Top Ten Greenest Airlines


Today, with more and more discussions about global warming, the transportation industry has been under scrutiny, especially air transportation. The airlines industry has been majorly contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. The International Air Transportation Industry has been launching a number of initiatives to get airline companies to lower their carbon emissions, but a number of individual airlines are looking toward new ways of improving the air quality and pollute a lot less. Numerous airlines have been very active in this respect. Here is a list of what ten airlines are doing to become more environmentally friendly.

1) JetBlue in 2008 created a new environmental program in partnership with CarbonFund to create a carbon offset scheme for its passengers and operations procedures to completely minimize their environmental footprint of the airlines. Called the Jetting to Green program, customers of JetBlue have the opportunity to offset the carbon dioxide emissions that is generated by traveling. They will have the ability to calculate the total carbon footprint for their flight with an online calculator and then donate money that will support a number of environmental projects. Icema Gibbs, the Director of Community Relations for JetBlue said, “This program invites our customers to join us as we take immediate action to reduce our environmental impact through volunteerism and carbon offsetting, but it also promotes environmental improvements for the future.”

2) Virgin America is currently positioning itself as a leader in green initiatives. This includes the installation of winglets on all planes to increase fuel efficiency and a number of biofuels programs. Virgin America hopes to completely divert half of its waste through comprehensive recycling programs by the year 2012. This airline also provides the opportunity for passengers to offset carbon footprints during flight. Virgin America also uses a number of Airbus A320 planes which are 25 percent more fuel efficient.

3) Continental Airlines has spent more than $16 billion in the last ten years to create fuel efficient aircrafts throughout their fleets. They use winglets to reduce carbon emissions by five percent on Boeing 757s and 737s. Continental has 13 hired environmentalists to assist in creating new green initiatives, including the use of biofuels of all its flights.

4) American Airlines has replaced a quarter of their old jets with 76 Boeing Jets that get better fuel mileage and houses 20 additional passengers, saving fuel consumption everywhere. One of their largest initiatives has been its Fuel Smart Program. The Fuel Smart program looks to cut fuel costs by saving money. It has currently saved the airline 60-70 million gallons of fuel per year. This has been done through items such as shutting off one of the engines during taxiing and removing a number of heavy food service galleys.

5) United Airlines was the first United States airline to participate in ASPIRE – Asia and South Pacific Initiative to Reduce Emissions – by charting a new flight path across the Pacific Ocean that saves over 1,500 gallons of fuel and reduces carbon emissions by over 32,000 pounds. The airline headquarters in Chicago, Illinois has Silver LEED certification. United Airlines also has a custom carbon offset program to provide customers with the ability to support renewable energy.

6) Southwest Airlines is committed to the goal of increasing fuel efficiency improvement by 30 percent from 2005 levels by the year 2025. Southwest Airlines have been partnering with other airline carriers to increase the energy independence of the United States through the comprehensive development of full alternative fuels. Southwest Airlines have also implemented a number of active initiatives to recycle all materials both on and off aircrafts to remove all inefficiencies as well as excess waste. As well, the airline has committed over $150 million through a six-year period to completely retrofit their airline fleet with Required Navigational Performance technology. Lastly, they have a Green Team that is always looking for ways to maximize overall environmental efforts throughout all daily actions.

7) Airbus in December 2010 partnered with the University of Cape Town in South Africa to continue to study the potential advantages and the overall impact of formation flying and discover if this can be applied to passenger services to decrease fuel consumption. They studied the formation of birds and how ones in the back get essentially a “free list” because the lead bird creates additional power. Dale King, the senior manager of Research and Technology Partnerships at Airbus said, “Grouping together aircraft flying similar routes, for example from Europe to Africa could in theory provide a reduction in fuel burn and emissions, but we have to take into account all other operational factors.”

8 ) Qantas has launched a new carbon offset program where passengers can opt to offset their total share of flight emissions by offering monetary contributions. The CEO of Qantas, Geoff Dixon said that Qantas as “undertaken a full lifecycle assessment of all operations, calculating the emissions associated with carrying a passenger from one point to another.” The customer can use the online calculator on the website to assess the amount of emissions and determine the cost to offset them. Qantas has also ordered a number of fuel-efficient Airbus A380s and Boeing 787s to cut overall fuel consumption.

9) U.S. Airways has implemented a number of programs to protect the environment and national resources. U.S. Airways has one of the most fuel-efficient fleets in the airlines industries. Since the year 2008, U.S. Airways have retired almost 60 planes, replacing these planes with ones that have eco-friendly engines and are more energy efficient. Since 2008, U.S. Airways has been able to decrease overall fuel usage by 45 percent per passenger per mile. And it is not only the actual planes that are becoming more eco-friendly, but also the airports they serve, including a full recycling program and “Gold Certified” LEED certification at their corporate headquarters located in Tempe, Arizona.

10) Alaska Airlines Greener Skies Program, started in 2009, has been praised by many. This has included retrofitting the planes with winglets along with a number of fuel saving techniques, including single engine taxing, continuous decent approach, and Required Navigation Performance. The Required Navigation Performance satellite guidance technology allows the plane to reduce its flight-path length, which saves fuel, cuts down carbon emissions, and cuts down on noise pollution for communities located around the airport.

Article by Shawn Lesser, Co-founder & Managing Partner of Atlanta-based Watershed Capital Group – an investment bank assisting sustainable fund and companies raise capital, perform acquisitions, and in other strategic financial decisions. He is also a Co-founder of the GCCA Global Cleantech Cluster Association ”The Global Voice of Cleantech”. He writes for various cleantech publications and is known as the David Letterman of Cleantech for his “Top 10″ series. He can be reached at

About Author

Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.

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