Most people are aware that airlines are responsible for a significant amount of carbon emissions. But some people don’t realize just how wasteful airlines can be in other ways. Regular airlines operations generate massive amounts of waste, with everything from problems recycling onboard to the non-recyclable packaging and shipping material used for transit of airplane parts. In short, airlines are a major problem with it comes to global climate change!
A few airlines are taking steps to remedy this problem with ambitious goals. In fact, there is a lot that airlines can do to reduce their negative impact on the environment. To begin with, airlines can make a big difference just by purchasing more energy efficient planes. Lighter, with more efficient engines, these planes use less fuel and thereby produce fewer emissions. Other areas for improvement include recycling across the board, opting for sustainable or reusable packaging for transit of goods, and choosing sustainable food options for their dining services.
One such airline is United Air. Their rigorous Eco-Skies program indicates their commitment to operating sustainably across the board, with a few central categories of focus. Through emphasizing areas like “fuel efficiency and carbon management,” sustainable sourcing and services, researching alternative fuel sources like biofuels, and promoting sustainable operations within their corporate partnerships, United is tackling the problem on multiple fronts. They’ve also been repeatedly recognized for their environmental initiatives, winning sustainability accolades from Air Transport World magazine, the Global Business Travel Association Foundation, and from ICARUS.
Here are some of the areas where United is working to make a positive change in their operations:
Fuel Efficiency & Emissions: Improving their overall fuel efficiency by more than 34% since 1994, United has come a long way in the last twenty years. They also choose to employ aircraft with winglets, design attributes to increase efficiency. They’re even the first airline to adopt Split Scimitar winglets, which provide an additional 2% reduction in carbon emissions and noise pollution compared to standard winglets. In fact, United has actually reduced fuel consumption by almost 30 million gallons between 2014 and 2015 through their fuel efficiency designs! United also plans to convert their ground equipment from fossil fuel burning to electric, which would make a big difference in their overall emissions.
Carbon Reduction: As part of an industry-wide collective, United is working to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by aiming for carbon-neutral growth beginning in 2020 and for a 50% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 (compared to 2005 levels). As part of their EcoSkies Carbon Choice program, United also offers customers the option to help offset their own contribution to carbon consumption through donations to sustainability programs and the purchase of carbon offsets.
Noise Reduction: United has also partnered with the Federal Aviation Administration to work to reduce the level of noise pollution produce near airports. This helps to improve environmental conditions for nearby wildlife, as well as making for a more pleasant working environment for staff and guests! In 2017, they’re working to install vortex generator on all of their Airbus 319/320 planes to help mitigate sounds specific to those designs.
Alternative Fuel Research: One of the biggest things United is doing to reduce pollution and emissions is to support research into alternative fuel sources. They’re looking to produce alternative biofuels that not only represent a renewable resource in a resource-strained industry, but also reduce carbon emissions in a big way. United partners with AltAir Fuels in particular, a company that locally produces biojet fuel for planes at Lost Angeles’ LAX airport. This biofuel is anticipated to result in a 60%+ reduction in carbon emissions from production to consumption, which is no small accomplishment!
Waste: In the past seven years alone, United has successfully recycled 27.8 million pounds of waste that might otherwise be diverted into a landfill. This comes from both their millions of flights and from their on the ground facilities.
EcoSkies Vacations: This unique program highlights vacation packages for their guests that put an emphasis on eco-friendly or green activities, which showcases their dedication to encouraging green travel and is an admirable component of their broader EcoSkies program.
Sustainable Partnerships: United also aims to work with suppliers, vendors, and other corporate partners to help them offer the best in sustainable design, products, and services. For example, they’ve partnered with rideshare services at major hubs like Newark Airport to help reduce extra emissions from multiple vehicles. They also offer a number of eco-friendly products and services in their in-flight catalog, including GAIAM yoga products, Rodale’s organic food and natural products, and Vinesse, an earth-friendly wine club that only sells wine from vineyards that utilize environmentally responsible techniques.
Sustainable Design On the Ground: Ground facilities make a big difference, too, when it comes to the overall impact an airline has on the environment. United is hoping to reduce their negative impact on the ground as well as in the sky by striving for LEED certification in select areas. For example, their corporate headquarters, based in Chicago, has recently earned LEED Silver certification, and new terminals in Houston and San Francisco have also been recognized by the USGBC.