By Camille von Kaenel

Airline pilots who are reminded and encouraged to save fuel when flying performed up to 20 percent better, according to a new experiment published yesterday.

The eight-month-long experiment sought to boost the fuel efficiency of Virgin Atlantic planes by sharing performance information and setting targets for 335 captains. It showed that linking a job with its carbon footprint can have a significant impact on an employee’s performance, said Robert Metcalfe, an economist at the University of Chicago who helped lead the experiment.

“There’s a lot of interest in using behavioral economics to motivate consumers to conserve energy, but very rarely do we see that taking place in the commercial sector, and very rarely do we see it in the transportation sector,” said Metcalfe. “I think this is just the tip of the iceberg when thinking of fuel efficiency in the transport of cargo, in shipping and trucking.”

The study, published in the National Bureau of Economic Research as a working paper, comes as the international aviation industry seeks to find ways to curb emissions and save on fuel. The industry has a goal to freeze carbon emissions at 2020 levels, but measures taken so far still leave a gap of 7.8 billion metric tons of carbon emissions, according to environmentalists. The U.N. agency overseeing the industry, the International Civil Aviation Organization, is currently hammering out a deal to offset all extra carbon emissions from the sector.

Metcalfe and his colleagues, John List of the University of Chicago and Greer Gosnell of the London School of Economics, wanted to try to influence pilots directly to use fuel more efficiently…

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Areas of Focus: Energy Markets
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Energy Markets
Well-functioning markets are essential for providing access to reliable, affordable energy. EPIC research is uncovering the policies, prices and information needed to help energy markets work efficiently.
Energy Efficiency
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Transportation
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