What your favorite airlines and hotels are doing to fight climate change
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On this Earth Day, April 22, we are publishing a selection of environmentally-themed stories that have appeared previously on our site. With them, we want to remind all of us that it’s possible to combine travel with being mindful of the impact it can have on the environment — and with working to minimize it. This story originally appeared on January 17, 2020. It has been lightly edited to reflect news developments.
The Earth is getting warmer, and it’s because of human-made pollution. The science is clear on the matter. A new report from NASA and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) confirmed that 2019 was the second-hottest year since records began being kept in 1880. What was the hottest? 2016.
The new report highlights the alarming trend of rapidly climbing temperatures. Companies around the world are increasingly acknowledging their roles in global emissions. Airlines admit they contribute about 2% of global pollution, but a New York Times report based on new research suggests it’s closer to 2.5% and growing. Here’s a roundup of what your favorite travel companies are doing to help save the Earth.
Delta Air Lines
Delta Air Lines customers traveling to the 2020 CES, the giant trade show for tech companies in Las Vegas, flew carbon-neutral in January, a continuation of the company’s long-running investments in sustainability.
“There is just no substitute for the power that travel has to change lives and make the world a better place. And we’re committed to making our business of connecting people to the world one that also is environmentally minded,” said Delta CEO Ed Bastian. “Starting with voluntarily capping our carbon emissions at 2012 levels, we continue to reduce our footprint and invest in natural climate solutions as well as projects that support local economies worldwide.”
Delta is investing more than $100,000 in The International Small Group & Tree Planting Program (TIST), a program that supports subsistence farmers in countries like Kenya and Uganda to reverse the effects of deforestation, drought and famine through tree planting and conservation farming.
The investments were announced as part of Bastian’s CES keynote address.
Delta also recently introduced 84 new aircraft like the state-of-the-art A220.The new planes are 25% more fuel-efficient than the models they replaced.
Delta says it is aiming to reduce its emissions by 50 percent by 2050. Since 2005, the airline has reduced its jet fuel consumption through fleet renewal and fuel-efficiency initiatives, an effort which the airline says has reduced emissions by 11 percent. Delta says it’s the only airline to voluntarily cap emissions at 2012 levels. It has purchased 12 million carbon offsets since 2012.
In 2007, Delta became the first U.S. airline to enable customers to offset the carbon emissions generated through travel, on delta.com/co2 or through the Fly Delta app.
Delta’s sustainability efforts extend into the plane cabin as well: The airline recycles 1,000 tons of waste a year and says it has dramatically reduced single-use plastics on planes and in lounges. Delta also has been making its current planes lighter. Those efforts include installing carbon brakes on all its planes, reducing weight by about 700 pounds per plane.
Delta is also working with Air BP to supply biofuels for 20 delivery flights of the A321 aircraft from the Airbus final assembly line in Mobile, Alabama.
Alaska Airlines has banned plastic straws from its planes and lounges. The airline composts all its inflight and lounge coffee grounds and says it’s working on composting as much as 30% of inflight waste.
In a sustainability mission statement, Alaska said:
To the people of Alaska Airlines, the Pacific Northwest is so much more than a destination — it’s where we live, where we grew up, and where we play. Because of this, we are motivated to keep it pristine, and have chosen to take on sustainability enhancements that are important to the environment, our communities, and the advancement of the airline industry.
Alaska Airlines, the Port of Seattle and Boeing are also partnering with the goal of powering all flights by all airlines at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport with 10% sustainable aviation biofuel by 2028. Sea-Tac is the first U.S. airport to lay out a long-term plan to incorporate aviation biofuel into its infrastructure and wants all jet fuel to be 50% biofuel by 2050.
Sea-Tac airport in October 2019. (Photo by Alberto Riva/The Points Guy)
American Airlines is pursuing several eco-friendly paths with a goal of cutting its carbon-dioxide emissions in half over the next 30 years. In a statement, AA said:
“We recognize that air travel has impacts on the environment, and we’re committed to proactively minimizing those impacts in a number of ways. Our sustainability efforts are embedded in our operation, from our unmatched fleet renewal program to our wide-ranging efforts to improve fuel efficiency. We take pride in doing our part to take care of our environment, just as we take care of people on life’s journey each and every day.”
American said that, since 2013, the airline has taken delivery of more than 500 aircraft and retired virtually the same number, resulting in the youngest fleet of any U.S. network carrier. American says many of its new aircraft are up to 40 percent more fuel-efficient than older models.
American ranks among the top 50 on the EPA’s list of the largest green-power users among Fortune 500 companies. By 2025 American hopes to replace nearly 20 million gallons of jet fuel with cost-competitive renewable energy.
