Vacation or save the planet?

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Over the holiday period in the U.K., two megatrends went head-to-head. The trends in themselves are not particularly new or noteworthy, but their slow-motion collision is very interesting.

In December on U.K. TV, roughly one in every three ad breaks featured direct references to green issues and sustainability. These adverts came from big, mainstream brands, not new, green upstarts. In addition, two in every three company reports from the U.K.'s top 50 companies mentioned sustainability.

At the same time, inboxes, websites and newspapers were flooded with tempting offers from low-cost airlines to get the U.K.'s population to flee Britain for a few days in warmer temperatures. Over 2.5 million Brits did exactly that-got on a plane and flew.

The democratization of travel and the mobilization of the middle classes in the war against global warming are laudable advances, but they are uncomfortable, if not incompatible, bedfellows.

U.K. Environment Minister Ian Pearson recently warned that airlines are not taking their responsibility seriously in the fight to reduce carbon emissions. Ryanair's attitude is "just completely off the wall," said Mr. Pearson. "When it comes to climate change, Ryanair are not just the unacceptable face of capitalism, they are the irresponsible face of capitalism. [Ryanair CEO Michael] O'Leary just seems to take pride in refusing to recognize that climate change is a genuine problem."

The smart money over here should be on saving the planet and capping air travel through rigorous tax and legislation. But are we really all that smart when it comes to our own personal choices? A bit of winter sunshine in the Caribbean now, or a lot of searing sunshine in the Cairngorms in the future?

The big trends in many markets deal with localization, sustainability and naturalness. This poses a huge challenge to airlines, travel companies and even geo-political economies to refocus their efforts.

Ultimately, the market should make its choice and dictate the behavior of governments and corporations alike. Let us hope the market has enough sense to make the right choice.

Ivan Pollard is a partner at Naked Communications, London, a global communications-strategy shop with offices in six countries.
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