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British Discount Airline EasyJet Slashes Emissions, Sets New Carbon Goals

By Leon Kaye

The global airline industry often pledges to reduce its carbon footprint, but the stubborn truth is that the sector faces a long journey to true sustainability. Attempts to develop alternative fuels from biomass such as algae and halophytes proved fitful at best. The rise of discount air carriers and the concurrent increase in miles flown worldwide also made the air travel sector more polluting over the years.

But some industry analysts argue that discount carriers are actually a less carbon-intensive option. And a European discount carrier claims its carbon emissions reduction has been so successful that it has recalibrated its long-term sustainability goals.

Based out of London’s Luton Airport, EasyJet now serves over 130 destinations in 30 countries. While the company’s growth has led to overall increases in carbon emissions in recent years, EasyJet claims that its younger fleet, along with more passengers flown per flight, actually results in fewer emissions per passenger kilometer flown. According to the latest numbers, that metric stood at 81.05 grams per passenger-kilometer two years ago, down approximately one gram from 2014 levels. And its 2017 numbers have reportedly fallen under 80 grams per passenger-kilometer, with the company’s 2022 target within reach.

The result is an overall 30 percent cut in emissions since 2000, when EasyJet's emissions per kilometer traveled totaled over 116 grams.

The airline says a bevy of operational changes contribute to a fleet that is less polluting compared to its competitors. Lighter seats reduce each airplane’s weight by over 1,300 pounds. “Sharklet” wing tips, which became standard on the company’s jets in 2013, have reduced overall fuel consumption by 4 percent. Instead of switching on a plane’s auxiliary power units while grounded, EasyJet says its fleet uses local electricity in those circumstances. Other fuel-savings measures include the use of only one engine while a plane is taxiing on an airport runway.

These changes are laudable. They prove little steps can add up to a big difference – and, at a minimum, show EasyJet’s stakeholders that the company understands the gravity of climate change risks and is acting accordingly.

Unfortunately, the global airline industry has yet to keep pace with a unified approach on climate action. A deal made last year between one international aviation trade group and international organizations was met by a collective shrug, as it mostly relied on tree planting to balance out the sector’s carbon emissions. And many air carriers refuse the discuss the problem at all.

For example, one of EasyJet’s largest competitors, Ryanair, is led by executives who dismiss any impact the industry has had on climate change. Last month, Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary dismissed the climate science community as a “mob” and said any such threat was not real.

In response, Andrew Murphy wrote on the European policy blog Euractive that O’Leary’s stance was obvious, as Ryanair is the largest aviation emitter in Europe. “Thanks in part to a business model reliant on taxpayer handouts, [Ryanair] will face the biggest challenge if governments take serious action against aviation’s growing emissions," Murphy wrote.

In contrast, EasyJet can assume the mantle of a climate action leader in Europe as it shows that while change may not occur fast, one company can still make a big difference on the carbon emissions front.

Image credit: Aero Icarus/Flickr

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye