During the flight experience on Jetblue, flight attendants pass through the aisle with two bags – one for recycling and one for trash. As an impressionable customer, this lead me to the conclusion “Jetblue cares about recycling, so Jetblue cares about sustainability so Jetblue cares about climate change.” Let’s see how that shakes out.
Jetblue is undoubtedly affected by climate change – in its physical manifestation, its resulting regulatory changes, and the growing pressure from constituents to care about it.
As airlines contribute to the physical manifestation of climate change in the form of GHG emissions, the physical manifestation is likewise increasingly affecting air travel.
First, the increased speeds of jet streams due to increased temperatures and wind speeds are likely attributable to climate change. Increased jet stream speeds may speed up certain flights and decrease others, but, on the whole, are likely to increase times of the round-trip flight[i]. To illuminate the impact, even just a 1 minute and 18 seconds per day delay on transatlantic flights adds $22M in extra fuel and 70M extra kilograms of CO2 emitted per year.
A second effect is that, with rising temperatures, flying in extremely hot weather will become increasingly challenging. Hot air is less dense which affects the output of engines as well as the aerodynamics of the plane. Therefore, taking off in hot temperatures requires more energy and runway space which is why aircraft weight reduction is a “hot” topic in the face of climate change.
International and Domestic Regulatory Action (or lack thereof)
Last month, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a specialized agency within the U.N., agreed on a new global market-based measure (MBM) aimed at reducing and controlling CO2 emissions from international aviation.
The MBM scheme, called Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), will start its pilot phase in 2021. Currently, 66 countries including the U.S are on board.
CORSIA includes technical and operational improvement goals as well as improvements in the production and use of sustainable alternative fuels for aviation.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is also expected to publish rules regulating emissions from aircraft although the slow rule-making process is discouraging. Even then, according to the New York Times, environmental groups are skeptical that the EPA will propose weak standards. The EPA, however, has suggested that any domestic rules will be of at least equivalent stringency to the ICAO rules.
Pressure from constituents
Employees, shareholders, and passengers all expect Jetblue to tackle the issue of climate change. By positioning itself as a young, forward-thinking, and caring company, Jetblue has set itself up for additional public scrutiny because of high expectations for Jetblue to “do the right thing.”
What is Jetblue doing?
- Since 2006, Jetblue has published thorough sustainability reports allowing transparency into its operation.
- Jetblue has partnered with carbongund.org through which:
- Passengers can donate to support carbon reduction projects,
- Jetblue participates in tree planting events,
- Jetblue has helped fund seven renewable energy and carbon-reduction projects; and
- Jetblue has offset more than 1.5 billion pounds of CO2 emissions.
- Jetblue has honored the “industry pledge” conceived by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) which sets the following targets:
- Improve fuel efficiency 1.5% per year from 2009 to 2020,
- Target a cap on net aviation CO2 emissions from 2020 (carbon-neutral growth); and
- Reduce net aviation CO2 emissions of 50% by 2050, relative to 2005 levels.
- Jetblue added Sharklets to its fleet which improve fuel efficiency by roughly 3 percent.
- Jetblue is the only airline to sign the American Business Act on Climate Pledge.
- Jetblue recently placed one of the largest purchases for renewable fuel via a 10 year deal with SG Preston.
It is enough?
The list above is not insignificant. Jetblue’s focus on renewable fuel and partnership with carbonfund.org in particular convey its long-term strategy and serious approach to climate change. According to Jetblue President and CEO, Robin Hays, “The future of aviation relies in part on renewable energy sources. We’re taking a leadership role in technology and other advancements including renewable jet fuels.”
Yet, there is much room for improvement. Jetblue and the U.S airline industry as a whole can learn from the European players. Air France in particular has implemented creative and effective strategies such as partnering and innovating in the supply chain, training pilots on fuel efficient practices, educating passengers with CO2 emissions calculators and modernizing fleet and aircraft interiors.
Gay Browne, founder of Greenopia seems to agree, “Offsets in particular are a great way to mitigate some of the impact from traveling, but have not really taken off in the U.S. as they have in Europe.”
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