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Fueling a Sustainable Airline: Why Delta's promise to connect the world begins with caring for it

  • Delta was the first U.S. airline to offer carbon offsets to customers and is the only major airline to voluntarily cap carbon emissions at 2012 levels by purchasing carbon offsets
  • Delta was the first U.S. airline to recycle aluminum cans, plastic bottles and cups, newspapers and magazines from aircraft and has recycled more than 3 million pounds of aluminum from onboard waste
  • In 2018, Delta’s sustainability team championed the creation of Green Up, an employee-led business resource group that establishes sustainability ambassadors throughout the company.

From executives to frontline employees, Delta people across the system are committed to the communities they serve and the world they live in.

“Being a good corporate citizen is key to the Delta culture, which is why our sustainability efforts are more than just words,” said Gil West, Delta’s Chief Operating Officer. “Delta is committed to producing significant, measurable results as a part of its industry-leading sustainability strategy to maintain carbon-neutral growth, reduce waste, and engage customers and employees around environmental stewardship.”

These efforts and more are why Delta was honored the Vision For America Award by Keep America Beautiful in 2017, recognized with Captain Planet Foundation’s Superhero Corporate Award in 2018, named to the FTSE4Good Index for four consecutive years and included in the Dow Jones Sustainability North America Index for eight consecutive years.

Lowering our Carbon Footprint

Delta is committed to and has achieved carbon-neutral growth through carbon offsetting and fuel-saving initiatives for six consecutive years and is aligned with the International Air Transport Association on short-, medium-, and long-term goals to improve fuel efficiency, achieve carbon-neutral growth and reduce carbon emissions by 50 percent by 2050, compared to 2005. Delta was the first U.S. airline to offer carbon offsets to customers and is the only major airline to voluntarily cap carbon emissions at 2012 levels by purchasing carbon offsets — the airline is in the process of purchasing and retiring the offsets for its 2018 emissions, which will take Delta's carbon offsetting total to almost 12 million since 2013. Customers have the opportunity to offset their own travel as well. When customers pay for carbon offsets on delta.com/co2, they are able to estimate the carbon emissions associated with their travel and offset their environmental impact.

Two of Delta's primary opportunities for lowering emissions are investing in a more fuel efficient fleet and optimizing the use of jet fuel. Between mainline and regional aircraft, jet fuel accounts for more than 98 percent of Delta's total emissions and is the airline's second-largest operating expense. Since 2005, Delta has reduced its jet fuel consumption, and as a result, its emissions by 11 percent.  

Delta's commitment to addressing climate change also informs fleet management. The company strives to balance technological improvements available in new aircraft with a desire to build a fleet that is sustainable for the long term and maximizes the useful life of said aircraft. Additionally, Delta continues to evaluate biofuel opportunities in the event that the market reaches the tipping point of being both scalable and economically sustainable for global airlines that consume billions of gallons of fuel a year.

Other creative fuel reduction solutions include a renewed focus on using only a single engine for taxiing and asking customers to close shades in the cabin during summer months. This keeps the cabin up to 10 degrees cooler, decreasing the amount of time needed to run the auxiliary power unit.
 

Recycling and Reducing Waste

Delta was the first U.S. airline to recycle aluminum cans, plastic bottles and cups, newspapers and magazines from aircraft and has recycled more than 3 million pounds of aluminum from onboard waste — equivalent to 22 Boeing 747s — over 10 years. The funds from that program, combined with oil and scrap metal recycling in TechOps, have been used to construct 12 of the 264 homes Delta has built with Habitat for Humanity globally.

When Delta introduced new uniforms for employees in Airport Customer Service, Cargo, Ground Service Equipment, In-Flight Service and TechOps in 2018, more than 350,000 pounds of retired textiles were donated and diverted from landfills in what was one of the largest single company textile diversion programs in U.S. history. Instead of creating waste in landfills across the country, retired uniforms were donated to people in need, recycled or transformed into new, upcycled products through Delta's partnership with Looptworks.

Delta is also continuing the removal of a variety of single-use plastic items, including stir sticks, wrappers and straws from its aircraft and Delta Sky Clubs. The ongoing effort comes on the heels of the global airline's leading move to remove plastic wrap from international Main Cabin cutlery in April 2018 and is expected to eliminate more than 300,000 pounds in plastic waste annually – that's more than the weight of two Boeing 757 aircraft. Delta's move to reduce unnecessary single-use plastics is part of its industry-leading sustainability strategy that drove a route analysis to better align the amount of food, beverage and other items on board with customer demand, resulting in significant reductions in waste and emissions. 
 

Engaging Employees and Communities

In 2018, Delta's sustainability team championed the creation of Green Up, an employee-led business resource group that establishes sustainability ambassadors throughout the company. Green Up connects Delta people who are passionate about sustainability to drive change and add business value by finding thoughtful solutions to help Delta be more sustainable. Green Up has successfully hosted sustainability events like an Electric Vehicle Expo, spearheaded volunteer projects, sponsored a sustainability-focused innovation challenge, and helped implement edible and pollinator gardens, composting capabilities and the removal of Styrofoam products at Delta's Atlanta General Offices. In a little more than 12 months, over 3,000 employees have signed up — including Delta's CEO, Ed Bastian — to lead the sustainability charge in their stations and workgroups, and that number continues to grow.

In addition to Green Up, Delta's sustainability team has also created the Delta Air Lines Green Up Youth Advisory Board, which focuses on engaging young people in the communities that Delta serves to guide the airline's reduction of single-use plastics and help support sustainability initiatives throughout the business. The board is made up of 16 members from 11 U.S. states and American Samoa and includes ecowarrior scholars, environmental club leaders, social impact entrepreneurs and founders of multiple green non-profits. Board members benefit from personal and professional development, and in return, Delta benefits by better understanding the way younger generations are thinking about sustainability. Both the Green Up Youth Advisory Board and Green Up employee business resource group complement each other as they work together to find meaningful ways for Delta to positively impact the environment.

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