Delta to launch innovation lab focused on sustainability

‘Sustainable Skies Lab’ to focus on ways to reduce environmental impacts

LAS VEGAS — Delta Air Lines plans to launch an innovation lab focused on making flying more sustainable.

At the Consumer Electronics Show tech convention in Las Vegas this week, the Atlanta-based airline announced plans for a Sustainable Skies Lab to focus on clean fuel, efficient flying, aircraft concepts and sustainable travel. Delta and other air carriers rely upon fossil fuels that produce enormous amounts of climate-warming emissions.

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The lab helps focus a number of Delta sustainability efforts. These include reducing plastics in inflight service, partnerships with Airbus to develop hydrogen-powered aircraft and electric air taxi firm Joby Aviation, research in collaboration with MIT and testing to decrease aircraft drag and emissions. Delta said it aims to develop new partnerships to find ways to decarbonize aviation.

The airline also plans to eventually have a complex at its Atlanta headquarters to showcase its sustainability efforts for students, visitors and employees through interactive digital walls, virtual reality stations and mock-ups. It plans to open the “engagement studio” in phases.

Delta has set a goal for net zero emissions by 2050. In recent years, Delta and other industry players have invested in “sustainable” aviation fuel that are blends with biofuels made from tree and plant debris, animal fat or other bio feedstocks, and have a smaller carbon footprint.

Airlines are already financially motivated to cut fuel use through more efficient aircraft and flying, since jet fuel is one of their largest costs.

But air travel is seen as a “hard-to-decarbonize” industry. Airlines have been trying to show they are making efforts — in order to reassure customers who may be concerned about the impact of flying on the environment.

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The airline faces pressure from key corporate customers that have their own sustainability goals and may reduce travel as a result. Flying less is also often touted as a way for individuals to reduce their carbon footprint. And in Europe, the concept of “flight shaming” as an environmental movement to reduce flying has gained some currency. All of those factors are threats to airline business.

As Delta chief sustainability officer Pam Fletcher announced the Sustainable Skies Lab, she emphasized: “As we make progress toward our sustainability goals, we want to make sure our customers will feel as good about flying as they do about the connections made with the people and places we take them to.”

A note of disclosure

This coverage is supported by a partnership with 1Earth Fund, the Kendeda Fund and Journalism Funding Partners. You can learn more and support our climate reporting by donating at