United Airlines announced plans this week to significantly change its environmental impact, aiming to reduce its total greenhouse gas emissions by 100% by 2050.
“As the leader of one of the world’s largest airlines, I recognize our responsibility i contributing to fight climate change, as well as our responsibility to solve it,” Scott Kirby, United’s chief executive officer, said in the airline's announcement on Thursday.
Many airlines rely on carbon offsets to negate their emissions, but many environmentalists have called it a “scam.” Kirby somewhat agreed, and called out carbon offset programs, saying they “do almost nothing to tackle the emissions from flying” and “don’t meet the scale of this global challenge.” He instead proposed a two-part plan to drastically cut back on United’s environmental impact.
The airline’s first step will be to switch its fuel to more environmentally friendly sources, including Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), which produces up to 80 percent fewer carbon emissions than traditional jet fuel.
Last year, United committed $40 million to develop SAFs and now holds more than half of all publicly announced purchase commitments. Over the past four years, the airline has operated more than 215,000 flights powered by SAF blend with intentions to grow that number.
The airline will also invest in growing technology like carbon capture and sequestration. This week, Kirby announced a multimillion-dollar investment in a startup developing “Direct Air Capture technology,” expected to capture and store one million metric tons of CO2 per year.
“These game-changing technologies will significantly reduce our emissions, and measurably reduce the speed of climate change,” Kirby said in the letter. “United Airlines is the only airline investing in these technologies. And we’re not just doing it to meet our own sustainability goal. We’re doing it to drive the positive change our entire industry requires so that every airline can eventually join us and do the same.”
Earlier this year, the Carbon Disclosure Product (CDP) named United as the only airline to its 2020 “A List.” It was the seventh consecutive year that United scored highest with the CDP among U.S. airlines.
Cailey Rizzo is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure, currently based in Brooklyn. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, or at caileyrizzo.com.
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