The term “sustainable” is rarely seen in the same sentence as “airplane.” Maybe because an airplane’s CO2 emissions, per passenger and per mile, are almost as environmentally inefficient as driving a car with one passenger. So, what’s an ecopreneur to do when trying to be as green as possible, but not able forgo airplanes altogether?
The good news is that the economics of the airline industry—rising fuel prices and a global economic downturn—are leading all airlines to be more forward thinking about sustainability (even if they have a long way to go). But a few airlines are getting love for their environmental efforts. Take Continental, Virgin Atlantic, Jet Blue or Southwest. In 2007, Fortune Magazine named Continental Airlines as one of the “10 Green Giants” in America citing the airline’s $16 billion investment in efficient aircraft, fuel-saving winglets that reduce fuel emissions, their 75% reduction in the nitrogen oxide output from ground equipment at its Houston hub, its 13 full-time staff environmentalists and its corporate recycling practices. Virgin Atlantic is also considered a green leader in a black industry. It has new fleets, innovative recycling programs and leading-edge brother-companies, Virgin Green Fund and Virgin Fuel that invest in new products and technologies that will help reduce CO2 emissions. JetBlue gets good reports because of their newer, more fuel-efficient aircraft and their in-flight recycling and waste-management programs. Southwest is an U.S. EPA Blue Skyways Collaborative Partner and has won environmental stewardship awards including the President’s Environmental Youth Award, the Dallas Water Utilities Blue Thumb Silver Award (2001-2006), the 2007 Port of Portland Aviation Environmental Excellence Award and the 2007 Keep Dallas Beautiful Environmental Excellence Award.
And, just to prove the point that green business is good business, The 2008 Zagat Airline Survey released today named these four airlines as best-in-class on several consumer-based metrics. According to ZagatBuzz:
- Among large domestic airlines, Continental was voted No. 1 in premium class while JetBlue took top honors for economy. Looking at just the U.S. “Big Six” – American, Continental, Delta, Northwest, United, US Airways (soon to be “Big Five” with the merger of Delta and Northwest) – Continental led in all categories, as it did in ’07. It was also deemed the best value among all airlines for international flights.
- Among midsized domestics, Virgin America…continued to impress, ranking No. 1 in premium and No. 2 – after winner Midwest – in economy.
- Delay-weary fliers cited Southwest as having the best on-time performance among domestics. Southwest was also saluted for offering the best value domestically as well as the best website, frequent-flier program and luggage policy.
- Top in-flight entertainment honors went to JetBlue domestically, Virgin Atlantic internationally.
It just goes to show you that being an environmentally responsible, forward-thinking company will help you come out ahead. The proof is in the pudding, or shall we say, in the pretzels.
But our greener airlines also scored better on another important metric: being on-time.its actually green to choose an airline with fewer delays. Not only will it save you aggravation, but planes waste lots of fuel while taxiing and idling at the gate. Again, Zagat gives love to the environmentally conscious airlines: For Best Consumer On-Time Estimates (Domestic Only) Southwest came in #1, Continental ranked #2 and JetBlue #3. (If you really want to stay on top of this the Bureau of Travel Statistics tracks on-time arrival every month.)
So, in an industry so maligned, its incredible to see that the greenest airlines also offer the best service. Maybe things are looking up for the airline industry after all.
Photo from Continental.com