Airlines get a bad environmental rap for their fuel-burning emissions, but several are taking steps to reduce their mile-high carbon footprints.
Which airlines get the highest marks for
reducing their negative impact on earth? Greenopia,
an online directory of eco-friendly businesses and organizations, has compiled
its fourth annual scorecard of the greenest American and European fleets,
helping ethical travellers do the least amount of harm to the skies. This week,
the guide gave BBC Travel a sneak preview of the rankings, and the complete
report will be available on Greenopia.com on 8 May.
Virgin Airlines tops the US list for the fourth
reports that Virgin earned the “greenest” honours -- that’s four “leafs” -- by
a considerable margin. Airlines are rated on six criteria: fuel conservation
practices; alternative fuel research; recycling programs; use of organic, local
and fair trade food; green design of on-the-ground buildings; and carbon
offsets. Virgin, with a young, efficient fleet of airliners, does well in most
of them. Greenopia calls it a leader in green food, recycling, biofuel research
and carbon offsets for passengers.
Alaska Airlines came in second with three
leafs, scoring well in recycling, building design and carbon efficiency.
Greenopia’s one complaint: Alaska Airlines doesn’t have a carbon offset
program. (Alaska does get top billing for major carriers, as Virgin isn’t
considered a major carrier.) Third place went to United, which was also the
most improved since last year’s scorecard. While that was mostly due to
United’s acquiring of eco-friendly Continental (which came in second last year),
the airline also made progress in alternative fuel research, eco food options
The rest of the US rankings are: Jet Blue,
Delta, US Airways, Southwest, Air Canada and American Airlines, with the last
two companies getting just one “leaf” apiece (Greenopia includes Air Canada in its US list).
But Greenopia’s Douglas Mazeffa, the group’s
research director, explained that even the airlines at the bottom of the list
had made strides in environmental stewardship. “Every single company is making
at least a light green effort,” he said. “In the cases of Air Canada and
American, it's not that they do a poor job necessarily, it's just that they are
not doing as much as the other major airlines -- in terms of reporting, carbon
offsets, food options, building design, etc -- and/or that their fleets are
simply less efficient.”
In fact, Mazeffa said that airlines overall
have been “the most rapidly improving industry of the ones we study.” Greenopia
researches everything from cars and electronics to manufacturers of beer and
pet food. Airlines can improve their fuel conservation by using single engine
taxiing and electric-powered vehicles on the ground. Planes can also fly on
As for the European airlines, Air France took
the “greenest” title by a wide margin thanks to being the most carbon efficient
and having a strong commitment to biofuels, recycling and a carbon offset
program. Coming in second, in a four-way tie for second place, were
Lufthansa, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and EasyJet.
European airlines were better than US companies
in some areas (offering carbon offsets and investing in biofuels) and weaker in
others ( environmental reporting of carbon emissions and recycling rates).
Greenopia gathered its data from airlines’ annual reports and other public
Lori Robertson writes
the Ethical Traveller column for BBC Travel. You can send ethical dilemmas to email@example.com.