Delta to spend $1 billion over next 10 years towards goal of becoming first major carbon neutral airline
(photo: Delta Air Lines)
Mon 24 Feb 2020 – Starting March 1, Delta Air Lines is committing $1 billion over the next 10 years towards mitigating all flight and ground emissions from its global operations. The airline said it will invest in driving innovation, advancing clean air travel technologies, accelerating the reduction of carbon emissions and waste, and new offsetting and carbon removal projects. Between 2005 and 2018, Delta reduced its absolute GHG emissions by 11%, although emissions have increased marginally year on year since 2012. In 2013, the airline became the first to cap its annual emissions at the 2012 level through the purchase of carbon offsets. In December, Delta entered into a long-term offtake agreement to purchase 10 million gallons of sustainable aviation fuel annually from Gevo and is promising further announcements this coming year.
“As we connect customers around the globe, it is our responsibility to deliver on our promise to bring people together and ensure the utmost care for our environment. The time is now to accelerate our investments and establish an ambitious commitment that the entire Delta team will deliver,” commented Delta CEO Ed Bastian.
Delta’s carbon emissions amounted to 41 million tonnes in 2018, up from 40.2 Mt in 2017, although fuel efficiency improved by 1.23%. The airline has voluntarily purchased over 12 million carbon offsets since adopting its carbon-neutral growth strategy. Under the new pledge, efforts will be focused on improving fuel efficiency and decreasing jet fuel use, stated the airline, through an “ambitious” fleet renewal programme, improved flight operations, weight reduction and increased development and use of sustainable aviation fuels.
The airline said it will also invest in innovative projects and technology to remove carbon emissions from the atmosphere “that go beyond the airline’s current commitments” and investigate carbon removal opportunities through forestry, wetland restoration, grassland conservation, marine and soil capture, and other negative emissions technologies. To advance its carbon reduction and removal goals, Delta said it would build coalitions and engage with employees, suppliers, global partners, customers, industry colleagues, investors and other stakeholders.
The airline added it wanted to minimise “a reliance on today’s limited carbon offset markets” and will allocate some of its financial commitment into “investment vehicles”, which include a dedicated fund focused on achieving its carbon neutral ambition.
A set of environmental sustainability principles have been drawn up to guide efforts towards carbon neutrality and overall sustainability:
Action – Embed environmental impact as a consideration in every business decision;
Innovation – Investigate, enable and advance new projects, innovative technologies and operational efficiencies to substantially reduce and mitigate emissions and the overall environmental footprint;
Collaboration – Engage with employees and stakeholders with the understanding that environmental protection must be a shared goal;
Evolution – Being nimble in evolving and adjusting in response to the latest scientific findings and technological developments; and
Transparency – continue to publicly report on goals and progress, aligned with leading disclosure frameworks and standards, and track efforts and achievements through a robust governance structure.
“There’s no challenge we face that is in greater need of innovation than environmental sustainability, and we know there is no single solution,” said Bastian. “We are digging deep into the issues, examining every corner of our business, engaging experts, building coalitions, fostering partnerships and driving innovation.”
The sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) that Delta has agreed to purchase from Gevo is expected to be produced upon completion of an expansion to Gevo’s existing advanced biofuel production facility in Luverne, Minnesota, and available for use by the airline between 2022-2023. Gevo will sell the SAF to Delta at a fixed price for the first seven years of the agreement, which is subject to Gevo raising the necessary finance to construct the expansion. Powered by inedible, industrial corn products, the Gevo process separates the sugar from the proteins in the corn product. The sugars are then used to make jet fuel while the proteins are fed to livestock.
In October 2019, Delta announced a $2 million investment to partner with Northwest Advanced Bio-Fuels for a feasibility study of a facility in Washington State that would produce SAF from forestry residues. The study is expected to be completed by the middle of this year and if the project is given the go-ahead, first SAF deliveries are planned for the end of 2023 and could provide up to 10% of Delta’s annual jet fuel consumption in the West Coast region.
Delta has just been ranked the top US airline and 39th overall in a list of America’s Most Sustainable Companies by Barron’s, a business publication covering finance and markets. The 1,000 largest US public companies by market value were analysed against 230 key performance indicators addressing environmental, social and corporate governance issues, such as workplace diversity, data, security and greenhouse gas emissions.
“We are on a journey, and though we don’t have all the answers today, we know that our scale, along with investments of time, talent and resources will bring meaningful impact to the planet and ensure the sustainability of our business for decades to come,” said Bastian.