Airline travel is carbon intensive – there’s no way around that.
Despite more fuel-efficient and cleaner burning engines on newer planes, with increased demand for air travel and the physics and chemistry of high-altitude emissions, airlines face significant challenges in lightening their footprint.
But it isn’t as if commercial aviation hasn’t faced challenges before.
Continental Airlines, the world’s fifth largest air carrier, announced yesterday the launch of their new carbon offset program in partnership with Sustainable Travel International.
Continental joins other airlines, such as Delta, Virgin, Cathey Pacific, and SAS, in offering customers a means of potentially offsetting their carbon footprint as they fly.
With Continental’s program, customers are given information on the estimated carbon footprint of their flight based on their booked travel, with an option for making a contribution to Sustainable Travel International for funding offsets through a variety of “project portfolios”.
And you just wanted to buy a plane ticket, didn’t you? On the other hand, perhaps a great time to think about being “green” is when you’re about to do something that inherently isn’t.
And what about all the stuff that goes on before the flight even gets off the ground?
Continental Considered a “Green Giant”
It’s hard to think of any airline as “environmentally friendly” just by virtue of what it is they have to do to loft thousands of passengers into the stratosphere and fly them all over the world. But it seems that Continental’s awareness and concern for their operational impact on the environment isn’t new and didn’t just start with the carbon offset program.
This year Fortune magazine listed Continental among the top 10 “Green Giants” earned by corporations that go beyond the minimum requirements in developing environmental operational policies. I must add, however, that some find the whole concept of a large corporation such as an airline, no matter how well-intentioned, being considered a “Green Giant” a bit hard to swallow.
Nonetheless, Continental has also been recognized by NASA and the Environmental Protection Agency for their environmental efforts, including:
- A large investment in modernizing their fleet, resulting in a 35% increase in fuel efficiency and a reduction in emissions, (though we all know the problems with efficiency when considered solely on its own merits)
- A 75% decrease in nitrous oxide emissions from new electric ground service equipment at their operation in Houston (the largest Continental hub) with plans to roll-out the new technology at other locations
- A company-wide recycling program
- A commitment for ongoing testing of alternative fuels for ground operations, and –
- A commitment to construct airport facilities in accordance with EPA Energy Star and LEED standards.
Running an airline isn’t easy in these days of heightened security risks, increased operational expense, raising fuel costs, and increased demand (by a customer who, by the time they’ve been frisked down, undressed, prodded, searched, deprived of all fluids and finally hobble to the gate ready to board, are generally disillusioned and cranky).
By going beyond simply offering a voluntary carbon offset program (something any passenger can do on their own in any case), and attempting to make environmental concern and awareness a part of their company culture, Continental, along with other like-minded commercial airlines, can set examples for other corporate industrial giants to follow. We can never have enough Green Giants.
Now all we need is improved train service for short-haul intercity travel – but that’s a subject for another post.
A pdf entitled “Commitment to the Environment” is available on Continental’s website.