Law of Unintended Consequences

In common with most attendees, I began my San Diego odyssey on a plane: a US Air flight from DC. I’m a platinum elite muckity-muck member (or whatever it is), so I’ve mercifully been shielded from much of the current unpleasantness in travel. I check in first class even when I’m not flying first class, so my lines are never long, I never pay overweight charges, and I never pay for extra bags.

My high muckity-muck status could not, however, protect me from the latest indignity: no free beverages. Not even a glass of water. Isn’t that illegal, given that the water in the bathrooms is not potable?

So of course one of the topics of conversation at the Membership Section Council dinner Friday night at the lovely Canela’s restaurant in San Diego was everyone’s travel horrors. Outgoing chair Greg Fine of the Association Forum of Chicagoland and I got talking about the second level consequences.

It’s no shock to say that airline travel is becoming increasingly unpleasant. It’s also becoming increasingly unsustainable. Just look at what your annual flight total does to your carbon footprint. It’s not pretty.

So Greg and I got chatting about what that might mean for the association industry. How much longer is a big meeting of 6000+ people coming in from all over the country – and the world – going to possible? If the era of cheap air travel ends (as it seems likely to), does it also mean the end of the era of annual meetings? And what does that mean for our organizations?

Greg postulated that it would result in a return to the era of smaller, regional meetings. And he’s probably right. But the association execs who are still resisting social media technology might want to start thinking about what they’re going to do if their members can no longer gather face to face. Sure, Cisco offers telepresence (and from what I hear, it’s frappin’ amazing), but can your organization really afford MULTIPLE telepresence studios at $300K EACH? Isn’t it time to embrace the change?

Carbon Offsets for Flights: An Idea Whose Time Has Come (but not to the US)

Peter de Jager recently started an interesting discussion/poll on the ASAE Executive Management Section listserv on carbon footprints. He asked listserv participants to respond to a short survey via email (so you didn’t have to come clean to the entire list).

  1. Do you know what a ‘carbon footprint’ is..
  2. What is your Carbon footprint?
  3. How often have you calculated your Carbon Footprint?
  4. What… if anything… you doing ANYTHING to reduce it?

Surprisingly, I had never calculated my carbon footprint. So I went to the Climate Crisis online tool to get the info.

Even though I live in DC, where our electricity is provided almost entirely by coal (thanks a lot, Congress!), I was doing great until I plugged in my information about flights, which just killed me.

So I clicked on the link to purchase carbon offsets. I realize that the whole buying carbon offsets thing is controversial. But what surprised me is that it’s pretty cheap – about $150 a year to completely offset all my carbon emissions.

And I got thinking – why don’t the airlines make purchasing enough carbon offsets to make your flight carbon neutral available for each flight as an optional part of the transaction?

Which is what I mentioned to Peter, who pointed out to me that some carriers already do. Unfortunately, virtually none of them are US carriers (Continental and Delta are the only exceptions).

Why do we ALWAYS have to be the last ones to adopt green policies? This would cost the struggling US carriers nothing and gain them an enormous amount of good will and good press. What’s the holdup? The world can’t wait.