United Airlines has been a leader in the use of eco-fuel, making history in 2016 by becoming the first U.S. airline to use commercial-scale volumes of sustainable biofuel for regularly scheduled flights with its Eco-Skies program.
In October, United said it is committing $40 million toward accelerating the development of sustainable aviation fuels and other decarbonization technologies. In 2019 United pledged to buy up to 10 million gallons of sustainable aviation fuel over the next two years. United is also investing $30 million in a California-based sustainable aviation fuels producer, Fulcrum BioEnergy.
United also was the first airline to fly with Boeing’s Split Scimitar winglets, which reduce fuel consumption by 2% over traditional winglets. Nearly 400 aircraft have these winglets. The company is also replacing old ground equipment with cleaner, electrically powered alternatives — 40% of that fleet has been converted. And United is ditching non-recyclable plastic stirring sticks and replacing them with bamboo.
JetBlue Airways announced in January it would be offsetting up to 17 billion pounds of emissions per year. JetBlue told us that’s like taking 1.5 million cars off the road. The airline is partnering with Carbonfund.org to offset all flights operating in the United States, through forest conservation projects, solar and wind farm development and converting landfill gas into renewable energy rather than allowing it to escape into the air.
JetBlue told TPG that by mid-2020 the airline plans to operate all flights from San Francisco (SFO) with “Neste MY Renewable Jet Fuel.” Neste says its fuel is made from recycled oils and other materials and reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 80% over traditional jet fuel.
Southwest CEO Gary Kelly has said, “Doing the right thing for our planet is not just ‘good business,’ it is necessary for our survival.”
Southwest has committed to purchase three million gallons of sustainable aviation fuel per year from Red Rock Biofuels with the first delivery anticipated this year.
Southwest said, “Whether through investments in advanced, fuel-efficient aircraft, utilizing electric ground support equipment, or finding innovative ways to reduce energy consumption at our airport facilities, we’re always looking for new ways to improve our energy efficiency.”
The airline also said it has been making steady progress in reducing its emissions over the past decade. “We have invested more than $600 million in fuel efficiency improvements since 2002,” the company says.
Southwest has also been experimenting with “green” plane interiors since at least 2009.
Etihad Airways and Boeing late last year announced a first-of-its-kind “eco partnership,” in which a specially themed Boeing 787 Dreamliner will be used to test products, procedures and initiatives designed to reduce aircraft carbon emissions. The new plane is expected to roll out early this year.
Among its early missions? A special “eco flight” from Abu Dhabi to Brussels during Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week in January.
At a press conference late last year, Etihad CEO Tony Douglas highlighted how new and comparatively fuel-efficient their fleet is. He said the average age of an Etihad plane is 16, making it one of the younger big carriers: “We’re like a millennial and like all good millennials, they’re really focused on the environment and the sustainability agenda.”
Etihad also secured funding to build a massive addition to what it calls its “Eco-Residence,” a sustainable apartment complex for the airline’s cabin crews that opened in 2017.
Other international carriers
Lufthansa has already started using Neste’s sustainable aviation fuel, blended with fossil jet fuel on flights departing from Frankfurt. The two companies have been partners on environmental efforts since 2011.
Carbon offsetting has become a focus for airlines around the world, but particularly those based in Europe. Air France, British Airways, Emirates, and Qantas among others have enacted plans to offset the environmental effects of their flights with carbon purchases and other efforts.
We wrote about EasyJet’s efforts in November 2019. The low-cost carrier claims it is the world’s first major airline to operate net-zero carbon flights across its network. In addition to carbon-offsetting its flights, EasyJet said it’s also signed a deal with Airbus to join a research project on hybrid and electric aircraft.
Air France is vowing to make all its domestic flights carbon-neutral. In fact, it said it is offsetting 100 percent of the carbon emissions on all of its domestic flights as of the first of the year.
British Airways also said it was carbon-neutral as of the first of the year, at least within the U.K. It began purchasing carbon offsets on Jan. 1, 2020.
Marriott says, “From design to the guest experience, sustainability is embedded into our business strategy.” The hotel conglomerate said it is building energy-efficient hotels, using renewable energy wherever possible and trying to find new ways to reduce waste and carbon emissions. The goal set by the company is to reduce water use by 15% and waste by 45%, and to use at least 30% renewable energy by 2025.
All the major hotel chains, including Hyatt, Marriott and IHG, are banning single-use plastic shampoo bottles. This saves them money, and helps reduce waste, though not everyone is a fan — and single-use bottles could be making a comeback due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Last year Marriott says it avoided using 3.7 million plastic amenity bottles.
Hilton says that over the past decade it has reduced its carbon emissions by 30%, energy usage by 21%, water use by 20% and waste by 31%. “As a global business, we see the impacts of climate change every day,” the company said. “From hurricanes to droughts, wildfires to floods, our Team Members and guests are facing an increasing number of extreme weather events and natural disasters caused or amplified by global climate change.”
