People taking fewer flights for environmental reasons want leadership to 'come out of closet', researchers find

Issue date: 16 September 2019


People who are flying less often for environmental reasons want more visible leadership from environmental organisations and green employers to overcome expectations that 'flying is normal'. That is the conclusion of a study investigating the views of flying 'reducers' conducted by two researchers at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol).

The study found the 'reducers' were driven to act by strong ethical reasons, particularly concern about climate change. But they told researchers that they faced barriers in reducing their flights including social factors, such as ridicule from people around them and tension within families, including partners. Most of the respondents found it relatively easy to reduce their flying, but some mentioned high costs of international rail travel, and difficulties with booking, ticketing and making connections.

The two-year project surveyed members, supporters and staff of 80 organisations involved in environmental campaigning or sustainable development based in the UK. The study was conducted before the recent upsurge in awareness about aviation and climate change, and the 'flight shaming' movement, which has reduced flying in Sweden. In total 153 people completed the online survey, with in-depth interviews conducted with 13 of them.

The study was conducted between 2016 and 2018 as part of Paul Purnell's MSc in Sustainable Development in Practice at UWE Bristol. Paul works as a management consultant, specialising in general and environmental management systems for small engineering companies. The project was supervised by Dr Steve Melia, a Senior Lecturer in Transport and Planning, who has written and lectured about aviation and climate change.

Dr Melia said: “Several people in this study said they avoided talking about flying, to avoid conflict or embarrassing other people. Others described some difficult conversations with people around them.”

The study concluded that a 'vanguard' of flying 'reducers' could help to boost alternatives, such as ferry connections and long-distance sleeper trains, which have been eroded in recent years. This will require more leadership from environmental organisations and other organisations with a commitment to sustainability, the researchers found.

The full research paper, published in World Transport Policy and Practice, is available here.

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