Eco-friendly in the friendly skies
Sustainability initiatives did not take off just this year — many Earth Days have come and gone since we began launching environmental programs ranging from sustainable practices, products and nonprofit partnerships to green buildings and biofuel flights. These are not token programs meant just for Earth Day — they are making a real difference, every day of the year.
Biofuel in the air
In March, we became the first U.S. airline to use low-carbon aviation biofuel at commercial-scale volumes for regularly scheduled flights from LAX. Greenhouse gas emissions from AltAir biofuel are 65 to 85 percent lower than traditional jet fuel emissions throughout the life cycle — collection to use. In 2009 we began testing biofuels in our operations, conducting the first-ever biofuel demonstration flight by a U.S. carrier. We also became the first U.S. airline to use biofuel on a commercial flight in 2011. We're proud to say that this year's commencement of regular use of sustainable aviation biofuel has been recognized as an aviation milestone.The biofuel, part of a 30-percent biofuel/70-percent jet-fuel blend, is extracted from sustainable feedstocks, non-edible natural oils and agricultural waste products. Once it's processed in Paramount, California, the biofuel is then used to fuel jets at the LAX airport. Up to 15 million gallons of the biofuel will be used over 3 years — enough to fuel the equivalent of 12,500 LAX-SFO flights.
Last year, we announced a historic $30 million equity investment in U.S.-based alternative fuels developer Fulcrum BioEnergy, Inc., a pioneer in the development and commercialization of converting municipal solid waste into low-cost sustainable aviation biofuel. To date, our investment in Fulcrum is the single largest by any U.S. airline in alternative fuels.
The green team
Technological advances have already improved fuel efficiency in the air by more than one-third in the last two decades. We were the first airline in the world to fly with the split scimitar winglet technology that cuts fuel consumption by up to an additional 2 percent, and we continue to take delivery of new Boeing and Airbus aircraft that are 15 to 20 percent more fuel efficient than those they will replace. United now has more than 260 of these new, fuel-efficient aircraft on order — and an industry-wide switch to renewables like biofuel will also have a major impact. Still, aviation accounts for only two percent of global CO2 emissions. While we recognize that our carbon footprint happens in the air, most contributions to global warming happen on the ground, which is why United team members have been adopting and following sustainable practices for many years.
Our employees have recycled nearly 30 million pounds of plastic, paper and aluminum from flights and United facilities since 2008. Last year, through our upcycling initiative, an entire football field's worth of fabric banners at Chicago's O'Hare airport was turned into fashionable travel bags and later sold to benefit the Chicago-based Re:new Project and our United Eco-Skies CarbonChoice Alto Mayo Forest Carbon Project in Northern Peru. Efforts to reduce consumption are also being made at our airport locations — United employees at the San Francisco Maintenance Center cut water consumption by more than 30 percent during the recent California drought.
Gold, silver and green
Green-building innovations have earned new United facilities recognition, including a prestigious LEED Gold certification in San Francisco, a LEED Silver in Houston and acclaim for a massive "green roof" in Chicago — all in the last four years.
Taking the gold is the SFO Terminal 3 Boarding Area E (T3E). Natural lighting from windows and skylights helps T3E to reduce electricity requirements, photovoltaic panels deliver onsite renewable energy and the terminal also makes use of local and sustainable materials including recycled carpeting and glass. Claiming the silver is Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport Terminal B south concourse, which features an energy-efficient, 28-foot glass wall. And that green roof? It can be found atop the new cargo facility at Chicago's O'Hare airport. Besides sporting one of the largest vegetative living roofs in North America (109,000 square feet), the building incorporates leading-edge green features such as energy-efficient lighting, heating and cooling, and even storm-water recycling. Existing United customer and employee facilities are also tweaked on a regular basis to make them more sustainable.
Coffee and cream
Starting this summer, we'll begin serving illy coffee on all United flights worldwide. Illy coffee is already being served at United Club SM locations at U.S. mainland hubs and will appear soon in all other United Club lounges this year. We're proud to serve illy, whose coffee-bean growers and processors earn above-market wages in exchange for following eco-friendly and sustainable-quality practices.
Cowshed Spa skin-care products are another recent addition to United flights. The award-winning, eco-friendly product line — including hand creams, lip treatments, moisturizing balms and towelettes — are found in many premium cabin amenity kits, as well as in United Club locations. Made in England, Cowshed uses organic and fair-trade extracts and essential oils to make their premium products. All products in their line are made from sustainable sources and natural botanicals and contain no parabens, petrochemicals, sulphates, animal ingredients (spare a little organic beeswax and wildflower honey), no artificial colors or fragrances and no animal testing.
Through our United Eco-Skies program we have partnered with a number of nonprofit organizations to enhance sustainability efforts. Sustainable Travel International manages our CarbonChoice offset program, with all proceeds going to worldwide projects curated by STI. Through our partnership with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, scientists are flown to study native habitats around the world. Additionally, we also support the Clean Energy Trust Challenge, which awards annual grants to pioneers in energy efficiency and innovation.
MileagePlus members can receive bonus miles for consultations (5,000 miles) or purchases (25,000 miles) from NRG Home Solar in the five states where it operates, along with bonus miles for other sustainable products. These are just some of the investments we have made toward creating a more sustainable world; others range from clean-energy STEM education programs and EV charging programs to tree planting and adopt-a-stream projects.
Earth Day and beyond
The United team is committed to being a responsible global citizen all year — not just on Earth Day or during Earth Month. We have pledged to continue to boost our efforts to be an industry leader in seeking to reduce our carbon footprint while striving for sustainability. Sustainability at United applies to not only preserving our environment, but also to fostering community pride and celebrating diversity. Our team members on the ground and in the air are dedicated to protecting our planet and aim to preserve its health and richness every day.