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Virgin America, Alaska Airlines, Air France Ranked Top Green Carriers

Image courtesy of Airbus and Fixion

Virgin America is the greenest overall U.S. airline, followed by Alaska Airlines, according to Greenopia’s latest rankings. The online green directory also published its first ratings of European airlines, finding Air France to be the top performer by a wide margin.

Presently, air travel is estimated to make up approximately two percent of the United States’ total carbon footprint.  Although this figure is dispersed amongst more than one hundred US airlines, there is still a wide variability of carbon efficiencies and environmental initiatives between these companies.

This is the fourth consecutive year Virgin America topped the U.S. ratings. The company has one of the youngest and most efficient fleets around and is a leader in its in-flight food offerings, recycling, and biofuel research. Virgin also offers some of the best carbon offsets for passengers interested in mitigated their carbon footprint from traveling.

”Airlines have been very aggressive in not only trying to make their operations more efficient, but also offering up other green services such as carbon offsets and green food options on flights,” said Gay Browne, Founder of Greenopia.  “We hope to see more of this as offsets in particular are a great way to mitigate some of the impact from traveling, but have not really taken off in the US as they have in Europe.”

Alaska Airlines was the greenest major airline carrier in the US (Virgin is not considered a major carrier). Alaska Airlines performed well in terms of its fleet age and carbon efficiency, and has made strides in its biofuels, ground operations, and building design principles. Alaska Airlines also manages one of the top recycling programs of any airline, however, it does not offer carbon offsets, like many other leading airlines.

Greenopia collected data from airline annual reports and other publicly disclosed documents and measured the data against environmental criteria, including fleet age, fuel consumption practices, carbon offsets, green building design, recycling programs, and organic, local and sustainable food items available onboard. Lastly, a rough lifecycle weighting by environmental impact of each criterion determined their weights in the study.

“Our Airline study is always one of the most interesting of any of our research guides,” said Doug Mazeffa, Greenopia’s Research Director.  “Not only have airlines been consistently improving faster than other industries, they are also very transparent with their environmental metrics.”

The most improved airline from last year’s guide was United, which earned three out of four Greenopia leafs and placed third overall. Most of United’s improvements stem from its acquisition of top performer Continental but United also has been progressive in biofuels, green food options, and carbon offsets.

American, Jet Blue, Air Canada, Southwest, and US Airways are the other rated U.S. Airlines

European Carriers

In general, European airlines tended to offer carbon offsets more frequently and on average had a stronger commitment to biofuels, according to Greenopia. However, European airlines tended to be weaker in terms of environmental reporting, especially in regards to carbon efficiencies and recycling rates. All things considered, the scores were similar to that of the US Airlines.

Top ranked Air France is the most carbon efficient airline in Europe and has strong reporting, commitments to biofuels and recycling, and offered carbon offsets to its passengers. Air France’s score is only slightly below Virgin America in the US, which is especially impressive given how much larger Air France is.

Lufthansa, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, and EasyJet all scored very closely (and all received three Leafs). EasyJet had the most efficient fleet of those four companies, but its lackluster transparency hurt them. 

Cathay Pacific, RyanAir, SAS, Air New Zealand and Aer Lingus are the other rated European Airlines.

Bart King is a PR/marketing communications consultant and principal at Cleantech Communications.

Bart King is the principal of New Growth Communications, a network of affiliated content producers and strategists serving clients in the emerging green economy. He is also Associate Editor of Sponsored Content for Sustainable Brands. Follow him @bart_king [Read more about Bart King]

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