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JetBlue Pledges To Offset All Carbon Emissions for U.S. Flights

Maggie Kohn headshotWords by Maggie Kohn
Energy & Environment
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JetBlue rang in the new year by pledging to offset carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from jet fuel for all of its domestic flights beginning in July, the first such announcement from a major U.S. airline. The company also said it will start using sustainable aviation fuel in mid-2020 on its flights from San Francisco.

JetBlue produces about 8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year. In a statement, the company said yesterday’s announcements underscore its "long-term strategy to ensure a more sustainable business for crew members, customers, shareholders and communities served by JetBlue.”

The efforts also build on the airline’s existing programs like investments in fuel-saving technologies and aircraft, as well as advocating for a more fuel-efficient air traffic control system that would reduce emissions from flying.

Airlines react to “flight shaming” movement

Yesterday’s announcement comes as the aviation sector works to stay true to its commitment to cap emissions at 2020 levels so that any growth after this year is achieved in a “carbon neutral” way. It won’t be an easy feat given that the International Air Transport Association predicts air travel will grow to 7.2 billion passengers by 2035—a near doubling of current levels. 

Alarm is also spreading among activists, represented most visibly by Greta Thunberg, who herself has not flown since 2015. The anti-air travel movement has even given rise to a new term: “flight shaming,” the concept of shunning air travel or encouraging others to avoid it, in favor of less environmentally impactful travel methods, such as trains or boats. In addition, some politicians in Europe have even suggested that some long-haul international routes and domestic flights be banned due to their large carbon footprints.

Increasingly, airlines are recognizing that business as usual is not sustainable.

“Air travel connects people and cultures, and supports a global economy, yet we must act to limit this critical industry’s contributions to climate change,” Robin Hayes, CEO of JetBlue, said in a statement. “By offsetting all of our domestic flying, we’re preparing our business for the lower-carbon economy that aviation—and all sectors—must plan for.”

Removing 1.5 million cars from the road

JetBlue first began offsetting carbon dioxide emissions with programs to balance customer flying during specific times of year, but yesterday’s announcement expands those efforts.

JetBlue will continue to partner with Carbonfund.org—a U.S.-based nonprofit carbon reduction and climate solutions organization—as well as with two new carbon offsetting partners, EcoAct and South Pole. These partners will help the airline offset an additional 15 billion to 17 billion pounds (up to 8 million metric tons) of emissions per year, the annual equivalent of removing more than 1.5 million passenger vehicles from the road, according to the announcement.

The airline will earn carbon credits by investing in projects that protect forests from destruction; develop solar and wind farms instead of coal, diesel or furnace oil to generate power; and capture landfill production of methane, which can be converted into a renewable energy source.

“JetBlue's announcement is both an ambitious and necessary course of action needed to address the climate change impacts of aviation,” Michael Malara, who leads the North American office for South Pole, told TriplePundit. “While we have a long way to go as a global community, this commitment sets a high bar for other airlines and a strong signal to the carbon markets, which should catalyze further investment into emission reduction projects around the world. “

Offsetting is not enough, some say

While corporate efforts have been welcomed, some environmental advocates criticize moves to offset emissions, saying reducing emissions is more effective and, ultimately, critical to reaching global climate goals. JetBlue’s Hayes does not disagree.

“Carbon offsetting is a bridge to, not a silver bullet for, a lower carbon future,” Hayes said. “Reducing and mitigating our greenhouse gas emissions is a fundamental aspect of our business plan.”

To that end, JetBlue has agreed to purchase sustainable aviation fuel from Neste, the world’s largest producer of renewable diesel fuel, starting this year. According to the company, the fuel will be produced entirely from waste and residual raw materials and, over its lifecycle, will have up to an 80 percent smaller carbon footprint compared to fossil jet fuel.

JetBlue says it will also continue to invest in its new fuel efficient fleet that produces fewer carbon emissions than its older fleet through smarter design and the use of lightweight composite materials.

Beyond JetBlue: Other airlines are also taking action

Last November, EasyJet Plc, Europe’s second largest discount carrier, was the first airline to announce it would offset carbon emissions from its flights. Germany’s Lufthansa has signed an agreement with a Hamburg-based refinery for the production and acceptance of synthetic kerosene from regionally generated wind energy to use as an alternative biofuel. And Finnair and SAS have joined together, along with nine other partners, to develop all-electric, carbon-neutral designs that can replace aircraft for short distances.

In Asia last year, Japan’s ANA Group was the first global airline to issue Green Bonds, which will raise funds for green projects both in Japan and overseas. ANA is also introducing biofuel on its flights by supporting Euglena Co Ltd, a biofuel maker working to commercialize jet fuel made from green algae output.

Last July in the U.S., Delta flew a completely carbon-neutral flight and plans to introduce 20 carbon-neutral aircrafts to its fleet moving forward.

“Reducing and offsetting carbon emissions for airlines should increasingly become a cost of doing business,” said Malara of South Pole. “With its recent announcement, Jet Blue is going above and beyond hopefully inspiring other airlines to do the same.”

Images courtesy of JetBlue

Maggie Kohn headshotMaggie Kohn

Maggie Kohn is excited to be a contributor to Triple Pundit to illustrate how business can achieve positive change in the world while supporting long-term growth. Maggie worked for more than 20 years at the biopharma giant Merck & Co., Inc., leading corporate responsibility and social business initiatives. She currently writes, speaks and consults on corporate responsibility and social impact when she is not busy fostering kittens for her local animal shelter. Click here to learn more.

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