What to Look for
Before the pandemic hit in 2020, aviation had been growing at around 5% per year. The sector is responsible for around 2% of all human-induced carbon dioxide emissions (about the same as Germany’s total emissions) and its overall contribution to climate change is higher, around 3.5% according to CarbonBrief.
Where possible, choosing to take trains or drive will result in a smaller carbon footprint of your trips. You could even take a short flight and then road-trip the rest of the way.
If you are flying, opt for fewer, longer holidays and fly economy as the carbon emissions are spread across more people. We also suggest as few layovers as possible because emissions are higher when taking off and landing.
Moreover, many airlines now offer you the chance to offset part or all of the carbon emissions from your flight for a fee whilst others will foot the cost themselves.
Most of the below airlines refer to the IATA’s climate change targets in their sustainability reports. These are:
- An average improvement in fuel efficiency of 1.5% per year from 2009 to 2020.
- A cap on net aviation CO2 emissions from 2020 (carbon-neutral growth).
- A reduction in net aviation CO2 emissions of 50% by 2050, relative to 2005 levels.
IATA also set out four key pillars in order to achieve these targets:
- Improved technology, including the deployment of sustainable aviation fuels.
- More efficient aircraft operations.
- Infrastructure improvements, including modernised air traffic management systems.
- A single global market-based measure, to fill the remaining emissions gap.
When writing the below recommendations, we considered these pillars, as well as anything extra they are doing around waste management, single-use plastics and in-flight food. Of the four pillars the first, improved technology, has the most opportunity to reduce emissions through fleet upgrades and sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), so we will focus mainly on this one.
Obviously which airline you need will depend on where you are flying, so below we recommend a few different ones.
The brand: Virgin are one of the leaders when it comes to aviation sustainability and have won awards for it in the past few years. Their Change in the Air sustainability programme was launched in 2007 and their transparent 2019 sustainability report considers their scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions.
When it comes to the first pillar, technology, they were the first airline to use Lanzatech jet fuel, a sustainable alternative, on a commercial flight in 2018. They are also upgrading their fleet to newer, more efficient and quieter aircrafts. Their current fleet is one of the youngest with an average age of 6.8 years.
As for pillar two, operations, they are continually watching onboard weight, optimising aircraft cleaning and maintenance, and advising their pilots how to fly more efficiently. They hope that this will help them meet their target of reducing aircraft CO2 emissions by 30% per Revenue Tonne Kilometre (RTK) between 2007 and 2021. RTK measures the amount of CO2 emitted in relation to the people, luggage and cargo carried.
Virgin’s overall reduction in emissions is ahead of the IATA target of improving fuel efficiency by 1.5% per year from 2009. We would like to see them set an even more ambitious target this year for 2021 onwards.
As seems to be the case with most airlines there is little mention of the third pillar, infrastructure. Yet, when it comes to the fourth pillar, they also have a carbon offsetting calculator where you can choose how much carbon you want to offset and they will donate the money to their offset scheme in partnership with ClimateCare.
Moreover, Virgin are also voluntarily taking part in the CORSIA offset scheme before it becomes mandatory for all airlines in 2027.
Beyond the four pillars, they reduce flight waste, by not providing amenity kits to everyone, they are instead available on request, plastic bags have been removed from their headsets, their wooden stirrers are FSC-certified and they don’t hand out straws on their flights, instead carrying a small amount of paper ones for those who ask for it. They even consider the food they serve on-flight, with 63% of their flights worldwide meeting their sustainable food criteria.
The product: their routes are as follows:
- London Heathrow to: Antigua, Atlanta, Barbados, Boston, Cape Town, Delhi, Grenada, Havana, Hong Kong, Islamabad, Johannesburg, Lagos, Lahore, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Montego Bay, Mumbai, New York, Orlando, San Francisco, Seattle, Shanghi, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Tel Aviv, Tobago, Washington DC.
- Manchester to: Atlanta, Barbados, Boston, Islamabad, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York, Orlando.
- Glasgow to: Orlando
- Belfast to: Orlando
The brand: in their 2019/20 sustainability report, Singapore Airlines (SIA) acknowledged that despite the aviation industry being hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, CEO Goh Choon Phong sees this as an opportunity to take ‘a fundamental relook at [their] business’.
They have aligned to IATA’s four-pillar strategy in order to meet IATA’s targets. Under pillar one, they have committed to upgrading their fleet to more efficient aircrafts, their current passenger fleet has an average age of 5.4 years, and their total fleet has less than 10% of aircrafts over the age of 13. However, their freighter aircrafts do average 16.3 years so we would like to see this reduced. Moreover, in 2011 the company joined the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group (SAFUG), which focuses on accelerating the development and commercialisation of sustainable aviation fuel. They have since begun to integrate the use of SAF into their supply chain.
When it comes to pillar two, they optimise flight patterns, engaged pilots and crews in how to have more efficient flights and work closely with air traffic management (ATM) experts to reduce congestion. Additionally, they are improving ZFW (the total weight of the aircraft including unusable fuel but not including the necessary fuel) to reduce the weight of the aircraft, subsequently reducing emissions.
Singapore Airlines plan to support pillar three through innovation and data analytics, as well as collaborating with stakeholders on improving ATM. This is their weakest pillar and one where we hope to see improvement in the next sustainability report.
For the final pillar, SIA are voluntarily participating in CORSIA, which seeks to offset the share of CO2 emissions from international flights exceeding their 2020 levels, from 2021 to 2026 until it becomes mandatory for all airlines in 2027.
Beyond these four pillars, in 2017 SIA launched their ‘From Farm to Plane’ campaigns, in which they intend to use more sustainable and meatless ingredients, as well as local produce, in their in-flight meals. The airline has now removed all plastic straws, replacing them with paper ones.
Moreover, they are on track to achieve their goals of reducing energy consumption in their buildings by 15% and a 30% reduction of waste generated from their buildings by the end of 2021, from base year 2010/11.
The product: Their direct routes from the UK are as follows:
- London Heathrow to: Singapore
- Manchester to: Singapore
The brand: in February 2020, Delta committed to becoming a carbon neutral airline and starting in March 2020, the American company committed $1 billion over the next 10 years on its journey to mitigate all emissions from its global business going forward. Moreover, they were the was the number 1 airline named among America’s Most Sustainable Companies by Barron’s in 2020.
Delta did not directly mention any of the IATA pillars in their corporate report but their strategy can be aligned with them and they do align with the IATA’s targets.
Whilst Delta airlines has one of the older fleets, reporting an average age of 14.4 years in their 2018 corporate report, they have set clear targets to upgrade their fleet committing to 162 new aircrafts by 2020 and 168 new purchases by 2021.
In 2019 Delta partnered with Air BP to supply 20 carbon-neutral flights with biofuel (offsets were also used to reach carbon-neutral). Since then they have invested in biofuel studies and partnered with Deloitte who purchased SAF facilitated by Delta. This clearly demonstrates the first pillar.
When it comes to the second, they reduce their onboard weight, avoiding over-fuelling and over-provisioning. They have also saved energy by cutting onboard axillary power units (APUs), as well as a flight deck weather app and a proprietary app which help with fuel efficiency.
Delta do not really mention anything of the third pillar, infrastructure, but do acknowledge that companies will need to work together in order to reduce air traffic congestion.
As for the fourth pillar which speaks mainly to carbon offsets, between 2013 and 2018 Delta purchased nearly 9 million carbon offsets and have committed to continue and grow their offset purchases.
Beyond the four pillars, their corporate report transparently discusses spills, air quality, drinking water and waste management. As well as their use of up-cycled and recyclable materials.
The product: their direct routes from the UK are as follows:
- London to: Atlanta, Boston, Detroit, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, New York, Orlando, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington
- Manchester to: Atlanta, Loa Angeles, New York, Orlando
- Glasgow to: Orlando
- Edinburgh to: Boston, New York
- Belfast to: Orlando
- Dublin to: Atlanta, Boston, New York
The brand: as one of the biggest European airlines, KLM’s sustainability efforts are commendable. Their 2019 sustainability report shows that they have 30% lower CO2 emissions per passenger km compared to 2005 as well as 32% less CO2 emissions produced by ground operations compared to 2018, accounting for 100% of scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions. Additionally, they mention their purchasing of more efficient aircrafts, reduction in noise pollution and reduction in non-recyclable materials.
KLM have outlined clear goals to reach by 2030: 50% reduction in emissions per passenger km compared to 2005; 50% less non-recycled waste compared to 2011; and zero ground emissions.
When it comes to the first pillar, technology, KLM have an average aircraft age of 11.6 years, again one of the older fleets. However, in 2020 they retired their older aircrafts (Airbus A380) two years earlier than planned and will be replacing them with newer, more efficient ones, as well as placing an order for 10 new aircrafts in 2019. Whilst KLM view SAF as a promising future solution they highlight the current issues with limited supply. Their SAF from SkyNRG meets strict sustainability criteria and is certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials. They are also members of working groups and support research projects aimed at the creation of a SAF market.
As for the second pillar, operations, KLM have a Fuel Plan which aims to reduce fuel use through various projects, focusing on fuel policies, fuel standards, accurate planning information, route optimisation, and weight reduction.
Once again, there is little mention of pillar three. As for the fourth pillar, carbon offsetting, Air France has been offsetting 100% of their domestic flights since 1st January 2020. KLM also offer individual and corporate customers the chance to offset their emissions on a voluntarily basis.
KLM also detail policies around all forms of waste, including food, and considerations of biodiversity.
The product: the airline flies from:
- KLM flies Amsterdam to: Aberdeen, Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Doncaster, Sheffield (via a Flybe codeshare), Durham Tees Valley, East Midlands (via a Flybe codeshare), Edinburgh, Exeter (via a Flybe codeshare), Glasgow, Humberside, Inverness, London City Airport, London Heathrow, Leeds, Bradford, Manchester, Newcastle, Norwich, Southampton (via a Flybe codeshare).
- Air France flies Paris to: Aberdeen, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, London Heathrow, Manchester.
We try our best to research and find the best environmentally-friendly companies to recommend here. However, if you have any suggestions that we might not know of, or disagree with any of our recommendations, please get in contact: firstname.lastname@example.org .We always want to learn more about the companies with the potential to save our future.