A Simple Breakdown of Major Airlines’ Sustainability Policies

Correct dates and destination? Check. Affordable tickets? Check. Ensuring the airline optimizes fuel-efficient fleets with a robust waste management policy? Wait what?

Yep, I’m adding one important step to your travel-planning checklist. If you consider yourself someone who likes to travel and cares about the environment, then it’s time to do a bit of research about your airlines. Which airlines are “green-washing” hype and which ones are actually cutting emissions and investing in greener air transport? I’ve done a lot of the work for you.pexels-photo-2As the climate becomes hotter, so has the conversation about aviation reducing its environmental impact. Over the past decade we’ve seen a huge push for corporate responsibility and sustainability, with almost every airline now having some form of sustainability policy.

Truthfully, many of the “sustainability” initiatives are actually cost efficiencies (aka fuel efficiencies) in disguise.

Some of the top sustainability practices in aviation include the following:pexels-photo

  •    Carbon offsetting: Carbon offsetting is a program being implemented by several airlines, which allows flyers to invest in offsetting their environmental footprint, usually in partnership with an environmental organization.
  •    Increasing fuel efficiency: Airlines are constantly looking for new ways to increase fuel efficiency, which is better for the environment and their pockets. As Soul Travel Blog describes, the newer the “fleet” age, the more fuel-efficient. The more fuel-efficient, the less pollution and carbon emissions.
  •    Investing in biofuels: Some airlines are heavily investing in biofuel technology, which reduced the use of fossil fuel and overall carbon emissions.
  •    Recycling programs: We’ve all been on a plane and seen the flight attendant dump all the plastic in with the food waste. Airlines are working towards reducing waste, some better than others.

I’ve analyzed some of the major airlines in the United States and Europe, giving them a score out of four based on this criteria:16809559_10212542506542447_1156936003_n

(highlighted in blue is each airline’s sustainability report)

Virgin America 3/4

Previously named the most eco-friendly airline in the U.S, Virgin America is leading the U.S in fuel efficiency, but could expand its recycling efforts.

Recycling: Some. VA recycles ⅔ of aluminum and ⅓ of plastic, paper and glass.

Use of biofuels: Not specified in most recent sustainability report

Carbon offsetting option for flyers: Yes,  VA is partnered with carbonfund.org

Energy efficiency: 15 percent more fuel efficient than other U.S domestic fleets and reducing fuel use by 6.5 percent since 2007.

Transparency level: High

Alaska Airlines 3.5/4

Alaska Airlines has a robust waste reduction and energy efficiency program, on top of its large investment into biofuels.  However, the airlines does not allow flyers to offset their carbon  footprint.

Recycling: Yes, with a 79 percent recycling rate.

Use of biofuels: Yes, invests heavily in biofuels and has reduced carbon emissions by up to 80 percent.

Carbon offsetting option for flyers: No.

Energy efficiency: Ranked number 1 for fuel efficiency by the international council on clean transportation for the past five years.

Transparency: High

United 2.5/4

United allows flyers to offset their carbon footprint and does recycle, but its sustainability report is somewhat vague. I had to do some digging to find the information below.

Recycling: Some. Recycles in most flights and facilities.

Use of biofuels: Not specified in sustainability report.

Carbon offsetting option for flyers: Yes, partnered with United Eco-Skies CarbonChoice

Energy efficiency: Improving fuel efficiency by 35 percent since 1993.  

Transparency: So-so

Delta 2.5/4

Though Delta is very transparent about its progress, the airline could further expand recycling efforts and improve energy efficiency.

Recycling: Some. Recycling program in 33 U.S locations.

Use of biofuels: Not specified in sustainability report.

Carbon offsetting option for flyers: Yes, partnered with The Nature Conservancy

Energy efficiency: Working towards 1.5 percent annual fuel efficiency until 2020.

Transparency: High

American Airlines 3/4

American airlines has a robust recycling program, but could use biofuels in aircrafts and allow a carbon offsetting option for flyers.

Recycling: Yes, recycling aluminum, paper, and plastic.

Use of biofuels: Use of biofuels and diesel for ground transport only.

Carbon offsetting options for flyers: No

Energy Efficiency: Working towards fuel efficiency with 11,000 tons of CO2 cut annually.

Transparency: High

Air France-KLM  3/4

Previously named the most sustainable airline in the world, Air France is committed to energy efficiency, fleet renewal, and biofuels. However, there is little information about recycling and waste management within Air France’s sustainability report.

Recycling: Not specified

Use of biofuels: Yes, but sustainability report doesn’t specify a quantity or percentage.

Carbon offsetting option for flyers: Yes, in partnership with GoodPlanet Foundation.

Energy efficiency: 15 percent reduction in total energy and 7 percent reduction in CO2 emissions since 2011.

Transparency: so-so (little information about recycling efforts).

Lufthansa 4/4

Just simply by looking at the summary below, it’s clear that Lufthansa takes sustainability quite seriously. The German airline is committed to each of the four pillars of aircraft sustainability.

Recycling:  Yes, using LSG Sky Chef’s environmental management system.

Use of biofuels: Yes, 6.6 million euros invested into integrated biofuels into aircrafts

Carbon offsetting option for flyers: Yes, in partnership with Myclimate organization

Energy efficiency: Yes, 1 billion euro investment in low emissions fleet, reducing 50 percent CO2 emissions

Transparency: High

British Airways 2.5/4

Though British Airways has certainly completed some significant sustainable accomplishments in the past, there is not sufficient updated data to say where the airlines stands now. Customers shouldn’t have to dig to find the airline’s updated sustainability report.

Recycling: Some, recycling at a 50 percent rate.

Use of biofuels: Yes, partnered with Solena to build Europe’s first biomass liquid plant.

Carbon offsetting option for flyers: Yes, with One Destination Carbon Fund.

Energy efficiency: Reducing CO2 emissions and improving fleet (lack of updated data). The company is a proponent of emission trading.

Transparency: Low. Latest online sustainability report is from 2010.

Easyjet 3/4

Easyjet has made significant strides towards sustainability, yet the expansion of the affordable airline has led to an increase in overall emissions.

Recycling: Some, with a two-bag waste collection system.

Use of biofuels: Not specified in sustainability report.

Carbon offsetting options for flyers: Yes, Easyjet works directly with several UN Certified Emission Reduction projects.

Energy efficiency: Invested in 100 new fuel-efficient A320neo aircrafts. Increased carbon emissions by 3.4 percent.

Transparency: so-so. Doesn’t contain much quantified details or robust reports.

RyanAir 2.5/5

RyanAir claims to be Europe’s “greenest, cleanest airline.” Though that may also be due to the fact that the airline is (in)famous for short-haul flights throughout Europe.

Recycling: Not specified.

Use of biofuels: Not specified

Carbon offsetting options for flyers: Not specified.

Energy efficiency: highest efficiency in load factor and seating density (in Europe).

Transparency: low. Not enough data beyond fuel efficiency.

Has your opinion about a particular airline changed? Which airline do you think you you’ll go with? Comment below!

sustainable-airlines

3 thoughts on “A Simple Breakdown of Major Airlines’ Sustainability Policies

  • This is a really important and super valuable post – thank you for doing all the research and raising the issue. One thing i found interesting when attempting similar research is that some of the airlines which do little in terms of alternative fuel or offsetting investment (e.g. the middle eastern big airlines) actually have the newest fleets which are most fuel efficient – so that presented me with a bit of a dilemma – what’s your take on that? Ellie

    Liked by 1 person

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