Airlines are increasingly talking about the environment. Who knows whether it’s because they actually care, or whether it’s because they think it’s what they need to talk about. Regardless, it’s a step in the right direction.
While airlines have long given customers the option to offset their travels, some airlines are taking it a step further. For example, in the past few months we’ve seen some airlines announce major carbon offset schemes.
Here in the US, JetBlue was the first airline to announce a comprehensive plan for reducing emissions, as they’ll start offsetting all of their domestic flights, and will start operating some flights with sustainable aviation fuel.
Well, now another US airline is joining them. Delta has just announced that they’re committing $1 billion to become the first carbon neutral airline globally.
Delta to become first carbon neutral airline globally
Starting March 1, 2020, Delta Air Lines is committing $1 billion over the next 10 years to mitigate all emissions from its global business, both in the air and on the ground.
As Delta CEO Ed Bastian describes this project:
“There is no substitute for the power that travel has to connect people, which our world needs today more than ever before. As we connect customers around the globe, it is our responsibility to deliver on our promise to bring people together and ensure the utmost care for our environment. The time is now to accelerate our investments and establish an ambitious commitment that the entire Delta team will deliver.
There’s no challenge we face that is in greater need of innovation than environmental sustainability, and we know there is no single solution. We are digging deep into the issues, examining every corner of our business, engaging experts, building coalitions, fostering partnerships and driving innovation. We are on a journey, and though we don’t have all the answers today, we know that our scale, along with investments of time, talent and resources will bring meaningful impact to the planet and ensure the sustainability of our business for decades to come.”
Delta explains that the aviation industry accounts for about 2% of global carbon dioxide emissions, and that 98% of Delta’s emissions come from aircraft.
Delta is focusing on the following efforts to become carbon neutral:
- Carbon reduction: Reducing Delta’s carbon footprint through enterprise-wide efforts to decrease the use of jet fuel and increase efficiency. Areas of focus include an ambitious fleet renewal program, improved flight operations, weight reduction, and increased development and use of sustainable aviation fuels.
- Carbon removal: Investing in innovative projects and technology to remove carbon emissions from the atmosphere that go beyond the airline’s current commitments, and investigating carbon removal opportunities through forestry, wetland restoration, grassland conservation, marine and soil capture, and other negative emissions technologies.
- Stakeholder engagement: Building coalitions with our employees, suppliers, global partners, customers, industry colleagues, investors and other stakeholders to advance carbon reduction and removal goals and maximize our global impact.
Delta isn’t sharing many details as of now
There are two things I believe about Delta as a company:
- They want to do good by all of their stakeholders, because doing good is good for business, and it’s why they’re so successful; they have a genuine drive to take care of their employees, customers, and the communities they serve
- Perhaps even more so than their desire to do good, Delta wants to look good with whatever they do, no matter what cost it comes at
Delta is making a bold claim here, saying that they plan to be the first carbon neutral airline globally. However — and maybe I’m missing something — I don’t see anything in the press release actually supporting this? Also, didn’t EasyJet become the first airline globally to be carbon neutral last November?
What exactly is happening starting March 1, 2020? Is that when Delta is starting some projects, or are they actually directly carbon offsetting their flights as of then? It’s not clear based on the press release, unless I’m missing something.
Of course simply carbon offsetting flights isn’t the final solution, because that’s even a controversial practice, given the methods some airlines use with this. However, as of now I only see Delta saying they’re going to invest $1 billion over the next 10 years, without any promises of what exactly they’re going to do.
Let’s keep in mind that Delta has one of the less fuel efficient fleets out there as of now. The airline has a practice of operating older planes and maintaining them well. That’s perfectly logical from a business perspective, but I would imagine their per-seat emissions are higher than some competitors.
I commend Delta for this initiative, and for making this something that they’re going to focus on over the coming decade. We haven’t heard anything from American or United yet, so it’s not surprising to see Delta leading the way as usual.
That being said, I don’t see very many concrete commitments from Delta here. That’s not necessarily a terrible thing, since battling climate change goes beyond directly carbon offsetting flights. They’re committing to something now, and over the coming months and years I’m sure we’ll learn a lot more.
But I’m also confused by how they can claim to become the first airline globally to be carbon neutral based on what they’ve revealed so far?