By Steve Zwick, Ecosystem Marketplace.
In 2007, as airlines around the world were lobbying to prevent the regulation of greenhouse-gas emissions from passenger flights, Delta Airlines started looking for ways to reduce its emissions – first by increasing fuel efficiency, and eventually by investing $1 million in a massive effort by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to buy up old farms across the Lower Mississippi Valley and restore them to their natural, forested state so that trees can absorb enough carbon dioxide (CO2) to offset some of Delta’s greenhouse gasses. TNC scientists say the project will mop up more than 100 million tons of CO2 over the next 70 years, and Delta is helping to finance it by purchasing offsets to reduce its carbon footprint, but the exact amount of emissions reduced is being determined through a rigorous process certified under the Verified Carbon Standard.
Airlines aren’t subject to mandatory caps in most countries, but Delta acted voluntarily anyway. Then, when the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) began negotiating the inclusion of international flights in Europe’s cap-and-trade program, the airline decided to improve its carbon-market proficiency by voluntarily keeping 2014 emissions below 2012, even as passenger miles increased.
As earlier, it aimed first to reduce emissions by saving fuel, with offsetting as an additional tool to get it under its target. So the company worked with aviation authorities to overhaul its routes and with airports to reduce taxiing time around the world; it even reduced the amount of ice it carried and eliminated hefty duty-free brochures to drop the weight of its planes. These efforts enabled it to reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions by more than 159,000 metric tons of “CO2 equivalent”, or “tCO2e”, which is a standard that measures all greenhouse gasses based on their warming impact. By cutting down on waste, the company saved more than $46 million in 2014, according to its sustainability report, but it wasn’t enough to stay below 2012 levels.