Responsibletravel.com has today given its online carbon offsetting programme the chop - a move almost guaranteed to inspire differing opinions about how to highlight climate change with air travel-hungry travellers.
One of the first organisations to do so, the site proudly launched its offsetting programme in 2002 and spearheaded a round of soul-searching within larger travel firms as to how they should deal with the thorny issue of selling or promoting travel at the same time as appearing to be aware of its impact on the global environment.
Fast forward seven years and ResponsibleTravel has abandoned the programme, citing a Friends of the Earth report into the wider offsetting issue.
"Carbon offsets distract tourists from the need to reduce their emissions. They create a 'medieval pardon' for us to carry on behaving in the same way (or worse)."
The company has instead replaced the offsetting programme with a Carbon Caution page on its site which offers "tips and advice" for travellers.
Managing director Justin Francis says:
"We believe that the travel industry's priority must be to reduce carbon emissions, rather than to offset. Too often offsets are being used by the tourism industry in developed countries to justify growth plans on the basis that money will be donated to projects in developing countries."
Whether the move will inspire others - such as lastminute.com- to follow is another thing, but the reality of using strong language such as "dangerously distracting" by ResponsibleTravel is likely to trigger a new round of soul searching.
PS: Lastminute.com says "we launched it [Offsetting] in November 2006, and more than more than 15% of our customers have chosen to offset the CO2 emissions of their flying, which equates to nearly 50,000 tonnes (48,620).
NB and a side issue and a perhaps a lesson to learn for PRs trying to manage the message when something like this is announced:
ResponsibleTravel issued a press release regarding its decision, embargoed until midnight UK time 16 October 2009.
But no sooner had it hit in-boxes, Twitter was on it. Some had already picked up on it a few days ago.
ResponsibleTravel had also already uploaded the new Carbon Caution page.
The concept of embargoes for "traditional media" is on the wane. The social media universe doesn't respect them - and why should it?
Until now, Tnooz has always abided by them - but we will now evaluate the value of whether to stick to them on a case-by-case basis. Feel free to disagree...
For more debate on this particular issue, read this treatise by TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington.