Air travel was once a point of contention in green circles. The possible consequences of emitting toxic and greenhouse gasses at high altitudes are not fully understood, and are very difficult to measure. However, in response to the concern several airlines have demonstrated sterling social responsibility by putting measures in place to reduce carbon emissions before official regulation came into play.
British Airways [NYSE: BAY] was the first airline to initiate a voluntary carbon offset scheme, which it introduced in 2005 amid rising concern about aviation pollution. BA’s “Carbon Offset Scheme” is available to passengers during the booking process. It is an entirely voluntary program letting passengers make donations to offset the share of the carbon dioxide that their flight generates. BA calculates the carbon emission through a CO2 emission calculator that generates an estimate of the carbon produced during the journey. Money raised helps to fund hydro-electric power plants and wind farm projects around the world. In addition, BA also voluntarily reassessed their carbon footprint in 2008 by applying the Greenhouse Gas Protocol Standard and their calculations now include direct and indirect emissions, such as those from their suppliers.
Lufthansa [XETRA: XE: LHA] has fitted an Airbus A340 with a 1.5-ton mobile laboratory intended to track gases and compounds in order to better understand the potential effects of high altitude flight on climate change. They also have an innovative program of using lighter materials for transport of baggage and freight not only to cut costs for customers but also to reduce emissions.
However, leading the pack in green innovation is American carrier Continental [NYSE: CAL]. The airline has spent more than $16 billion over the past ten years to acquire more efficient aircraft with fuel-saving winglets. These modifications reduce emissions by up to 5% on its Boeing 737s and 757s. Since 2002, Continental has reduced the nitrogen oxide output from ground equipment at its Houston hub by over 75%. The company also retains environmental personnel who work with engine manufacturers, track carbon emissions, do chemical recycling and design green terminals. Even the trash in their company headquarters is sorted for recycling.
Continental Airlines also recently conducted an alternative biofuel flight demonstration that was labeled as successful. The biofuel showed approximately 1.1% greater fuel efficiency than traditional jet fuel. Also, since it is a renewable fuel, it is estimated to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60-80% as well. The company is hoping to see these fuels move into commercial production in the near future. So make sure your seatbacks and tray tables are in the full upright and locked position and thank you for Flying the Greener Skies.