A war of words has broken out between British Airways chief executive Willie Walsh and Virgin Atlantic boss Richard Branson over the later's headline grabbing biofuel powered test flight.
Amusing as it is to watch two of the UK's business heavyweights engaging in the oratorical equivalent of scratching and pulling others' hair, there is a salient lesson to be gained from the spat in how to promote green initiatives – and as with so many PR tutorials it is Branson and Virgin doing the teaching.
It was Walsh that landed the ill-advised first blow. Speaking at the opening of Heathrow Terminal 5 last week, the BA boss branded the Virgin biofuel flight "a bit of a publicity stunt", before adding that "I won't say [biofuels are the answer] because I don't believe it's true".
He went on to tell The Guardian that, "I recognise that we are a polluter. I recognise equally that we don't have an alternative to kerosene and carbon-based fuels at this point".
These are all pretty valid points. For the aviation industry there is no alternative to kerosene and fossil fuels at this point and biofuels are unlikely to provide the answer to the sector's climate change problems any time soon.
But if there is one thing any company operating in an industry that is struggling to come to terms with pressure to cut emissions should not do it is allow a competitor to occupy the moral high ground and present itself to increasingly environmentally conscious customers as the trail blazing operator that is taking climate change seriously.
Cue Branson and his response in today's Guardian in which he argues that far from being a PR stunt the considerable sums Virgin Atlantic is investing in its biofuels research are part of a serious attempt to develop cleaner fuels.
"At Virgin we are attempting to address a global catastrophe and preparing for a world of scarcer oil, carbon pricing and population growth," he writes, clearly implying that BA is doing none of these things.
As if the image of Virgin as the caring and ethical alternative to BA's head-in-the-sand approach is not explicit enough Branson goes on to make his central point clearer still. "It seems to me that the head of BA doesn't have an environmental strategy," he writes. "For Walsh to say "I recognise ... that we don't have an alternative to kerosene and carbon-based fuels at this point" is very short-sighted. There are alternatives emerging which need to be tested." Something, Virgin, of course, is doing.
Wrapping up his response, Branson follows the golden rule of all green marketing and is careful not to overstate Virgin's environmental achievements, accepting that it is early days in the company's research and pledging to "go on looking for a renewable fuel source, such as algae, that could unlock our reliance on traditional kerosene".
There is only one winner in this particular bout, and it's sure as hell not Walsh.
It is a masterful piece of communication to be able to present an airline as somehow green, but by 'fessing up to its limitations and creating the impression that it is deadly serious about improving its environmental performance Virgin Atlantic has managed it.
Meanwhile, those, like Walsh, who snipe at its efforts, even while raising legitimate points about whether or not aviation biofuels can ever be generated in sufficient quantity to make much of a difference, simply end up looking uncaring, unimaginative and insufficiently committed to tackling climate change.
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