Jet Setting to Sustainability
By Rider University Eco-Rep, Bailey Poe
Originally Published: March 30, 2022
How many students recently traveled by plane during spring break — not only students from Rider but from around the globe? In the world of modern transportation, flying on an airplane has become common practice for most.
While air travel has us flying high to destinations, it comes with a huge downfall for the environment. According to the International Air Transportation Association, aviation causes 2.5% of the world’s global carbon emissions. That number may seem small, but when you zoom in, the impact is scarily large and is still growing at an alarming rate.
Most flights use jet gasoline as their fuel, though some run partially on biofuels. The gasoline turns into carbon dioxide when burned which gets trapped in the atmosphere, causing a huge impact on emissions negatively contributing to climate change. A study by TransportEnvironment.org found that aviation emissions are up 110% since 1990.
For example, taking just one economy-class flight from London to Europe is equivalent to 11% of the average annual emissions for a person living in the U.K., according to the International Civil Aviation Organization. That is a massive impact for one person for only a few hours. Unless serious action is taken, aviation emissions are projected to grow by another 38% by 2050 even with aircraft efficiency improvements according to TransportEnvironment.org.
So why has serious action not been taken when it is clear that there is a major issue at hand? The answer is complicated, and there are many reasons including a lack of incentive because the 2% number seems small, decarbonizing airplanes is a challenge and there has yet to be a solution that completely cuts carbon emissions from planes and investing in sustainable materials is expensive (though it could be a lot cheaper in the long run). However, there have been certain airlines that have taken an initiative to create achievable goals to go carbon neutral.
An airline company devoted to sustainability, and also winning the Air Transport World’s 2021 Eco-Arline of the Year, is United Airlines. According to the United Environmental Commitment, they set a goal to reduce 100% of their greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 without relying on carbon offsets.
Carbon offsets are carbon credits one can buy which reduce carbon emissions elsewhere in the world to make up for the ones you or your company produce. An extremely common practice in the airline industry, companies often claim they are “carbon neutral,” yet it is only because they are buying credits to cancel out emissions produced.
United Airlines recently invested $1.5 billion to purchase safe aviation fuel (SAF), the largest publicly announced SAF agreement ever. In 2020 they became the first airline to announce a commitment to investing in carbon capture and sequestration by building a Direct Air Capture plant that will permanently sequester one million tons of carbon dioxide per year. They also recycle materials on flights and will have an aircraft by 2029 that runs on 100% SAF.
Freshman musical theater major Mica Swingholm said , “It’s really exciting and inspiring to see such big companies making efforts to lower their carbon emissions. I hope more companies follow in their footsteps.”
Other United States-based airlines that are making strides in sustainability are Delta Airlines which is in the process of removing all single-use plastics from their flights according to the Delta Sustainability page along with Alaska Airlines and American Airlines.
Junior musical theater major Lyle Greene said, “I think more companies need to follow in the footsteps of United and Delta. It is the responsibility of these companies to keep up with finding new ways to minimize the impact they have on the environment.”
The next time you fly, consider flying an airline working toward sustainability. Not only does it lower the emissions that you put out in the world, but it encourages other airlines to follow in the footsteps of the airlines people are choosing to fly.