Air travel is one of the wonders of the modern world. It connects us to people and places, and makes for some very special memories. Unfortunately, air travel is also inherently bad for the environment. Dependent upon fossil fuels, the airline industry is responsible for 2% of the total carbon emissions generated on the entire planet. This percentage is only expected to increase in the future, as globalization and modernization mean more people need access to air travel. The airline industry also causes problems for the environment when it comes to waste – food, packaging, water, and more.
Fortunately, many airlines are conscious of the negative impact they have on the environment, and are taking big steps to compensate for their inevitable carbon footprint. Certain airlines set ambitious goals for reducing their emissions via lighter, more energy efficient planes, using less water, serving sustainable food in flight, and even improving their eco-cred in ground facilities.
One airline that’s taking big steps to reduce their carbon footprint is Delta. Their corporate responsibility report makes their goals and progress to date clear for potential customers, as well as frequent travelers. Tackling areas like climate change, energy, environmental protection, waste reduction, and water use reduction, their strategy is all about approaching the problem of sustainability from multiple angles. They also undergo annual environmental audits to make their progress towards individual and industry-wise goals. Their most recent corporate responsibility report is available online here.
A few ways in which Delta is working to be more eco-friendly:
Emissions: In order to reduce emissions, Delta has taken a multi-pronged approach to improve their fuel efficiency, decrease the weight of their planes, and use less fossil fuel in ground support vehicles. Since 2005, Delta has reduced their annual emissions by nearly 10,000,000 metric tons of C02. Because Delta’s program is so nuanced, they also account for emissions from electricity, and from fuel used by regional partners. They even purchase carbon offsets as much as possible to compensate for these emissions.
Recycling: Delta works to recycle (via a single-stream onboard system) as much as possible in flights where their destination offers a recycling depository. In 2015, they were able to recycle 779 tons of waste that would otherwise have been diverted to landfills. By recycling items like aluminum and glass, they were able to gain $109,548 in rebates, which they then poured into environmental programs. They’ve also reduced construction debris to practically zero by adopting sustainable building practices for on the ground facilities.
Ground Facilities: Although jet fuel consumption accounts for 98% of Delta’s carbon footprint, their on the ground operations can be greener, too. As an older airline, many of their facilities (include their headquarters in Atlanta) are built to outdated standards. As a result, Delta is committed to updating where possible with the most sustainable standards, and to building new construction as greenly as possible. For example, their SFO Sky Club had earned LEED Gold certification through the use of sustainable materials, installation of LED lights and Energy Star appliances, and advanced filtration systems to reduce pollution.