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10 ways Delta advanced the more sustainable future of flying in 2022

Delta continued building momentum in 2022 on its journey to connect people to a more sustainable future of flying. From welcoming a new CSO and developing innovative partnerships, to advancing sustainable aviation fuel markets and further reducing single-use plastics onboard, work across the global carrier in 2022 has set Delta apart as a sustainability leader in the aviation sector.
Delta employees participate in a tree planting in 2022.

Editor's note: Delta outlined a roadmap to more sustainable travel on March 7, 2023 that details the airline's strategy for achieving net-zero emissions and more sustainable travel by 2050.

Delta’s Chief Sustainability Officer Pam Fletcher outlines the company’s bold strategy for achieving net zero-emissions and more sustainable travel by 2050, including scaling the sustainable fuel market, innovating for the fleet of the future, addressing single-use plastics and encouraging net-zero supply chains.
INTERACTIVE | Path to sustainability

Delta continued building momentum in 2022 on its journey to connect people to a more sustainable future of flying. From welcoming a new CSO and developing innovative partnerships, to advancing sustainable aviation fuel markets and further reducing single-use plastics onboard, work across the global carrier in 2022 has set Delta apart as a sustainability leader in the aviation sector.  

As Delta continues on its path to net zero emissions by 2050, here are some of the ways it has been working this year to embed sustainability in everything it does, while working to eliminate its climate impact from flying.  

1. New CSO Pam Fletcher tapped to lead Delta's path to net zero emissions by 2050 

Auto industry innovation leader Pam Fletcher joined Delta in 2022 as the first chief sustainability officer to also be named a member of the Delta Leadership Committee – a group of senior leaders responsible for the airline's strategic direction.  

From her years helping build a zero-emissions future for automobiles, Pam experienced first-hand that big challenges inspire innovation – but that dramatic change demands all stakeholders to contribute more than their part to be successful. Delta’s approach to achieving net-zero aviation includes working across Delta divisions and with innovative partners and stakeholders to develop a portfolio of short-, medium- and long-term actions – all while remaining committed to Science Based Target initiative (SBTi) targets implemented via fleet renewals, operational efficiencies and scaling Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF).  

READ MORE | Pam Fletcher on Delta’s accelerated sustainability flight plan  
READ MORE | Delta's sustainability chief says there's no need to feel guilty if you fly | Fortune 

2. Waste reduction and recycling 

In 2022, Delta refreshed its onboard product offerings with artisan-made amenity kits, recycled bedding, reusable and biodegradable service ware and premium canned wine. Together, the products reduce onboard single-use plastic consumption by approximately 4.9 million pounds per year – that’s roughly the weight of 1,500 standard-sized cars – while significantly increasing Delta’s support of minority- and women-run businesses. 

3. More sustainable ground operations  

Delta deepened its commitment to investing in more sustainable ground operations in 2022 by setting a goal to electrify 50% of its ground service equipment by 2025. Progress is already well underway with 100% of purchases of eligible core fleet equipment being fully electric (baggage tractors, belt loaders, and aircraft tow tractors) in 2022. Furthermore, two major hubs, BOS and SLC, are getting close to 100% electrified for these core fleets. 

4. A more transparent supply chain 

Delta continued to integrate sustainability into its entire business strategy by partnering with EcoVadis to create transparency across Delta's supply chain processes and alignment of values when it engages suppliers. EcoVadis provides an ESG rating for vendors in Delta's global supply chain, allowing Delta to measure the impact of its supply chain, encourage vendors to take action to improve their scores and identify potential new vendors with strong sustainability rankings.  

5. The power of Delta people in the community  

Taking action in the communities where Delta people live work and serve is core to Delta’s values. In 2022, Delta partnered with organizations and employees volunteered to improve local environments. Whether organized via Delta’s Community Engagement team or the sustainability-focused business resource group known as Green Up, these efforts included:  

  • Partnering with Trees Atlanta, Tree People in Los Angeles, Speak for the Trees in Boston and Forterra in Seattle to plant more than 650 trees in low-income communities and neighborhoods of color across nine cities.  
  • Partnering with Captain Planet Foundation to create outdoor learning gardens at schools in Atlanta, New York City and Seattle to engage and empower young people to problem solve environmental challenges.  
  • Organizing employee volunteer opportunities resulting in: 
    • Beach and River clean-ups in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Atlanta and on the Jersey Shore 
    • A city-wide canal clean-up in Amsterdam that included volunteers from Dutch airline KLM  
    • The removal of around 4,000 pounds of non-native ice plant from the dunes off the end of the runways at LAX 

6. Cleaner fuel: SAF advancements  

Delta has committed to fueling 10% of its operation with SAF by the end of 2030. Strong progress toward this goal was made in 2022, despite existing annual global SAF supply being insufficient to operate a fleet Delta’s size for even a single day. The global airline created demand signals for the SAF market and encouraged greater investment in the space, by:  

