United’s eco warrior
Environmental Strategy and Sustainability Manager Aaron Stash could be forgiven for having an indulgence or two; after all, he is one of the driving forces behind United's pledge to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent over the next 30 years. Surely doing that much good on a global scale cancels out, say, owning a gas-guzzling sports car or leaving the faucet running while he brushes his teeth.
Aaron isn't that kind of guy, though. He's the real deal, with a real respect for the earth and its bounty. That's especially evident when he talks about creating a lasting culture of sustainability at United. But if you need proof of just how far he'll go in personally walking the walk, how's this? He lives in a custom-built, eco-friendly home.
"When my wife and I had the opportunity to build a house, we decided to build one that was certified LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum," Aaron said. "Over the course of two plus years, every waking hour when I wasn't working was devoted to planning what the house was going to look like, what we were going to put into it, and how we were going to do it on a budget."
The home, located just north of Chicago, contains energy-efficient appliances, low-flow faucets and fixtures, LED lighting and enough insulation to maintain a comfortable interior temperature without the constant need for heating or air conditioning. Soon, the Stashes will add 39 solar panels to their roof, enough to generate roughly 16,000 kilowatts a year to power the residence. When they tore down the home that previously sat on their lot, Aaron and his wife even recycled the bricks and other usable building materials.
Seeing the project to completion gave Aaron a tremendous sense of accomplishment, but after moving into the house in 2014, he yearned to do more.
"I was in marketing communications at that time, but I started wondering what United was doing about sustainability," he said.
He soon found that, even then, we were a leader in that space. When Aaron interviewed the Environmental Affairs manager for details about her team's work, she mentioned to him that she had accepted a new job and that her current one would soon be available. Two weeks later, Aaron had it.
Since then, he's had a hand in a number of projects, including the "Shedd the Straw" campaign, in partnership with Chicago's Shedd Aquarium, that rid our airplanes of non-biodegradable straws and stir sticks. He also developed our relationship with Clean the World, the organization that takes our unused amenity kit items, such as toothbrushes, toothpaste and soap that would have otherwise been thrown away, and donates them to relief aid charities. That alone diverts as much as 50,000 pounds of material from landfills each year.
Most importantly, Aaron and his team have worked hard on substituting traditional jet fuel with clean, sustainable biofuels produced from waste byproducts to cut carbon emissions. United is currently the only U.S. carrier using a biofuel blend on daily flights, with plans to purchase another 1 billion gallons of biofuels going forward.
"Oftentimes, people don't think about what's coming out of our engines and how that makes the biggest environmental impact," he said. "They want to know if we recycle our cans or not, which we do, but you can't forget about the bigger issue."
Since 1990, we have cut aircraft emissions by 45 percent thanks to biofuels, more fuel-efficient planes and a number of operational and technological improvements. As a result, United now has the smallest gross carbon footprint of the "big three" U.S. airlines, beating Delta (DL) and American (AA). Outside of parking our jets and not flying at all, we're doing everything possible to minimize our greenhouse gas output.
"We're using all the tools and technology currently at our disposal to reduce fuel burn, and we're looking into things we can do for the future," said Aaron. "Our actions today will have a ripple effect in the years to come. Hopefully, history will judge us well."
If you can't get to Mars, what's the next best thing? Apparently Iceland. A team of renowned explorers and researchers recently journeyed to Iceland to test a Mars analog suit in a Martian-like environment.
The United sponsored expedition, led by The Explorers Club — an internationally recognized organization that promotes the scientific exploration of land, sea, air and space — and in partnership with Iceland Space Agency, involved the team venturing inside the Grímsvötn volcano and across the Vatnajökull ice cap. The group traveled to the remote location and lived for six days in the Grímsvötn Mountain Huts and endured harsh weather conditions and unstable terrain.
Helga Kristin Torfadöttir, Geologist and glacier guide, using the LiDAR system to map the ground and test the suit's capabilities on the glacier.
The objective of the mission was to explore the potential of concept operations at the Grímsvötn location while testing the suit in an arctic environment similar to what would be found on the surface of Mars. "This mission was an important test of the design of the MS1 suit, but it was also incredibly helpful to understand the how to conduct these sorts of studies in Iceland," said Michael Lye, MS1 designer and NASA consultant and RISD professor. "No matter how thoroughly something is tested in a controlled environment like a lab, studying it in a setting that accurately represents the environment where it will be used is absolutely essential to fully understand the design."
The suit was designed and constructed by faculty and students at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) with input and guidance from members of the HI-SEAS IV crew and NASA's Johnson Space Center Space Suit Engineering team. At 50-60 lbs, the suit is similar to what a planetary exploration suit would weigh in Martian gravity. The suit was originally designed to be used in the warm climate of Hawaii, however the martian climate is much closer to what would be found on top of the glaciers in Iceland. The data collected will inform the future of habitat and spacesuit design that can be used to train astronauts on Earth.
Today, we remember the colleagues, customers and every single victim of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
I know each of us in the United family marks this difficult moment in our own way. Still, we all share a common commitment to honor how our brothers and sisters left us and also celebrate what they gave to us during their lives. We remember their professionalism and heroism. We cherish their camaraderie and friendship. We carry with us the examples they set forth, especially in the heroism and bravery displayed by so many on that terrible day. Above all, we understand a simple truth: While thousands of our fellow human beings lost their lives in New York City, Arlington and Shanksville, the attacks of September 11th were aimed at all people of peace and good will, everywhere. They were attacks on the values that make life worth living, as well as the shared purpose that make us proud of what we do as members of the United family: connecting people and uniting the world.
We may live in times scarred by discord and disagreement, and we know there are those around the world who seek to divide us against one another. But, on this day – above all – we come together, as one. We affirm our core belief that far, far more unites us as citizens and fellow human beings than can ever divide us.
Let us embody that belief as we go about serving our customers and one another – on this day and every day – as we continue to help building a world that's more united. Let that be our memorial to the sisters and brothers we lost, eighteen Septembers ago.