Delta is on a journey to decarbonize our industry – our Flight to Net Zero – but it’s not a task that happens overnight. It’s a decades-long process requiring collaboration across our business and with other industries.
This Earth Month, three Delta leaders reflected on the ways the company is committed to measuring its social and environmental impact alongside financial performance.
Allison Ausband, E.V.P. & Chief Customer Experience Officer; Pam Fletcher, S.V.P. & Chief Sustainability Officer; and Dan Janki, E.V.P. & Chief Financial Officer, all bring different perspectives based on their backgrounds and areas of focus. But they’re ultimately aligned behind a shared vision: caring for the planet we connect and the places we call home.
WHAT IS DELTA’S OUTLOOK FOR SUSTAINABILITY?
Fletcher: When we talk about sustainability, we are working to get our business to a place with minimal emissions and waste. And I know we can do it because of the power of our people. From the moment I walked in the door at Delta, every person I’ve talked to is actively seeking more sustainable solutions. But to get there will require industry disruption – the kind that will bring about new aviation technologies, widespread availability of sustainable aviation fuel and other watershed moments develop over years and decades, not months and weeks.
With that in mind, we’re accelerating the technologies of tomorrow that will lower aviation’s carbon footprint. In tandem, we are investing in the technologies available today like fleet upgrades, pursuing goals like 50% electric ground support equipment by 2025 and sourcing sustainable aviation fuel that we know can immediately reduce the lifecycle carbon emissions of our business.
Ausband: I think it’s important to remember that we aren’t just doing this because we believe it’s the right thing to do – it’s what our customers expect of us, too. We’re a people-first company and always have been. The sustainability mindset Pam is talking about allows us to make good on two core promises: to deliver exceptional customer experiences and build a better future for our planet.
One of the ways those promises come to life is through our onboard service offerings. For example, we’re now featuring new artisan-made amenity kits, recycled bedding, reusable and biodegradable service ware, and premium canned wine. Together, the products will reduce onboard single-use plastic consumption by approximately 4.9 million pounds per year – that’s roughly the weight of 1,500 standard-sized cars.
We’ve significantly increased Delta’s support of minority- and women-run businesses. And sustainability is a key part of the conversations we’re having with our partners and vendors.
Janki: Allison hit the nail on the head when she said it’s what our customers expect. More than 60% of our customers consider sustainability a priority and part of their everyday life. Our SkyMiles customers see sustainability as a top cause that airlines should address. The bottom line: consumers want to support brands that share their values. Companies do, too. Our corporate customers proactively come to us asking how we can partner to help them meet their sustainability goals. And investors know that drawing down emissions to curb climate change is necessary for our future. Ignoring this isn’t an option.
KNOWING THAT INDUSTRY DISRUPTION AND PARADIGM-SHIFTING TECHNOLOGY TAKE TIME TO BUILD, WHAT ARE SOME OF THE IMMEDIATE WAYS DELTA IS MAKING AN IMPACT ON THE PLANET?
Fletcher: One of the most important things we’ve done is accelerate our retirement of over 200 of our least fuel-efficient aircraft which contributes to our 2022 goal of using at least 6% less fuel per available seat mile compared to 2019.
Janki: And that’s significant because fuel costs are one of our biggest operating expenses – and certainly the most difficult to predict. Updating our fleet saves us millions in fuel costs. It’s good business sense, plain and simple.
Ausband: These fuel-efficient additions to our fleet also deliver a rich customer experience in other ways as well. For example, our new A321neo, which enters service in May, features elevated and thoughtful touches throughout, including new First-Class seats with larger, improved privacy space, a sturdier tray table, and more stowage space for personal items; enhanced memory-foam seat cushions in all cabins; an expanded library of Delta Studio entertainment; access to fast-streaming Wi-Fi; and more.
Fletcher: To that end, we’re also continuing to invest in sustainable aviation fuel. In part, SAF isn’t widely available but we’re working to change that in partnership with our corporate customers and other airlines who are working with us to purchase SAF, generate demand, and achieve economies of scale.
Consider as well our partnership with Airbus to evaluate the ecosystem needed for hydrogen power. Airbus is still working to develop hydrogen power aviation, but that partnership helps both of us understand the next part of the puzzle: what is required to make the transition if we can bring this technology to market?
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS DELTA IS DOING THAT WILL BE IMMEDIATELY VISIBLE TO CUSTOMERS?
Ausband: We’ve already launched new artisan-made Delta One amenity kits by Someone Somewhere that eliminate many plastic components like zippers, wrappers and kit contents. Each set of the new, soft and comfortable Delta One bedding is made from 100% recycled content – each one containing over 100 recycled plastic bottles.
Over the course of this year, we will start replacing many components of our service ware with natural and recycled materials. Items include bamboo cutlery, biodegradable dishware, new paper placemats and more.
Janki: In addition to noticeable improvements on your next flight, customers can also count on us to be transparent about our progress because our customers want to see data. According to S&P’s Global Sustainability Yearbook 2021, over 7,000 companies chose to disclose ESG data in 2021, compared with only 4,700 in 2020. That’s a nearly 50% year-over-year increase.
In our annual ESG report we share our goals and where we are in achieving them. Our report is guided by transparency, ambition, and reporting on our progress. We also annually publish a 10-K, and this year we published a climate lobbying report at the request of our investors so they could have a line of sight into how our public policy support aligns with our ESG goals.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR DELTA ON THIS FLIGHT TO NET ZERO?
Fletcher: I am fond of telling my team to get comfortable with the unknown. Right now, all options are on the table, and we have to be ready to make agile decisions and follow the science. But no matter which direction things take us, we won’t be able to do it alone. Coalitions and collaboration with like-minded groups are the only way climate change issues will be solved, regardless of industry.
I think we saw the ability to do that unfold during the pandemic. Government and the industry came together to determine what we all needed to do to keep passengers safe while continuing to serve our core function. As Delta often does, we went a step further with measures like on-board filtration systems and middle-seat blocking. And I think that’s what we’ll want to work toward now: collaborating with partners in government and the industry on goals that can benefit everyone, while as a company also finding ways to push forward and innovate like no one else can.