  • Signing agreements with SAF makers for half the volume needed by 2030. These agreements also expand availability of this nascent technology and align with Delta’s SAF goal as a founding member of the First Movers Coalition.  
    • Gevo expects to deliver roughly 75 million gallons of SAF annually for seven years to Delta, anticipated to start mid-2026. 
    • DG Fuels plans to deliver 55 million gallons of SAF annually for seven years using a new supply stream, anticipated to start delivery by the end of 2027. This SAF will likely reduce lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions by between 75% - 85% compared to conventional jet fuel.  
  • Collaborating with customers on SAF purchase agreements  
    • Through more than 50 SAF partnerships, Delta and its corporate, travel agency and cargo customers have committed to purchasing more than 2.5 million gallons of SAF to date, showing that more sustainable travel solutions are a priority across industries 
  • Illustrating how aviation’s existing infrastructure is ready for SAF 
    • In 2022 Delta worked with Neste and Colonial Pipeline to test and show how the current fuel infrastructure is already ready to carry SAF to airports along the east coast.  
  • Advocating for policy incentives needed to support the growth of the nascent SAF market and its US producers. 
    • In 2022 Delta worked alongside our suppliers and industry partners to support enactment of the first SAF-specific federal incentives; achieving cost competitiveness for SAF relative to on-road biofuels and conventional jet fuel will require further policy momentum and sustained investment. 

SAF is extraordinary because it can lower lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions by 80% versus conventional jet fuel and is a proven technology that can be dropped into today's aircraft with no modification to fuel cells or engines.  

7. Fleet innovation 

2022 saw Delta's fleet, once again, become more efficient. Building on work to fast-track the retirement of older aircraft during the two previous years, Delta welcomed the A321neo into service in 2022, powered by Pratt & Whitney GTF™ engines that offer 20% greater fuel efficiency over Delta's A321ceos. Delta also ordered 100 Boeing 737-10s that are scheduled for delivery beginning in 2025. The 737-10 aircraft will be 20-30% more fuel efficient than the aircraft they'll replace, reinforcing one of Delta's strategic fleet objectives to lower emissions.   

8. More fuel-efficient aircraft operations: Carbon Council 

More than 10 million gallons of fuel were saved in 2022 thanks to the work of Delta's Carbon Council, that launched in 2022. Made up of leaders from across the airline, the council drives fuel savings initiatives that align with the airline's Science Based Target initiative commitments. Teams across Delta have worked together to make an impact through fleet modifications, enhanced landing procedures, and optimizations to flight routing and speed.  

One example of the Carbon Council's work is the decision to install enhanced split scimitar winglets for drag reduction on the 737-800 fleet. Once complete, this investment alone is expected to save an estimated 3.3 million gallons of fuel annually. Another example is Delta's active role with Air Traffic Control and Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to implement Established on Required Navigation Performance (EoR) in 2021 and 2022. This technology allows air traffic controllers to take advantage of more efficient next-generation procedures to save fuel and time. 

9. Revolutionary fleet industry partnership 

In 2022, Delta worked with other companies creating potentially disruptive technologies that could accelerate progress toward net zero aviation. One example is Delta’s Memorandum of Understanding to become the first U.S.-based airline to collaborate with Airbus on the research and development of hydrogen-powered aircraft and the ecosystem required to make the transition. 

This fall, Delta announced a partnership with Joby Aviation to pioneer home-to-airport transportation using eVTOL aircraft expected to offer zero operating emissions. While the partnership is centered on elevated customer experience, it illustrates how Delta puts sustainability at the center of every significant business decision.  

As part of the first-of-its-kind arrangement, the companies will work together to integrate a Joby-operated service into Delta’s customer-facing channels

10. The power of collaboration  

Decarbonizing aviation will require collaboration and shared knowledge across the industry and beyond. Taking part in the SkyTeam Alliance’s Sustainable Flight Challenge was one way in 2022 that Delta used the power of its airline partnerships to test and explore sustainability solutions including:  

  • 400 gallons of SAF from supplier Gevo, marking a record for the largest amount of SAF used on a flight out of Atlanta 

  • 100% electric ground service equipment (tractors, and carts that loaded baggage and fuel) in Atlanta and Salt Lake City 

  • Pillows and blankets made from recycled plastic bottles  

  • Sustainable menu options like meat sourced from ranches that practice regenerative land management and locally grown vegetables  

  • Zero disposable plastic, all-recycled packaging and composting of food scraps to make it a zero-waste flight, with the exception of safety, health and hygiene items that may be single use.  

Collaboration outside the industry that brings new perspectives is also a key to Delta’s approach to accelerating its path to net zero emissions. Delta in 2022 launched a collaboration with MIT’s Department of Aeronautics to test methods and develop tools to eliminate persistent contrails – these are about 10% of all contrails and thought to be one of aviation’s largest environmental impacts. Avoiding air space prone to producing persistent warming contrails could quickly reduce aviation’s climate impact over the next few years. The study’s findings and technology will be publicly released and published under an open-source license to foster further collaboration and help the industry study and curtail the adverse effects of contrails.  

If successful, this work could drive significant progress quickly in reducing the climate impact of aviation by preventing the creation of persistent contrail formations altogether.

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