The chain is also committed to bringing its properties in line with the carbon reductions stipulated in the Paris Climate Agreement. The goal is to cut Hilton’s global environmental footprint in half by 2030.
One example is the Grand Wailea — a Waldorf Astoria resort in Maui — where the company is building a photovoltaic solar array. Once completed, the 1.5-megawatt solar array will be the largest on Maui and will significantly reduce carbon emissions by providing clean renewable energy to the hotel. (You can see some of the solar panels in the image below.) The resort is also moving to zero-waste kitchen facilities.
Related: How to maximize redemptions with Hilton Honors
Hyatt Hotels announced it was ditching all plastic amenity bottles back in June and has ordered all of its hotels to institute the new policy as soon as possible with an absolute deadline of Summer 2021.
Mark Hoplamazian, president and CEO of Hyatt, said:
“At Hyatt, our purpose – we care for people so they can be their best – guides all business decisions, including our global sustainability framework, which focuses on using resources responsibly and helping address today’s most pressing environmental issues. Plastic pollution is a global issue, and we hope our efforts will motivate guests, customers and, indeed, ourselves to think more critically about our use of plastic.”
Hyatt’s “2020 Vision” program is designed to reduce energy and water consumption as well as greenhouse gas emissions throughout its properties. There aren’t a lot of specifics, but many of Hyatt’s new hotels are built to high environmental standards, including the new Grand Hyatt at San Francisco International Airport (SFO), which is a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold Certified Project.
“Grand Hyatt at SFO’s operations reflect the sustainability missions of both Hyatt and the San Francisco Airport Commission,” the company said. “SFO has set a goal to become the world’s first Zero Net Energy (ZNE) airport campus by 2021, and the property is in line with this goal with a ZNE capable design. Grand Hyatt at SFO is 26% more energy efficient than a baseline hotel, identified by LEED, and the property generates 133,000 kWh of energy annually with roof-mounted photovoltaic panels.”
TPG’s Summer Hull recently reviewed the new airport hotel and gave it a big thumbs up.
Being a responsible business is part of the mission at Intercontinental Hotels & Resorts. The chain’s Green Engage initiative has reduced energy consumption up to 25% at IHG properties worldwide over just a few years. Paul Snyder, vice president of corporate responsibility at IHG, said the program helps individual hotels track, measure and benchmark their energy usage and offers 200 solutions to “allow them to improve the environmental performance of their hotel.” Snyder told TPG that the chain continues to seek out more ways to improve on these metrics.
IHG has also teamed up with a technology company called Winnow Vision to reduce hotel food waste by 30% over the next few years. Finally, IHG plans to eliminate all plastic bottles by 2021.
IHG CEO Keith Barr said, “It’s more important than ever that companies challenge themselves to operate responsibly — we know it’s what our guests, owners, colleagues, investors and suppliers rightly expect.”
Here’s what you, and WE, can do
Flying produces a lot of carbon pollution. One option to reduce your personal carbon footprint is to compensate for the carbon emissions from your travel by purchasing carbon offsets. A number of U.S. and international airlines and travel companies make it easy to do that directly on their websites, or you can purchase them on your own. In many cases, you’ll spend less than $10 to offset even the longest domestic flights.
Some carriers offer points and miles as incentives for travelers willing to help save the earth. Qantas recently began offering frequent flyers 10 points for every Australian dollar spent on reducing their carbon footprint — the highest standard earn rate on any Qantas frequent-flyer initiative. Customers responded enthusiastically, some earning more than a million points within the first month alone from flying carbon-neutral, which resulted in a 15% rise in carbon offsets.
TPG is getting in on the act too. We’ve moved into a new, greener office where we replaced wasteful takeout with catering and use hand-washed dishes instead of paper products. We’re also recycling much of our office waste and working to minimize the impact from all our company travel.
“We are thinking more and more about the balance between travel and the environment,” TPG’s Executive Editorial Director Scott Mayerowitz said. “Last year, we started mitigating all of our staff travel with carbon offsets, made green changes at our office and are looking at more ways to cover climate change.”
What else can you the consumer do? You can walk and bike as much as possible, instead of driving. You can use a ride-sharing service like Lyft, which says all its rides are carbon-neutral.
Recycle and reuse whenever possible. Buying an electric car could help put a dent in air pollution. Scientists also encourage folks to choose renewable energy whenever possible, consider solar panels and make sure their house is energy-efficient.
Additional reporting by Zach Honig, Katie Genter and Katherine Fan.
Featured image of Etihad’s Boeing 787 “Greenliner” courtesy of Etihad.
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