In a market place where businesses and customers are continuing to consume resources at an ever-increasing rate, environmental sustainability efforts and practices are being enacted by airlines operating around the globe. These efforts serve to lessen their corporate carbon footprint and facilitate an enterprise-wide mindset of conservation and environmental responsibility. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), environmental sustainability “creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations.”
A closer look at the efforts of the Texas-based air carrier Southwest Airlines (airline code: WN) reveals a robust and thriving corporate sustainability focus that has existed from the infancy of the airline. Their “green” practices include a supplier diversity program (green procurement survey) and a renewable energy program, as well as employing eco-friendly products and materials, using the Green Plane—a flying laboratory in use since 2009—and utilizing chemical management. Southwest was recognized by the EPA for their standard of green conduct with a rank of 37 on the agency’s Fortune 500 Green Power Partners in 2011. Marilee McInnis, senior manager of Culture & Communications for Southwest, notes that the airline, “began a more formal focus on sustainability in 2007, when we formed the Green Team to put a green filter on business decisions and began reporting on our efforts—first with an Environmental Stewardship for 2007, a CSR report for 2008, and then an integrated report on the triple bottom line, following GRI guidelines for 2009.”
These programs and initiatives may sound lofty to someone who doesn’t work for the company, so a closer look at some of the action items of these efforts reveals a tight focus on reducing fuel consumption, not only of being more fuel-efficient, but also of sending less emissions into the atmosphere. Southwest relies on the use of electric ground support equipment at many of their stations, routinely washes jet engines to ensure cleaner operations along with fuel and emissions efficiency, and, at the gate, WN aircraft are plugged into electricity instead of running engines to provide heat, air, and lights. Additionally, McInnis said, “Southwest employs a modern fleet, including the 737-800 carrier of the lighter, more sustainable Evolve cabin interior, and is the launch customer for the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft beginning in 2017.”
On the other side of the globe in Dubai, UAE, Emirates Airline (airline code: EK) supports the sustainability position that the “biggest difference an airline can make to the environment is in which aircraft it helps design, buy, and fly.” The average age of the Emirates fleet is approximately six years, and the airline makes a practice of purchasing fuel-efficient, more aerodynamic and lighter-constructed aircraft, such as the Airbus A380 Superjumbo. According to the airline’s website, Andrew Parker, senior vice president of Public and Environmental Affairs for Emirates, said the air carrier, “has over 200 new aircraft on order from Boeing and Airbus that will carry more people—using less fuel, creating fewer emissions, and making less noise.”
The airline credits an emphasis on more keenly planned flight paths around the globe for their savings of an annual three million kilos of fuel and ten million kilos of carbon dioxide. EK, in a move similar to Southwest, employs staff members that routinely conduct focused reviews of airliners to determine where lighter materials can be used on board to increase the fuel efficiency of their fleet. Emirates’ employees aren’t only focused on fuel efficiency, but via the airline’s “Environment” program are concentrating on how every single aspect of their day-to-day operations, in and out of the office, affect the environment.
Southwest and Emirates airlines recognize that environmental sustainability is a company-wide mindset, an effort that begins the moment an employee is hired and continues with each generation of new hires. McInnis succinctly shared, “Southwest has always been innovative, and that will continue into our next 40 years. Not every business or company can be sustainable in the same way—it has to fit with corporate objectives and make sense for the business. Efficiency is at the heart of our sustainability and environmental commitment, and there are many ways to do that.”
Keep a close eye on these sustainability leaders; they’re committed to achieving the utmost in efficiency, conservation, and environmental sensitivity.
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