The airline industry today is responsible for around 2% of the total carbon emissions in the entire world, and that number is only expected to rise in the near future, as globalization and developing nations increase air travel. Airlines can be unsustainable and eco-damaging in other ways, too, with poorly managed recycling programs and high amounts of waste, including food waste.
The good thing is that certain airlines are realizing the significant impact they have on the environment, and are taking important steps to minimize their carbon footprint, among other things. Green practices like creating lighter, more efficient aircraft that use less fuel, initiating robust recycling programs that address more than just the soda cans in the cabin, and searching for sustainable alternatives to inflight dining options are just some of the options airlines have for improving their eco-friendliness.
One airline that’s taking a strong stance on the environment is Alaska Airlines. Representative of a region with some of the most beautiful natural land in the United States, it’s no surprise that Alaska Airlines wants to decrease their environmental impact. Their sustainability mission is comprised of a number of target goals, including: a reduction in emissions from airplanes and equipment; a reduction in waste from flights and on-ground facilities; a reduction in the “consumption of non-sustainable resources”; and a decrease in the energy use by their warehouses and staff buildings.
A few of the specific areas where Alaska Airlines is working to be more eco-friendly:
Energy Efficiency: In 2015, Alaska Airlines was ranked the most fuel-efficient airline among U.S. carriers for the fifth year in a row. That means that their fleet of aircraft is among the lightest and uses the least amount of fuel on their journeys – no small accomplishment! They’ve also made changes to their ground facilities to use less energy.
Fuel Consumption: Using their Greener Skies initiative at Seattle’s SeaTac airport, Alaska Airlines has saved 87 gallons of jet fuel per landing. They’ve also invested in sustainable biofuel development, an alternative to conventional jet fuel that offers many benefits, including a substantial reduction in carbon emissions, a protection against radical price changes in the market, and even the security of job production in the Pacific Northwest for plants that produce the biofuel.
Emissions: With a 12% reduction in mainline emissions since 2009, Alaska is working hard to reduce their contribution to global climate change. In order to achieve this goal, they’ve poured money into researching and building new and innovative flight technologies, utilized a more energy-efficient fleet, and adopted satellite-based navigation to maximize efficiency in route planning (as part of their Required Navigation Performance program).
Dining: Alaska Airlines not only serves sustainable and locally sourced foods where possible, they also have initiated an ambitious program to compost food waste, particularly coffee grounds, to reduce the amount of food waste they put into landfills. They also work with a vendor, LSG Skychefs, which has a “Zero-to-Landfill” project to dramatically limit the amount of packaging from food products that ends up as waste. They’ve even aimed to find reusable or more durable packaging for products like drink coolers and heated food containers, a process that’s still ongoing but showing great promise.
Waste: With an emphasis on purchasing products from paper cups to napkins that can be easily recycled, Alaska Airlines is working to reduce the amount of waste generated by their daily operations in flight. As of 2015, they’re able to recycle 79% of potential waste and divert materials away from landfills.
Charity & Community Work: Serving the communities they fly to is also an important part of sustainability in the modern era. Alaska Airlines has donated 11.7 millions dollars to youth development and education organizations in 2015 alone. They have a specific focus on STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), and have partnered with a number of local schools in Seattle to introduce students to flight technologies.
On the Ground: Alaska Airlines is not only dedicated to reducing waste in flight, but also in their ground facilities as well. Warehouses and staff buildings and offices are designed to be energy efficient, are subject to similar sustainability sourcing policies, and aim to recycle as much as possible, as well as composting where appropriate. They’ve also invested in iPads, iPhones and other tech devices to reduce the need for paper when it comes to staff communication and processing.