Aims to become first carbon neutral airline

Delta Air Lines has announced that it will commit $1 billion over the next 10 years in its effort to become the world’s first carbon neutral airline. The investment will go towards funding efforts to advance clean air technologies, reduce carbon emissions and waste, and establish new projects to mitigate the balance of emissions.

As climate change concerns have been growing in public consciousness, airlines have been coming under increasing scrutiny, as aviation accounts for approximately 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and air traffic doubling roughly every 15-20 years. Most recently, climate activists have begun “flight shaming” in attempts to deter passengers from using air travel.

In response to these trends, Delta has been seeking to boost its ESG profile. According to Delta CEO Ed Bastian:

“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.”

In the company’s press release, Delta outlined the focus company’s 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 has also released a detailed description of its sustainability programs. Most prominently, the airline is renewing its fleet with aircraft that are 25% more fuel efficient, partnering with companies including Northwest Advanced Bio-Fuels and Gevo to develop sustainable aviation fuels and enter offtake agreements, and since 2012 has voluntarily capped GHG emissions at that year’s levels. Other efforts the company is undertaking involve the establishment of an in-flight recycling program, reduction of single-use plastics, employee and customers engagement, and improved transparency and disclosure frameworks.

Delta’s sustainability efforts have not gone unnoticed, with the airline being named to the FTSE4Good Index and the Dow Jones Sustainability Index for several years in a row.