photo: Glenn Fleishman via flick
If you're already fan of Virgin America here's another reason to like them: Greenopia has just ranked them the greenest US domestic airline of the ten major airlines they surveyed. Alaska Airlines and Continental took second and third place, with United and US Airways bringing up the rear. Here's how those results were calculated:Greenopia ranked airlines based on six criteria: 1) Adoption of fuel conservation practices, 2) Progress on using alternative fuels (either already making test flights or having solid plans to do so), 3) Recycling programs for in flight waste, 4) Green food options in flight, 5) Green building design, and 6) Carbon offset programs offered to customers and the quality of these programs. For their progress in all these areas airlines received rankings of up to four green leaves.
Virgin America Only Lags in Green Building Progress: Greenopia
Virgin America received 4 green leaves, scoring top marks in all categories except in green building design--an area in which Greenopia notes few airlines have made significant progress.
Virgin is positioning itself as a green leader in air travel and its actions back up its claims. Since Virgin is relatively new, it has the most current fleet (about 2 years old on average). This means that Virgin's planes are very efficient in both fuel consumption and emissions. Virgin installs winglets on its planes which lead to better fuel efficiency (and therefore fewer emissions). Virgin has made progress with biofuels and has even done several flights with planes solely powered by biofuels. Virgin has a comprehensive recycling program and hopes to divert 50% of its waste by 2012. Many airlines have yet to add any environmental or ethically sourced food options, but Virgin has risen to the challenge and serves only fair trade coffee. Virgin offers passengers the ability to offset their carbon footprint when flying and the projects they source are good mostly revolving around green energy generation. Lastly, Virgin has solid environmental reporting on its website.
UPDATE: Virgin America has written TreeHugger (and Greenopia) informing us that they have made some significant strides in the green building arena since these rankings were compiled: Their headquarters recently has been LEED Silver Certified and they are moving operations in San Francisco to Terminal 2, which is undergoing renovations which will be LEED certified as well.
Alaska received top marks for its fuel conservation, recycling and green building efforts. As for areas of improvement, Greenopia said "We we unable to find any information that suggest that Alaska Airlines is looking at alternative fuels as of this time [and] does not offer any sort of offsets for is passengers during the ticketing process."
Continental scored well in everything except green food and carbon offsets. Interesting to note: Though Continental gets points for its recycling program, based on the icons in the rankings, the text accompanying this notes that the airline "is only in the testing phases of bringing recycling on board its flights."
Moving down through the rankings, Delta and Jet Blue received two green leaves; Southwest, American, Northwest, United and US Airways all received one leaf.
Eco-Friendly Flying With Fossil Fuels? Nope
No matter which way you cut it flying is a highly carbon intensive activity--though interestingly when TreeHugger compared different long distance travel methods, driving from New York to Los Angeles by yourself in a car getting average fuel economy was similar--the notion of a green airline when fossil fuels are involved is a bit of an oxymoron.
Nevertheless, as these rankings show, some airlines are doing markedly more than others to reduce their environmental impact. Does that really make any of them 'eco-friendly' as Greenopia's labeling indicates? Not until fossil fuels aren't used at all.
More on Aviation:
Confirmed: Biofuels Better Than Fossil Fuels in Jet Engines - Scaling Them Up is the Major Problem
Algae, Jatropha Tapped to Power Continental Airlines' First Biofuels Test Flight
World's Airlines Pledge to Cut Emissions 50% by 2050
What the Heck is Radiative Forcing & Why Should My Aviation Carbon Offset Include It?