in a while the government demonstrates a pretty good sense of
timing, and we were treated to a display of that last week when the
Federal Trade Commission commenced a review of its so-called "Green
These are the
guidelines that help marketers determine how far they can stretch
the truth when they make claims about their "recycled" paper or
their "biodegradable" packaging. The FTC is getting ready to update
the guidelines for the first time since 1998, and one of the key
questions it is asking is whether it should revise the guidelines
to include claims about carbon offsets.
Our answer is a
As we report in our
news pages today, the FTC correctly observes that when consumers
purchase carbon offsets or renewable-energy certificates to reduce
their carbon footprint, they are rarely in a position to verify
what they're buying, which increases the potential for deception
And it's not just
consumers who can be defrauded. Manufacturers and service providers
throughout the economy, including travel suppliers and their
intermediaries, often steer consumers to particular purveyors of
carbon offsets, hopefully after doing some "due diligence."
But how diligent can
they be? For the most part, hotels, airlines and other travel
companies must rely on nonprofit environmental groups or other
third parties for certification of offset programs.
organizations play an important role, but today's unregulated
market in carbon offsets still depends an awful lot on trust. Does
your money go to support a wind farm somewhere that wouldn't exist
otherwise? Who really knows?
Given the flak that
travel companies, particularly airlines, are taking over global
warming, we think it's critically important that consumers seeking
to buy carbon offsets have confidence in what they buy. If the FTC
can help bring that about by including these offerings under its
Green Guides, we're all for it.
ARC board meets this week, and as far as most travel agents are
concerned there's only one thing on the agenda: a proposal to raise
Given that the ARC
board consists of people who represent ARC's airline owners, we're
betting that the agency opponents of the increase will lose this
round and that the matter will end up in arbitration.
If and when that
happens, we will have a resolution to the problem of ARC's fee
structure for 2008, but we won't have a solution to what many
agents see as the underlying problem: ARC is 100% owned by the
airlines, and they can do pretty much whatever they
From the time of
ARC's creation in 1985, agency fees have traditionally covered
about 10% of ARC's operating costs while the airlines paid
Nobody seems to
remember why, though there is one theory that it reflected the
split of ticket revenue in 1985: 90% to the airline, 10% commission
to the agent. But it was never carved in stone, and ARC's
management now claims that it is looking to the future.
Well and good, but if
ARC wants to come up with a new cost-sharing formula, it seems to
us that agents deserve to get a lot more information than they're
And they deserve to
get it in writing this time.