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What You Must Know about Flying Green

prairie, patti brighter planetHopping on a plane can be unavoidable to meet the needs of your company; more than 60 million business passengers travel by air in the US each year. Unfortunately, this greatly increases your scope 3 emissions and packs a big punch to the climate.

We gathered these tips to help reduce your company’s carbon footprint and better your public relations.

Pack lightly and choose a non-stop flight

It’s no coincidence that airlines have been ratcheting up the baggage fees as oil prices rise. The heavier the load, the more fuel a plane burns. It turns out that leaving your golf clubs at home may make a big difference. If all passengers on US domestic flights packed five pounds less, it would save 64 million gallons of jet fuel each year and have a climate impact equivalent to grounding all domestic flights for three days, or shutting down all the dirty power plants in the US for four hours. Cutting down on luggage just makes sense – plus, there’s less laundry to do when you get home.

Flights with connections can sometimes be cheaper, but they are usually more costly in other ways; namely, time and carbon. Asking your travel agent to book a non-stop flight can greatly reduce your carbon footprint and get your feet back on the ground faster, so that you can get down to business. Just one layover on a 2000-mile (4.5 hour) flight increases carbon emissions by 10% or more — and that’s assuming the stop is directly on route.

The airline matters

The ticket is on the company’s dime and contributes to the organization’s footprint, so you should know if your airline is a big polluter. Airlines that fly newer fleets with fewer empty seats in single-class cabins use less fuel and emit less carbon dioxide. To help you out, we at Brighter Planet analyzed the top US passenger airlines’ carbon emissions per passenger and ranked them from most carbon efficient to least.

JetBlue is the best of the major carriers, but Continental, one of the big five, comes in second. Virgin America rounds out the top three, all of which have ranked highly in other green airline roundups. AirTran and Southwest are by far the worst, using 60% and 40% more fuel per passenger, respectively, than JetBlue. Frontier Airlines, the third-worst, uses 20% more fuel per passenger than JetBlue. In the middle, from best to worst, are US Airways, Spirit Air Lines, Northwest, Delta, Alaska Airlines, United, Hawaiian Airlines, and American Airlines.

Flying during the day minimizes your impact

Daytime flights have less than half the climate impact of red-eyes. That’s because the contrails formed by jet emissions high in the troposphere trap heat. During the day this is partially offset by the fact that contrails also reflect sunlight, but at night there’s no sunlight to reflect. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates contrails have at least as much impact on the climate as the carbon dioxide planes emit. Scientists saw the significant impact of airline contrails during the three-day grounding of commercial aircraft after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, when the difference in daytime maximum and nighttime minimum temperatures increased by about 1.1 degrees Celsius. Think about it like this: it might be easier to sleep when you’re not 30,000 feet in the air and cruising at 600 miles per hour anyway.

Fly economy class

Just like carpooling, fitting more people onto a plane means more fuel efficiency overall. Higher class seats take up nearly twice as much room as economy class, which means you account for double the aircraft’s emissions. They also cost hundreds of dollars more. This is an easy first step for your business to take in any carbon reduction program.

Go before you go

It turns out that a full bladder can increase your carbon footprint. Just a few months ago, Japanese airline All Nippon Airways (ANA) began asking passengers to use the restroom before boarding the plane. They estimate that 4.2 tons of carbon dioxide could be saved every month if just half their patrons lost a little weight this way. If you follow their advice, you’ll be doing your part to help cut emissions, and you’ll avoid getting stuck in the aisle behind the snack cart.


The greenest option in any case is to plan a videoconference to save the trip altogether. With carbon accounting becoming more and more important in business today, telecommuting and videoconferences are a common alternative. Besides being green, this move will save you money and valuable time. According to another recent Environmental Leader article, a company called Manpower held a virtual conference which avoided a cumulative one million miles of travel and 400,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions.

So there you have it – your guide to flying green. When you must take to the skies, at least now you can enjoy your complimentary peanuts knowing that you’ve taken the steps to further green your company.

Patti Prairie is the Chief Executive Officer of Brighter Planet, a for-profit company that helps people reduce and manage their carbon footprints. Its engaging Web-based campaigns tap the power of social media to help consumers and businesses learn about emissions, conserve what they can, and offset the rest.

Patti Prairie
Patti Prairie is the Chief Executive Officer of Brighter Planet, a for-profit company that helps people reduce and manage their carbon footprints. Its engaging Web-based campaigns tap the power of social media to help consumers and businesses learn about emissions, conserve what they can, and offset the rest.
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One thought on “What You Must Know about Flying Green

  1. Unfortunately the author did not cite her methodology nor her source for comparing carbon efficiency of the major carriers. In terms of carbon per revenue passenger mile or carbon per available seat mile, Alaska Airlines ranks in the top three most efficient domestic airlines.

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