After studying more than 9 billion airline passenger
departures, carbon accounting and offset firm Brighter Planet determined that
"energy efficiency per passenger mile varies tenfold across the entire
industry," said CEO Patti Prairie. The firm is proposing an advanced means
for corporations to calculate the carbon footprint of air travel.
Factoring aircraft fuel economy, passenger load factors,
seat density, freight share and flight distances for more than 130 million
flights between 2000 and 2010, Brighter Planet found that Continental Airlines,
JetBlue Airways and Frontier Airlines topped the U.S. domestic airline energy
efficiency list while regional carriers American Eagle, Chautauqua Airlines and
Mesa Airlines ranked in the bottom three spots. For international operations,
Ryanair, Singapore Airlines and Delta Air Lines ranked at the top of the list
while SAS Scandinavian, Lufthansa and Swiss ranked at the bottom. In the
overall rankings, Ryanair placed first, followed by Cathay Pacific, while
American Eagle was last.
"Ryanair uses barely more than a third the fuel to
transport its average passenger one mile, compared to the least efficient,
American Eagle," according to a Brighter Planet report, issued today.
"Ryanair succeeds by ranking first or second for efficiency in load factor
and seating density, while runner-up Cathay Pacific ranks first on aircraft
fuel economy, distance and freight share. While enormous efficiency variation
exists among airlines, the same is true within each airline. While the airline
averages presented here are insightful in understanding air travel dynamics,
using them in calculations for any specific flight commits the same error as
failing to account for efficiency variation in the first place."
Analyzing the carbon footprint for three sample city pairs,
Brighter Planet found that the "least efficient flight emits at least
twice as much as the most efficient." For the 2,640-mile flight from New
York to Los Angeles, a JetBlue flight had an equivalent carbon dioxide (CO2e)
output of 1,220 pounds, nearly three times more efficient than a Qantas flight
with 2,976 pounds of CO2e. "That's because the Qantas plane is larger and
less efficient, burning 40 percent more fuel per capacity pound mile, and it is
half empty, only carrying 44 more passengers than the JetBlue flight,"
according to Brighter Planet.
For the 243-mile flight from Charlotte to Atlanta, Brighter
Planet calculated a 198-lb. CO2e footprint for a Delta Boeing 737-800, versus a
320-lb. CO2e footprint for a US Airways Embraer ERJ190 and a 765-lb. CO2e
footprint for a Northwest Airbus A319.
Corporate Air Travel Carbon Measurement
Using its CM1 calculation platform, Brighter Planet studied
more than 300,000 flights on the routes most traveled by employees of two of
the largest U.S. companies. "We found significant savings opportunities—the
companies could reduce carbon emissions across the routes we analyzed by up to
40 percent if they switched from the least efficient to most efficient
flights," according to the report.
To determine whether choosing more efficient flights would
impact the cost of the airfare, Brighter Planet analyzed future ticket prices.
"Obviously price depends on when you book," Prairie said. "We
actually looked at comparisons of this flight versus that one and ran hundreds,
if not thousands, of checks. We found that it's not like you have to pay more
for more energy-efficient flights. In fact, for some you paid less."
In the models used for the two unidentified companies,
Brighter Planet found that one "had the potential to reduce overall
emissions by 40 percent—equivalent to eliminating 74,000 flights—simply by
switching flights to low-carbon alternatives on popular routes," according
to its report. That company "wanted to explore savings opportunities on
alternate flights offered by their preferred airlines. We found that 83 percent
of their travel was on routes served by a low-carbon alternative on the same
airline. Switching from the most to least efficient flights would reduce
emissions across those routes by 35 percent, amounting to a 26 percent
reduction in total emissions without changing airlines."
The other company had the potential to reduce overall
emissions by 14 percent—the equivalent of 20,000 flights—simply by switching
from the highest- to lowest-carbon fights.
The companies recently received the analysis from Brighter
Planet, Prairie said, and are "assessing the data, next steps and how
they're reporting" their carbon footprints.
"The issue of air travel and carbon efficiency is
becoming a corporate and political football with greater policy and financial
implications," Prairie said. "We wanted to cut through the politics
and the hype and find the best science for evaluating carbon efficiency for air
travelers. Our key finding was to show that businesses and individuals don't
necessarily have to cut out air travel or spend more time and money to be more
environmentally sensitive. They just need better carbon intelligence."
Prairie said Brighter Planet decided to conduct the study
because "there really wasn't what we consider an authoritative white
paper" on how best to calculate carbon footprints in air travel. Prairie
acknowledged that "we were even surprised at some of the things we
found," notably "how relatively easy it would be for employees"
to switch from one flight to another "without any hardship or additional
But to make that switch, employees need better information
at the point of sale. Brighter Planet's Careplane software plugin, now in beta,
calculates carbon output from flight search results generated on travel sites
accessed using Google Chrome and consumer travel apps. Prairie said the company
"is talking with several possible partners" about deploying its
technology within corporate travel applications at the point of sale, possibly
within a year.
"A simplistic, traditional approach to air travel
carbon accounting has obscured major sustainability opportunities by
overlooking carbon efficiency," according to the Brighter Planet study,
authored by the firm's Matthew Kling and Ian Hough. "By using a more
sophisticated accounting, companies can significantly reduce the carbon
footprint of their traveling employees without necessarily cutting flights or
Prairie said companies increasingly are reporting their
business travel footprints as part of sustainability reports. Last year, nearly
four in 10 of the world's largest companies publicly reported carbon emissions
for employee travel, she said, citing the Carbon Disclosure Report. "The
talk to reduce a company's carbon footprint is intensifying," Prairie
continued. "It has to do with a combination of factors, one of which is
shareholder demands or resolutions, another is supplier mandates that companies
like Walmart are putting in place as they begin to apply upstream pressure. Some
of it is from a competitive differentiation. If a company is looking at how to
improve their sustainability, that can distinguish them from competitors. Some
of it is just cost management."
The Brighter Planet report suggested five best practices for
business air travel carbon management: pursue carbon reduction goals through
both increases in air travel efficiency and reduction in air travel volume;
implement a proactive footprint calculation that allows carbon to be considered
alongside price and convenience during booking; engage employees in meeting
travel sustainability goals via education and incentives; account for each
flight's unique aircraft, load factor and other characteristics rather than
treating all flights as generic; and set goals for, measure and report
emissions per passenger per mile in addition to total emissions.
Source: The Beat