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By Yannai Kranzler

How would you respond to sitting on an airplane, digging into the seat pocket in front of you, to discover that your complementary in-flight magazine was dedicated to caring for the environment?

Would you be thankful? Hopeful? Would you laugh? Would you sigh and say, “Well, I’m the one paying them to emit Carbon Dioxide- it’s very courteous of them to make an effort?” Or would you say, “This is, like, over-the-top obnoxious- is it possible to get more cynical than an airliner claiming to be a part of “The Eco-Movement?”

I ask because I found myself in this situation a few weeks ago, on my Continental flight from Pittsburgh to New York. Continental, it seems, has gone green, titling the September issue of Continental Magazine “True Green,” dedicating it to “People, Places and Products Driving the Eco-Movement,” including in it many references to Continental’s environmental accomplishments. I didn’t quite know how to react to this.

Now I didn’t say that I don’t believe Larry Kellner, Chairman and CEO of Continental Airlines when he lists the company’s “Commitment to environmental responsibility” as a reason to fly Continental, but… well would you believe him?

Here’s the fun thing: Even if we don’t believe him, even if we think the whole thing completely outrageous, there’s something subtle, but important going on:

If I learned one thing in Community Based Social Marketing class, it’s that the most assured way for people to change their attitudes is for them to change their behavior, even just a little bit, and to publicly commit to sustaining those changes. Whether Continental is wholeheartedly pursuing green measures for the betterment of the world or playing lip service to the trendiness of being green, the fact that they’ve publicly committed themselves to the cause will likely impact their decisions in the future.

In Jewish tradition, we believe that Acharei Hapeulot, Nimshechot Halevavot, that “Our hearts follow our actions.” If I’m not feeling close to my community, my tradition tells me to go out and do something for the community. If I don’t care for the poor, I’m to give to the poor. We’re even commanded to help our enemies with the heavy loads they carry on their backs.

Our whole religious system, in fact, is based on action, or Halakhot. I’m not asked to fervently believe until I taste being immersed in action. As CBSM contends, I’m likely to feel connected to my community, compassionate on the poor, and to favor reconciliation with foes, when I pursue actions that connect me with them. Could there be a better way to make peace than to help my enemy carry his load?

Ultimately, it won’t make a difference if Mr. Kellner is an environmentalist stuck in the wrong business or a good businessman in a world of environmentalists. Save actually going green, which in Mr. Kellner’s business might mean finding another job, publicly committing to the environment is probably the greenest thing he could have done.

All we need to do is to hold him to his commitment.

In all fairness to Continental, it seems they have made real efforts to maximize their fleets’ fuel economy, and now run planes that are 35% more fuel efficient than the ones they used in 1997. For more on Continental’s environmental policy, see http://www.continental.com/web/en-US/content/company/globalcitizenship/environment.aspx


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