United Airlines Launches Sustainable Supply Chain Initiative

3487606510_f6d4042bd7United Airlines (UA) recently announced the launch of its Sustainable Supply Chain (SSC) initiative. The purpose of the SSC initiative is for the airline to increase its understanding of its suppliers’ environmental performance. UA is the largest airline regarding passenger miles flown. Last year, UA and United Express carried more passenger traffic than any other airline in the world, and operated almost two million flights carrying 140 million.

Through the SSC initiative, UA will measure and evaluate the sustainability of its suppliers’ products and operations with a comprehensive survey. It will begin with suppliers in high-risk industries, and will use the initiative to determine if its suppliers’ products or services will reduce the airline’s environmental impact. In 2014, UA will establish targets for improvement and start to communicate those targets to its suppliers.

“We are pleased to launch this program that demonstrates our commitment to working with key supply chain partners on environmental issues,” said Jimmy Samartzis, United’s managing director of global environmental affairs and sustainability. “We will not only incorporate environmental considerations into our purchasing decisions, but will also seek to identify opportunities to collaborate with our suppliers to improve the environmental profile of the products and services we use.”

UA is a signatory to the UN Global Compact which encourages companies to promote better environmental practices in their supply chains. It was the first U.S. airline to join the Global Compact. The SSC initiative aligns with the airline’s participation in the Global Compact.

UA works with “hundreds of suppliers,” as Katrina Manning, UA’s vice president of technical procurement, pointed out. Given that the airline works with so many suppliers, it is important to understand the impact its supply chain has on the environment. “Focusing on our supply chain presents us with an opportunity to make responsible decisions to further strengthen our commitment to the environment,” Manning said.

UA’s other sustainability measures

The SSC initiative is just one of the airline’s sustainability measures. UA has participated in the Carbon Disclosure Project since 2006, when it was the first U.S. airline to fully participate. UA is also committed to using alternative jet fuels. It conducted the first U.S. passenger biofuel flight powered with a mix of algae-derived jet fuel and conventional jet fuel, and conducted the first U.S. biofuel and synthetic fuel demonstration flights. It signed letters of intent with alternative jet fuel producers in the U.S. to buy over 50 million gallons of alternative jet fuels made from biomass feedstock.

UA has a target of achieving a 1.5 percent average annual fuel efficiency improvement through 2020. Since 1994, the airline has improved fuel efficiency by 32 percent through investing in a fuel-efficient fleet and equipment. Other goals include a 50 percent reduction in carbon by 2050 from 2005 baseline levels. One way to achieve that goal is through the use of winglets which reduce emissions and noise up to five percent. Over 330 of its aircraft in its mainline operations have winglets.

Photo: Flickr user, cliff1066

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

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