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Natural Awakenings National

Favor Sustainable Flight: Ways to Help Make a Difference

The Globalist reports that the world’s aircraft contribute to global warming by producing 600 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) a year, while U.S. airports alone generate more than 425,000 tons of garbage, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Trash Landings. So what are airlines doing to mitigate their environmental impact and how can travelers become wiser in choosing a carrier?

Without an authoritative source ranking airlines to identify the greenest, it’s up to passengers to search for information on the company websites. Terms to research include: sustainability; environmental policy; corporate and social responsibility; recycling; and carbon emissions or carbon offsets. The “About Us” sections might also have clues. An absence of relevant information also indicates company priorities. Look for the following information:

• A firm target for increasing fuel efficiency
• Fewer flight delays (avoids burning excess fuel). The U.S. Department of Transportation tracks delay information by airline (
• A link to carbon offset plans and/or the option to buy an offset in a ticket purchase
• A newer, more fuel-efficient fleet
• Airplanes designed with winglets—wing tip extensions that reduce drag and provide extra lift, cutting fuel use
• A system to recapture toxic glycol after it’s sprayed on airplanes in de-icing operations
• A recycling program for trash, both onboard and in terminals offers practical tips for making the most of eco-friendly flying and homing in on guaranteed-green destinations.

Tips to minimize eco-impact of personal air travel:

• Write to favorite airlines about your desire to see them become more eco-friendly. Encourage them to establish waste recycling policies, fuel-efficient practices and carbon offset programs.
• Travel light; the less and lighter the baggage cargo, the less fuel is needed to fly. (Creative carriers add their own innovations: Alaska Airlines found that it could save $10,000 annually in fuel costs by removing just five magazines per aircraft).
• Book a direct flight. Takeoffs and landings are a major source of CO2. Pack your own lunch or snacks, in reusable containers, to limit fast-food waste.
• After arriving at your destination, choose eco-friendly ground transportation, such as your hotel’s shuttle or a green rental car service.
• If you have a choice of airports, choose one that conducts a recycling program. The Natural Resources Defense Council has praised those initiated by international airports in Los Angeles, Fort Lauderdale, Seattle-Tacoma and Portland, Oregon.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change notes that greenhouse gas pollution from flying aircraft may be up to four times more damaging to the environment than the same levels of pollution emitted at ground level.


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