Green Innovations – Affecting How and Where We Travel?

“When you travel these days, you’re doing so in a more environmentally friendly fashion than you did a decade ago- and you probably can’t even tell.”

Today, many business industries are changing the way they operate their business by placing more emphasis on environmental sustainability. For example, hotels are using motion sensors, key cards that control lights, fluorescent bulbs and ceiling fans aimed at saving energy. They are installing low-flow shower heads and toilets, while also recycling more and replacing individual shampoo bottles with large dispensers. Although these things may seem small and almost unnoticeable, they truly make a huge difference. “Green buildings use, on average, 26% less energy, emit 33% less carbon dioxide, use 30% less water, and produce 50% to 75% less solid waste, according to the building council.”

Element Hotels- use eco-friendly materials as often as possible and are applying for LEED certification.

When looking at other industries such as the airline and rental car businesses, they too are making a larger effort to surpass the minimum legal requirements and become more sustainable. Since 2000, Airlines have saved more than $33 Billion on fuel and prevented the release of 670 Billion pounds of greenhouse gases.  The Airline industry has adopted new technology and practices to reduce their carbon footprints. For instance, US Airways are replacing gas-powered ground vehicles that transport bags with electronic ones at its Philadelphia hub and adding a new building to house the vehicles at Philadelphia Airport that is made of 20% recycled materials.

Moving on, another industry, the car rental industry is also taking many new steps in order to be more “green.” Today the enterprise has more than 5,000 hybrids and electric vehicles for rent in 70 different locations. Lisa Marini, a spokeswoman says that “we will continue to add hybrids and EV’s to our fleet based on consumer demand and availability from manufacturers.” Furthermore, David Eastes, a director at who tracks the industry, says he has seen an increase in the number of companies dedicated solely to renting out hybrid and electronic vehicles and “that’s never been seen before.”

Moreover, business in these three industries are making the change to be more green not only because they have been forced on the industry by the threat of government action, sheer economics or consumer demands, but some companies say its just good business. Paul Snyder, Vice President of corporate responsibility for IGH proclaims that, “we actually have customers who are asking, ‘What’s the carbon footprint of our meeting.” With so many people today becoming more and more knowledgeable and concerned about sustainability, making every effort to go more green, no matter how small, and even if it goes unnoticed, is extremely important.

In sum, How do you judge companies based on their sustainability efforts? And how do these efforts change your opinion of the company’s reputation? What sustainability efforts have you experienced from hotel, airline, and rental car businesses?


By Understanding Customer Expectations, Virgin America Has Become America’s Highest Rated Airline in Only 5 Years

Five years ago Virgin America began operating flights in the U.S. As another endeavor of billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson, Virgin America is privately owned. Similar to most of Branson’s Virgin companies, Virgin America is quite unorthodox. Their main cabin features “mood-lighting” and each seat back has a touch-screen device; all this for a low-cost carrier.

Virgin America "mood-lighting"
Virgin America “mood-lighting”

A report that compared America’s 14 largest carriers found that Virgin America served its’ customers best last year. The criteria was based on on-time arrivals, mishandled bags, consumer complaints and passengers who bought tickets but were turned away because flights were over booked. In the 23 years that Wichita State University in Kansas and the University of Nebraska at Omaha have tracked the performance of airlines this has been the second best year overall. The airline’s best year was 2011.

The U.S. airline industry is continually becoming more competitive. Since 2001, a wave of airline mergers has consolidated the industry. In 2008-2010 Delta Airlines merged with Northwest Airlines and kept their name. 2010-2012 brought the merger of United and Continental, which the two are still working out merger issues as evidenced by their last place rating in the report. Finally, just this year US Airways and American Airlines announced their merger, creating the largest carrier in the world.

Airlines have strategically dealt with the increased competition through many cost cutting maneuvers. Additional fees, such as a checked bag fee, are common among almost all U.S. carriers. Airlines are also cutting down the amount of routes they fly, continually overbooking flights, and fitting more people on airplanes by reducing seat space.

Despite these changes and the displeasure it brings, the airline industry is improving. Led by Virgin America, we are seeing airlines differentiating themselves by understanding their customer better. Similar to our learning activities in class, airlines have learned the importance of understanding customer expectations and managing them better. Virgin America’s mood-lighting appeals to it’s younger customer base, a result of being a low-cost carrier. Even more, the touch screens found in every seat back demonstrate Virgin’s ability to understand the needs of their customer. We live in a constantly connected world, albeit this connectivity does not permeate the many hours we spend in the air. This year Virgin will update their “Red” software that runs on the touch-screens, which will bring the ability to surf the internet while flying.

Virgin is just one example of airlines differentiating themselves by listening to customers. For example, JetBlue understands that customers are no longer willing to give up their flight for cash due to overbooking, a common practice among airlines. Last year, JetBlue involuntarily denied boarding to only .01 people per 1,000 passengers, the best rate in the report.

How else are airlines improving service quality despite handling increased competition? What changes have you noticed that demonstrate airlines are making adjustments to service based on customer feedback?

Huffington Post wrote a good article on the report. You can find it here.