ program, as the Dutch climate campaign group Fossielvrij NL accused the airline of misleading consumers by claiming they could “fly responsibly” by paying to offset carbon emissions. Following a lawsuit, KLM was forced to change the wording of some of its sustainability advertising.
The Unique Appeal of Lufthansa’s Green Fares
Lufthansa’s green fares stand out from other carbon offset programs due to their unique structure and potential appeal to business travellers. Prior to the widespread rollout of these green fares, Lufthansa tested the concept in Scandinavia during the summer of 2022. The trial was conducted on flights originating from Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, gauging passenger response to the idea of more sustainable air travel options.
The green fares are designed to be attractive even to those who might not prioritize carbon offsetting. Business travellers who have some flexibility in their booking choices may be drawn to the green fare’s additional benefits, such as the 20% bonus in award and status miles. Interestingly, the fare offering full carbon offsets may be most appealing to business travellers who are also frequent flyer mile enthusiasts.
By bundling carbon offsets with other perks and launching an extensive pilot program in Scandinavia, Lufthansa has managed to create a unique and potentially influential approach to promoting sustainable air travel.
In business class, the Business Green fare is identical to the Business Flex fare, but the former includes carbon offsets, 20% bonus award miles, and 20% bonus status miles, while the latter offers the ability to switch to an earlier flight on the day of travel and a refundable ticket without a fee.
In economy class, the Economy Green fare is identical to the Economy Flex fare. The Economy Green fare includes carbon offsets, 20% bonus award miles, and 20% bonus status miles, while the Economy Flex fare offers the ability to switch to an earlier flight, a refundable ticket with a fee, priority security, and priority boarding.
Examining Green Fares and Greenwashing
Critics argue that Lufthansa’s green fares may amount to greenwashing, as the airline has reinstated fuel-inefficient Airbus A340s and A380s while promoting carbon offsets. Additionally, the green fares primarily rely on carbon offsets and a commitment to use 20% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) in the future. Some critics believe this approach is insufficient to significantly reduce the airline’s environmental impact.
Similar Cases in the Industry
Airlines around the world have adopted varying approaches to carbon offsetting and sustainability. Here’s a comparison of some major airlines’ carbon offsetting initiatives:
- British Airways does not have a carbon offsetting scheme. Instead, it allows customers to contribute towards carbon reduction and community projects.
- Lufthansa offers a carbon offsetting scheme, but passenger uptake is less than 1%. Following a BBC inquiry, the company committed to making the offer more visible during the booking process.
- American Airlines, the world’s largest airline, does not have an offset scheme. However, the company claims it has taken “many meaningful steps to reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions,” including investing in new, more fuel-efficient planes.
- Qantas stands out among airlines, with 10% of passengers choosing to offset their carbon emissions.
While Lufthansa’s green fares may seem like a positive step towards more sustainable air travel, they have been met with scepticism and accusations of greenwashing. The initiative’s reliance on carbon offsets and future commitments to SAF raises questions about its overall effectiveness in reducing the airline’s environmental impact. The debate surrounding Lufthansa’s green fares highlights the ongoing need for the aviation industry to develop more meaningful and comprehensive solutions to address climate change and promote truly sustainable air travel.