Skift Take

Delta Air Lines is unveiling new amenity kits, eye masks and new wine selections served in aluminum cans. Yet in the cut-throat world of sustainability competition, Delta may be trying hard to get back on a sustainability leaders list that it was dropped from last fall.

In the airline industry’s continuing race to display commitment to sustainability, Delta Air Lines has unveiled an array of new cabin products with environmental benefits including a reduction in the use of plastic.

Starting this month, Delta will focus on reducing single-use plastic consumption by approximately 4.9 million pounds per year, roughly the weight of 1,500 standard sized cars.

The reduction will be achieved through the use of new bamboo utensils, amenity kits, eye masks made of regenerated cotton and sustainably grown wine packaged in aluminum cans instead of plastic containers.

The new amenity kits, to be introduced on board starting in February, will eliminate single-use plastic items such as zippers and packaging, reducing plastic use by up to 90,000 pounds annually. Inside each kit is a bamboo toothbrush, an eye mask made with regenerated cotton and natural lip balm that, starting in April, will be wrapped in aluminum packaging.

Yet, Delta has been removed from the Dow Jones Sustainability North America Composite Index, a list it had been on since April 2013. The airline was dropped in November.

Neither Delta nor Index spokespeople will say why. Also in November, American Airlines replaced Delta on the list.

“The DJSI North America represents the top 20% of the largest 600 North American companies in the S&P Global broad market index based on long-term economic, environmental and social criteria,” S&P Dow Jones Indices said, in a prepared statement.

“For existing constituents, a 30 percent buffer rule exists to minimize turnover,” the statement said. “So if an existing constituent is removed from the index, its S&P Global (Environmental, Social, and Governance) Score was no longer in the top 30% among its industry peers.”  A 28-page methodology summary notes that each quarter, companies whose scores decrease by more than 0.6 points can be removed from the index.

Look How Green We Are

Sustainability announcements are increasingly common in the airline industry.

In December, Delta bedding has been made with recycled plastic bottles and wrapped in reusable packaging.  Also, Delta is rolling out two aluminum-canned wines, a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Chardonnay, from Imagery Estate Winery in Sonoma. The use of aluminum cans will eliminate up to 250,000 pounds of plastic use annually.

Last week, for instance, Etihad Airways announced a new green loyalty program that allows passengers to offset not just their flights but even how much they drive and their use of air conditioning.

Like Etihad, all three global U.S. carriers have committed to net zero emissions by 2050. Among the three, United has spoken the most about its environmental initiatives. On December 1, United Airlines flew a Boeing 737 Max flew from Chicago to Washington powered by sustainable aviation fuels made from cooking oil, agricultural waste and other sources.

“We’re embracing a new goal to be 100 percent green by 2050 by reducing our greenhouse gas emissions 100 percent,” CEO Scott Kirby said, in a statement on the carrier’s website. “And we’ll get there not with flashy, empty gestures, but by taking the harder, better path of actually reducing the emissions from flying.”

Delta spokesman Morgan Durrant said Thursday that Delta has taken multiple steps toward sustainability besides its new cabin products. Last year, for instance, Delta joined an alliance to measure sustainable aviation fuel emissions data in September. Also, in December, Delta hired the industry’s first executive level chief sustainability officer.

“It’s not just about promotion,” Durrant said. “It’s about taking action to do the right thing and we believe our customers shouldn’t have to choose between saving the world and seeing it. There’s room to do both and we should do both.”

‘Threw Out Delta by the Way’

No one publicly announced Delta’s removal. However, last week, the airline industry website View from The Wing reported that American Airlines CEO Doug Parker declared in a January 20 employee meeting that American was added to the Dow Jones Sustainability North America Index and that Delta was removed.

“Dow Jones goes through and selects companies that they believe in each industry represent the best in terms of sustainability and they added American Airlines to that index – threw out Delta by the way – and put us in,” Parker said, according to the website.

American made an announcement when it was added to the index in November. “The recognition is a testament to the airline’s ongoing commitment to excellence on matters of environmental, social and governance (ESG), including reducing carbon emissions from its operation; advancing diversity, equity and inclusion; and providing regular and transparent ESG disclosures,” the carrier said, noting that it was the only U.S. passenger airline on the list.

The list also includes five foreign airlines: Air France/KLM, China Airlines, LATAM Airlines Group, and the Japanese carriers ANA and Japan Air Lines.

Perhaps the key element in an airline’s carbon emissions levels is the age of its fleet, since newer aircraft are the most efficient. In this area, American leads its U.S. peers: the average age of its mainline fleet is 11.3 years.

Average mainline fleet ages include 13 years for Southwest, 13.9 years for Delta and 16.5 years for United, according to company spokespersons.


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Tags: airlines, climate change, delta air lines, sustainability

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