WASHINGTON — Back in October, Shannon Coulter was doing some late-night browsing on the Nordstrom website. Before long, the small-business owner had a nagging feeling about the department store's line-up of Ivanka Trump apparel and shoes — a brand she couldn't help but see in a different light amid the unfolding events of the presidential campaign.
Just days earlier, news had broken of the explosive Access Hollywood footage in which Donald Trump bragged about groping women without their consent.
"Something changed for me when the Trump tapes came out," Coulter recalled in an interview. "Those words were just ringing in my ears."
And so she decided to take action: Coulter began a campaign called Grab Your Wallet, which encourages shoppers to stay away from retailers that sell all manner of Trump-branded goods, as well as to avoid Trump properties such as golf courses and wineries. She maintains a meticulous spreadsheet online of the dozens of companies that should be boycotted, including notations about why they're on the list and updates about the inventory of Trump-branded merchandise they offer. Those that cease doing business with the Trumps are removed from the list.
Nordstrom said it did so because of falling sales, not politics.
The campaign has been chugging along for months, but it has come into a particularly bright spotlight in recent weeks, when big-name chains started to back away from Trump goods, including Neiman Marcus, Belk and, most prominently, Nordstrom — the store that encouraged Coulter to fire up her laptop in the first place.
None of the companies cited the boycott specifically as the reason for dropping the merchandise. Nordstrom said it did so because of falling sales, not politics.
Still, Coulter exemplifies the new and potent possibilities that social media presents for ordinary consumers and voters to catapult an idea for activism from their living rooms to like-minded people across the country — and to the center of the news cycle. The Women's March on Washington that took place on the day after the inauguration had a similarly humble beginning, with a woman in Hawaii impulsively creating a Facebook post that ricocheted around the Internet and fast gathered support.
Consumer activist was not exactly a familiar role for Coulter, 45, when she decided to launch the boycott.
"Like many college students, I was more politically minded back then. But that part of my life has been really dormant my entire adult years," Coulter said. "I was very much a straight-ahead career girl for the last 24 years, and it feels like that's changed now."
But now, Grab Your Wallet has practically become a full-time job: Coulter, a resident of the San Francisco Bay area, has outsourced all of her client work at her small marketing firm.
Source: Facebook page
That marketing background, she says, has been a critical component of her ability to grow Grab Your Wallet. For example, an early co-collaborator had been using the hashtag #fashionnotfascism to promote a similar idea. Coulter said she thought the idea was "brilliant," but also recognized quickly that it was "too strident and unwieldy for the average person."
Coulter's career also has given her experience creating social media content for brands, so she came into this with a feel for what grabs readers' attention in their newsfeeds, and what encourages them to share posts with their own followers. According to an analysis by Captiv8, a firm that studies social media influence, there have been more than 496,000 "engagements' — likes, retweets, and the like — on Twitter or Instagram posts that include #grabyourwallet. Captiv8 found that a significant share of those posts originate in California or New York, suggesting the campaign has gotten particularly strong traction in those states.
Coulter's day-to-day work on Grab Your Wallet comes in different forms: She regularly tracks how much online inventory individual retailers are carrying of Trump-related goods. And, perhaps most importantly, she spends time on Facebook and Twitter interacting with fellow boycotters. They often have the best tips on stores from which Trump merchandise has quietly disappeared, and she feels like members of the group gets more energized when she communicates with them directly.
There are also frequent decisions to be made about what companies should be on the list. Chains such as Lord & Taylor or Macy's easily make the cut because they carry Trump family merchandise. But other times, it is less cut-and-dried. Bookstores are generally spared, but that could change if any agree to host Ivanka Trump during her upcoming book tour. Belk has removed Ivanka Trump gear from its website, but not its brick-and-mortar stores, so it is still on the Grab Your Wallet list. Meanwhile, The Washington Post is "NOT being boycotted at this time," even though it is owned by Jeffrey P. Bezos, the chief executive of Amazon.com, which makes the list for carrying Trump family products. On the Grab Your Wallet website, it says that decision came after a majority of boycott participants said in a poll that the Post should not be excluded. Neiman Marcus, Belk, Lord & Taylor, Macy's and Amazon did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
While Coulter started the campaign as an outcry against Donald Trump's treatment of women, it has mushroomed into a more sprawling expression of anti-Trump sentiment. Some are worried about the conflict-of-interest issues associated with having president with such a tangled web of business ties in the White House. Others came into the fold after President Trump issued an executive order that barred refugees and people from seven majority-Muslim nations from entering the United States.
As Grab Your Wallet grows, so too do new challenges.
But even as the tent gets bigger, Coulter is determined to keep to goal the same: To not let it turn into an aimless funnel for outrage, but to continue to offer clear, actionable ways for companies to get out of boycotters' crosshairs. (In this case, to stop doing business with the Trumps.)
Some unsuccessful boycotts, she says, are "just created to punish companies, they're not created to help them evolve to a more ethical place."
As Grab Your Wallet grows, so too do new challenges. Coulter has occasionally been bombarded by vociferous e-mails from those who oppose the boycott. Also, a Facebook page has popped up that Coulter says is not affiliated with her campaign, but uses the Grab Your Wallet moniker and encourages people to boycott Trump goods. Coulter is frustrated that this page is hawking "Grab Your Wallet" T-shirts, because she worries it will send the wrong message about her initiative.
Retreating is not on the list of possibilities.
"It's so important to me that this not be tied to any desire to make money," Coulter said.
Coulter is still figuring out what's next for Grab Your Wallet: She hopes, at some point, not to be a one-woman band. And perhaps the campaign might grow to include other companies that aren't necessarily affiliated with the Trumps, but those that in some other way are perceived to be standing in the way of inclusivity. Retreating is not on the list of possibilities.
"I feel a seriousness of purpose that I've never felt before in my life," Coulter said.
Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.
It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.
More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.
But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:
Cleaner aviation fuel
The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.
While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.
Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.
In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.
Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.
High-flying ambitions for the sector
Hydrogen and electrification
Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.
One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.
Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.
New aircraft designs
Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.
International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.
The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.
Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airportcommons.wikimedia.org
Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.
The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.
Data privacy issues
However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.
Auckland Airport, New Zealand
The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?
At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.
Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.
40% of Swedes intend to travel less
According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.
But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.
At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.
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