Flying with purpose: Alaska sets new climate goals, including net-zero carbon emissions by 2040

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Each year we share how we’re caring for the planet and the people we serve in our annual sustainability report. This year we’re also setting our course for the future.

Today, we announced our commitment to reduce our climate impacts with new goals for carbon, waste, and water. We’ve set a course for net zero carbon emissions by 2040, with near-term 2025 targets to maintain carbon neutral growth from 2019. We also set goals to be the most fuel-efficient U.S. airline and cut the climate emissions from our ground equipment in half. We’ll keep up our industry-leading recycling program, continue to source more sustainable packaging for inflight service and offset our water use with investments in local ecology and habitats. With these goals, we are joining Amazon and over 100 other companies in signing The Climate Pledge, a commitment to be net zero carbon across our business 10 years ahead of the Paris Agreement.

Doing the right thing

One of our core values is to do the right thing, and that means reducing the impact of air travel on the environment. Our most significant environmental impact is through greenhouse gas emissions produced through the burning of jet fuel. That’s why we’ve prioritized the work to burn and emit less fuel, to employ greener alternatives and ultimately to transform aviation for a more sustainable future and to keep the incredible destinations we serve beautiful and viable for generations to come.

Air travel connects us to our friends and families, helps us understand one another, and helps communities across the globe grow and thrive,” said Alaska Airlines CEO Ben Minicucci. But we know that to live our purpose, creating an airline people love, we must operate every day in a way that cares for both people and the environment. That’s why we’ve set out on this bold path to reduce our climate impact near and long term.”

Our Roadmap

There are five parts of our path to net zero:

1. Fleet renewal

We recently finalized our order for up to 120 Boeing 737-9 MAX aircraft, with four already delivered this year. Our newest MAX aircraft are 22% more fuel-efficient on a seat-by-seat basis than the aircraft they replace. And we’ll continue to test and adopt technology to further improve our fleet’s efficiency.

2. Operational efficiency

We’re focused on embedding efficiency and sustainability into our culture. That means continuing our leadership in standardizing operational best practices and using technology for the lowest emissions possible. We’re also expanding our use of technology to optimize flight routes for emissions savings, working with the government to make the best use of our airspace, moving toward electric and other renewable options for our ground equipment and working with airports to ensure infrastructure available to support it. We will also continue responsible construction and energy use throughout our facilities – like our LEED-certified hangar in Anchorage and employee “Hub” in Seattle.

3. Sustainable aviation fuel

With up to 80% lower carbon emissions than traditional jet fuel, sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is the best possible option to decarbonize medium- and long-distance flying within the next few decades. Alaska has piloted use of different types of SAF for over a decade, and SAF is now certified as safe and available as a fuel to mix with traditional fuel. We currently use and are partnering to advance SAF production, with Neste and SkyNRG. We’ve also partnered with Microsoft to offset the carbon impact of their employees’ travel from Seattle to San Francisco, San Jose and Los Angeles with sustainable aviation fuel.

SAF represents even greater potential to reduce emissions with government support to increase supply and commercial viability of these fuels, which don’t currently exist in sufficient volume to power US flights. That’s why we’re supporting research at Washington State University to advance SAF in the Pacific Northwest, partnering with other companies to grow use of SAF, and working with the oneworld alliance and Airlines for America to support SAF production globally. This is an area that will take collective action to advance.

Related: Q&A: Why is Alaska Airlines using sustainable aviation fuel in San Francisco?
4. Novel propulsion

Novel propulsion essentially means increasing the use of electric or alternative power without fossil fuels. We believe that increasingly electrified options will be available for regional aircraft by 2040 and are evaluating partnerships and in-kind exchanges with the goal of enabling these emerging and decarbonizing technologies. Alaska’s sister regional airline, Horizon Air, is well positioned to explore this exciting, innovative opportunity in the decades ahead.

5. Credible, high-quality carbon offsetting technology

Aviation is one of the hardest sectors to decarbonize, so credible carbon offsets may be needed to close the gap to our net zero target by 2040, and until SAF and novel propulsion become viable and available at scale. We’ll work with science advisory firm Carbon Direct to identify and vet carbon offsets that add net offset value, are verified in carbon accounting, do no harm, are durable, and don’t just displace emissions to another project.

What does this mean for you?

You can read more about our commitments to fly greener, reduce waste and offset our water use in our Alaska Airlines 2020 LIFT Sustainability Report. In it, you will see more details on our approach to social and environmental stewardship across the company.

Meanwhile, there are things every flyer can do to partner with us on this journey. Want to offset your carbon footprint? Good news! You can invest in carbon offsets with our partner, The Good Traveler, in locally based and high-quality projects to restore the climate balance. Since its founding by San Diego International Airport in 2015, The Good Traveler helped removed 230 million pounds of CO2 from the air by funding projects like tree planting, habitat protection, waste composting and renewable energy. Packing lighter, using our app, pre-ordering your onboard meal, and bringing your own reusable water bottle to #FillBeforeYouFly all contribute to reducing our collective impact.

This is a long-term journey, and it will take all of us. Thank you for having high expectations of us, and for joining us on the journey.