Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is an integral part of JetBlue's identity and has been since its founding in 1998. While some companies may base that interpretation on contributions to charitable programs, environmental commitments, or supply-chain oversight, JetBlue has demonstrates that CSR is much more to the airline: It's a mindset that incorporates every aspect of its business model, including its relationship with employees.
JetBlue's 2015 Business Social Environmental Responsibility Report reflects that comprehensive vision, which often seems to go outside the bounds of what is expected from popular low-cost airlines.
The company's blue potato farm at John F. Kennedy International Airport shows there is more than one way to introduce green concepts into a major transportation hub. According to the report, more than 2,000 pounds of blue potatoes, herbs and other vegetables were grown at the farm in 2015, with a significant portion of of the yield going to local food banks.
The company also completed a 4,000-foot rooftop garden at its terminal (T5) at JFK Airport last year, complementing other significant improvements it made previously. Smart heating and cooling systems, as well as reflective roofing and light monitors to reduce energy usage, furthered the company's effort to reduce emissions.
Fostering crewmember engagement at JetBlue
But it is the airline's attitude toward crewmember engagement that speaks the loudest about what it means to be a CSR-motivated company today. Its support for diversity in hiring practices doesn't stop at the job interview. It can be seen in the employee programs and services that the company created or expanded in 2015:
- In-network health insurance for transgender employees, along with programs to support and help newly gender-transitioned employees
- A crisis fund for employees in need, with grants totaling $330,000 in 2015
- The Reaching Blue Heights disability program, which hosted presentations and other activities in eight U.S. cities in 2015
- A wide spectrum of crewmember resource groups for women, LBGT employees and individuals of color that help underscore the company's drive for diversity in leadership
Carbon footprint and the drive for efficiency
JetBlue's investment in NextGen navigational technology saved the company more than 150,000 gallons of fuel in 2015. The software -- which, among other things, allows pilots to navigate around turbulence and storm conditions -- reduces the need for redirected routes and lengthy delays. It also helped to cut the company's carbon footprint, eliminating more than 3 million pounds of carbon emissions in 2015.
The company also reports that it cut Scope 1 (direct) emissions by 3.7 percent and Scope 2 (emissions from energy use) by 10 percent since 2009. It also offset 1.1 billion pounds of CO2-equivalent emissions during the month of April 2015 by supporting an Amazon tropical rainforest conservation project in Brazil.
JetBlue and its community focus
The airline's many community-support programs probably wouldn't be as successful if it weren't for its thoughtful focus on employee engagement. At JetBlue, as in other companies, staff are encouraged to volunteer for initiatives of their choice. But they are also encouraged to speak up when they see a need for community action.
Research in Anacostia, New York, found that only 1 child in 830 had access to an age-appropriate book. The Soar with Reading program's answer? A vending machine that dispenses free books to children in need.
The popularity of JetBlue's Blue Horizons for Autism program also continues to grow. In 2015, the company sponsored 750 children with autism at four different airports across the country, giving families affected by autism a chance to experience what it is like to fly.
Recycling and the environment
Last year, JetBlue introduced a recycling tracking system at more than a dozen airports. Its recycling average for cans, bottles and other recyclables was 82 percent last year, the company says. More than 100,000 pounds of food were also recycled and converted to organic compost.
And since flights to Latin American and the Caribbean make up a third of the airline's routes, it partnered with organizations that enable sustainable tourism in those areas. Through its partnership with the Center for Responsible Tourism, it sent two students to the Innovators Think Tank on climate change and coastal and marine tourism, a symposium geared toward developing ways through which coastal communities that depend on tourism can better prepare for climate change.
JetBlue's bottom line and customer satisfaction
For the 12th consecutive year, JetBlue was named the best low-cost carrier by the global marketing services firm JD Power and Associates, highlighting the airline's popularity among customers. The drop in fuel prices also had a favorable impact on the airline, which saw a rise in customer revenue of 4.9 percent.
A continued slowing of airline revenues across the board and projected maintenance/replacement costs for its older E190 fleet and CF34 engines, say analysts, are expected to impact some of JetBlue's revenues next year as New York's hometown airline continues to expand its services and its innovative CSR model. But if there is anything that JetBlue proved in past years, it is that financial headwinds are easier to navigate when consumers see community values and employee engagement as the real driving forces behind a company's success.
Image credit: Flickr/Bradfordst219
Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.