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    From Climate Change Knowledge to Climate Change Passivity: Airline Policies on Voluntary Carbon Offsets and the Carbon Literate Citizen

    Velonaki, Argyro (2021) From Climate Change Knowledge to Climate Change Passivity: Airline Policies on Voluntary Carbon Offsets and the Carbon Literate Citizen. Doctoral thesis (DPhil), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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    Abstract

    This thesis aims to analyse airline policies and practices on voluntary carbon offsets (VCO), as a means of mitigating CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions from discretionary air travel, in relation to ‘carbon literacy’, as a meta-theme of ‘green consumerism’. The study considers VCO as an integral element of the sector's overall strategy towards sustainable development, in the context of climate change mitigation. If one accepts there is a broad spectrum of ways through which heavily polluting business sectors and environmentally-aware citizens might rationalise their resulting strategies and behaviours, in situations where legal frameworks for environmental safeguarding against business-as-usual practices are lacking, and social norms are fragmented – examining discretionary air travel as a fundamental example of this fragmentation in coherence, in relation to airline VCO policies and practices, from the viewpoint of Carbon Literate (CL) citizens’ experiences towards this controversial solution to climate change mitigation, contributes to the creation of new knowledge. This research investigation adopted a qualitative approach to data collection and analysis. The first phase focused on examining the VCO policies and practices of the ‘Top-10 UK-based airlines’ based on the content analysis of their respective website disclosures towards VCO schemes. The second phase centred on analysing CL citizens’ perceptions towards air travel, first broadly, and then specifically in relation to VCO schemes, by conducting thirty one-to-one semi-structured interviews with CL participants. While VCO initiatives, as currently applied in commercial aviation, were found to be a feature of corporate reporting for legitimacy purposes, through this study’s focus on CL citizens’ perceptions, richer ‘empirical’ accounts of practices underpinning discretionary air travel within broader contextual infrastructures emerged. These involved both interpretations for undertaking a number of different carbon reduction behaviours, with the purpose of ‘regaining self-consistency’, and various justifications related to different explanations for not committing oneself to such behavioural changes too. This thesis's theoretical contribution to knowledge is twofold. First, it takes literature forward by providing a recent review of VCO policies and practices adopted by airlines, in the context of CSR reporting and corporate legitimacy. Classifying ‘carbon literacy’, as a meta-theme of ‘green consumerism’, comprises this thesis’s second contribution to knowledge. This contribution is substantial because it calls attention to the presence of an emerging consumer segment, whose perceptions towards controversial solutions to environmental issues have not been explicitly considered beforehand. Exploring the rationales behind their responses also resulted in a number of further, more practical, contributions to knowledge, which could be cautiously generalised to inform prevailing choices and influences beyond the sample, aside from reshaping the direction of future research and practice.

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