Connecting the world and keeping it beautiful for future generations cannot be mutually exclusive, writes Delta Chief Sustainability Officer Gareth Joyce.
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On Feb. 14, 2020, the entire Delta team was excited to announce our commitment over the next 10 years to becoming carbon neutral, globally. The news came on the same day we celebrated our incredible people with annual profit-sharing payouts. By any measure, it was an historic day for Delta.

Less than four weeks later, the COVID-19 crisis was declared a global pandemic and we found ourselves facing the worst crisis in our 95-year history. The world we all knew had changed.

With global industry slowing to a near standstill, widespread economic devastation will likely have painful impacts for years to come. That’s why we believe more strongly than ever in our mission to connect the world – to foster understanding across cultures and nations while enabling the highways of commerce that supply the lifeblood of the global economy. Meanwhile, as hundreds of millions have stayed at home, cleaner waterways, skylines and national forests show off the magnificence of our planet.

But connecting the world and keeping it beautiful for future generations cannot be mutually exclusive.

Despite current challenges, Delta remains committed to becoming a sustainable airline, and we’re adjusting our playbook to account for the current crisis and how we bring back service responsibly. That includes accelerating our fleet modernization program by permanently retiring many of our least-efficient aircraft that have already been parked due to the pandemic, exploring sustainable aviation fuels that can play a role in our efforts, and supporting the development of future aircraft propulsion technology. And given we cannot rely long-term on today’s limited carbon offset markets, we are working to identify new projects that remove carbon while benefitting global communities.

Fortunately, we’ve always viewed sustainability as a long-term, ongoing investment. That’s why we will uphold our pledge to becoming carbon neutral, and investing toward that goal over the next decade to make air travel sustainable for our planet’s future – despite limiting investments today to aspects of our business and operations that are mission-critical to navigating this crisis.

If there’s a silver lining to this pandemic, it’s that we are learning about the global community’s ability to come together and address a crisis that threatens us all.

While this note is a much different way to mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day than Delta had planned, our commitment to sustainability and to connecting you to people, experiences and opportunities won’t change. Because through human connections, we can expand mindsets and empathy across humankind and empower people to explore the natural wonders and unique cultures of our shared planet, firsthand.

Gareth Joyce is Delta Air Lines' first Chief Sustainability Officer.

About Delta Sustainability

Delta announced in February 2020 its $1 billion investment over 10 years to become carbon neutral and launched The Delta Environmental Sustainability Principles. From being the first and only U.S. airline to voluntarily cap greenhouse gas emissions at 2012 levels, to adding more than 80 new aircraft in 2019 in an effort to renew its fleet with aircraft that are in the aggregate 25 percent more fuel efficient than the aircraft they are replacing, Delta has been undertaking a multi-year effort to achieve more sustainable air travel. As part of its commitment, Delta has partnered with industry innovators to advance the development and production of sustainable aviation fuels, and has partnered with the international advocacy organization Global Citizen on Global Goal Live: The Possible Dream event, to help reach United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, focusing on sustainability, gender equality and human capital.

Delta was the No. 1 airline named among America’s Most Sustainable Companies by Barron’s in 2020, has earned spots on the FTSE4Good Index for five consecutive years and the Dow Jones Sustainability North America Index for nine consecutive years.