Delta announces $1 billion plan to reduce carbon emissions

Delta used biofuels to transport new planes from an Airbus assembly site in Mobile, Ala. Source: Delta Air Lines

Delta used biofuels to transport new planes from an Airbus assembly site in Mobile, Ala. Source: Delta Air Lines

Delta Air Lines announced it plans to spend $1 billion over 10 years to mitigate its carbon emissions globally, part of its goal to eventually become carbon neutral.

But it stopped short of saying how much it would reduce emissions this decade, or when it hopes to become neutral.

Atlanta-based Delta said the investments will include more fuel-efficient planes, efforts to reduce weight on planes and investing in development and use of sustainable aviation fuels.

It will also involve putting money towards projects to remove carbon emissions from the atmosphere through wetland and grassland conservation and other efforts, and invest in a fund focused on carbon neutrality.

The move follows JetBlue's announcement last month that by July 2020 it will offset carbon dioxide emissions for all of the jet fuel for its domestic flights. Delta's announcement is broader, covering its flight network around the world, but will take longer and cost more.

Airline industry leaders have grown concerned that a trend of “flight shaming” gaining currency in Europe could prompt more people to cut back on flying due to environmental concerns.

“The time is now to accelerate our investments and establish an ambitious commitment,” said Delta CEO Ed Bastian in a written statement.

Delta's announcement comes after Bastian last year said airlines should talk more about what they are doing on environmental stewardship.

"We're seen in the world's eyes as somewhat of a dirty industry, yet we have done a tremendous amount of good," including adopting new engine technology, Bastian said in December. "We have been terrible advocates of our own cause."

"Environmental stewardship is the existential threat to our future ability to grow," he said then.

While airlines can't easily escape the reality of operating planes that burn thousands of gallons of jet fuel, they are making efforts to show off their green bona fides as concerns about climate change grow among the public.

“When customers choose to fly Delta, they should feel they’re making a statement about taking care of our planet,” Bastian said in a written statement.

The company plans to launch new environmental efforts this year, an expansion of steps it has taken in recent years to help develop sustainable aviation fuels, cap greenhouse gas emissions at 2012 levels and reduce single-use plastics.

The announcement comes as Delta pays out $1.6 billion in profit sharing to employees on Valentine's Day, including $571 million to employees in metro Atlanta.

On Friday at a hangar at Hartsfield-Jackson, Delta unveiled a plane dedicated to its employees. The side of the plane has decals that spell out the words “Thank you” formed with the names of the company’s 90,000 employees.