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Alaska Airlines is Doing Well by Doing Good

Many of us have our favorite airline, or at least the one we fly most often, even if it’s simply to maximize frequent flyer miles.

For us, it’s always been Alaska Airlines, mostly because they are local to Seattle and are highly regarded, not to mention what a treat it is to fly on Horizon Air and be served an ice cold micro-brew or glass of wine after a long day and the hustle & bustle through the airport.   Although we fly often, we hadn’t thought much about what goes on, except from our own point of view.

Why is it that we, consumers, want to buy clothes, electronics, food and other consumables from socially conscience companies, yet are often completely unaware of whether or not the airline we choose to fly does anything to give back or protect our environment?

 

That Horizon flight, alone and the great  beer it serves – used to fill up a commercial dumpster every day with bottles… not any more.

Can you imagine how hard it is to recycle when every city you fly into has a different set of rules?

Alaska Airlines can.

Just think how recycling varies even between neighboring towns?

The few miles between our home town and nearby in Seattle is night & day when it comes to recycling rules and options (Seattle beating us hands down).

 

So how does Alaska Airlines, an airline carrier who serves 30 Million passengers each year and burns 1 million gallons of jet fuel a day reach zero waste and environmental sustainability?

First, through their commitment to do well by doing good.  We recently had the pleasure of hearing their story first hand during a CSR conference hosted by the University of Washington – Tacoma, Center for Leadership & Social Responsibility.

Alaska Airlines and their 13,000 employees have four sustainability goals to reach within the next 6 years.

Their  2020 sustainability goals are:

1.  Alaska Airline’s Environmental Goal is to be the domestic industry leader in environmental stewardship.   What that means is reducing exhaust emissions in the air and on the ground plus eliminating waste to landfills.  To do this, Alaska Airlines is reducing fossil fuel energy consumption and is reducing consumption of non-sustainable resources.

Emission reduction strategies can be divided into 3 main categories:

i)   What They Fly – It might surprise you to learn that it takes approximately 15 to 18.8 gallons of fuel  for each passenger (based on 1500-mile average stage length and 100% load factor).  Alaska Airlines has a goal to have the most efficient fleet flying our skies.

 What Alaska Airlines Flies

 To reduce overall fuel consumption, Alaska Airlines is completely revamping the composition of their fleet.  Older, less efficient plans are being replaced by newer, more efficient and lighter planes…. And they are adding unique aerodynamic twists, such as adding “winglets”, blended “winglets”, and something called a “split scimitar winglet”, basically a double “winglet”.  Weight reduction initiatives are making big improvements.

ii)   How They Fly and the Way They Fly – Have you ever wondered why airplanes routes take you up North when flying into Seattle, before turning and beginning the decent into the Seattle Tacoma International Airport?  These are the old routes that were founded on now outdated ground-based navigation systems that use airspace inefficiently.

Sitka Alaska Air Strip

 Due to the unique conditions encountered when flying into and out of the state of Alaska, Alaska Airlines was the first airline to develop GPS-based satellite navigation technologies called Required Navigation Performance, or RNP.   This technology allows for shorter, precise approaches to enhance safety and save fuel.  It might not seem like much, but when you look at the overall fuel savings, this is a huge step in aviation.

Alaska Airlines couples both RNP and another procedure called Optimized Profile Decent, OPD, in a new program called Greener Skies.  Optimized decent provides a gradual approach  to the traditional stair step approach that ultimately requires airliners to constantly speed up, and then slow down.

I’ll never forget a night flight from New York to Seattle.  The route took us so far north that we all enjoyed a fantastic view of the Northern Lights.  That was great for the passengers, but not so much for fuel.   Conventional navigation often includes a wide arching course that is far from a point-to-point flight path.  Contrast that with RNP.  RNP uses GPS to help navigate the plane allowing for more direct routes.

Alaska is the only domestic carrier to have  a 100% RNP-equipped aircraft and 100% trained flight crews.  We may miss flying over Canada on the way to Seattle, but we’ll arrive much faster and Alaska Airlines will use much less fuel.

Alaska Airlines Taxis to Terminal

Once on the ground, Alaska Airlines now taxis to the gate using a single engine at some airports and switches to ground power once at the gate to  provide air conditioning or heat to the cabin versus powering the engines to cool or heat the cabin.

iii)   The Fuel They Use – To reduce emissions even further, Alaska Airlines is migrating to the use of sustainable aviation bio-fuels.  Currently, there have been 75 scheduled bio-fuel fights since Nov 2011.  That might not seem like much, but considering there is no supply chain in place quite yet, Alaska Airlines is leading the way.   Bio-fuels work really well, but are very hard to get and quite costly, in excess of $17/gallon.

They really need a feasible supply chain to be created by the bio-fuel industry to enable further reducing of vehicle emissions.

On the ground, Alaska Airlines is to the first airline to deploy  solar powered boarding ramps.

aircraft680-737-400combi

Alaska Airlines motorized vehicle fleet is already is 22% electric and Horizon’s is 60%.

Alaska Airlines has already reduced their carbon footprint by 31% since 2004 per passenger airline miles.  Alaska is Number 1 on fuel per passenger ranking by the ICCT – International  Council on Clean Transportation.

The problem they face is they are flying a lot more passengers, but perhaps that’s a good problem to have.

Alaska Airlines Recycling

 iv)   Eliminating Waste to Landfills –  What makes recycling a huge challenge for Alaska Airlines is that every municipality they fly into has different rules regarding what they will accept for recycling.

What started out as a grass roots effort among a “green team” has grown into a commitment to cut garbage per passenger.  Alaska Airlines has already cut their per passenger garbage in half and their goal is to reduce garbage by 70% per passenger by 2020.

v)   In-flight Sourcing – Alaska Airlines now buys materials that are used in-flight that can be recycled, reused or composted.

You might not think much about flushing toilet paper down your home toilet, but when you amass toilet paper used by 30 Million people over the course of a year, it adds up to 400,000 pounds of toilet paper (paper towels, and tissue).

All of these in-flight hygiene products are now 100% recycled content, which saves over 665 tons of wood (and $80,000 in expenses) each year.

Alaska Airlines has also gone to 50% recycled content including the plastic coffee cups, which are 100% recyclable and locally designed by Washington State University students.

With the advance of smart phones and the ease of using Alaska Airlines’ app for making flight reservations and checking in at the airport, Alaska has reduced paper.   Now, passengers simply download the mobile app to check in & use as their boarding pass.

2.  Social & Community Commitments – Alaska Airline’s Social Sustainability is focused on embedding ethical labor practices throughout their supply chain, achieving the highest level of safety every day and to become recognized as a great place to build a career, attracting, retaining and advancing diverse employees by supporting educational & economic outcomes in communities in which they live.

Deer in Alaska Air Plane

3.  Financial Sustainability Goals – As seen in other industries, companies that do good, often to very well.  Alaska Airlines has a goal to return above average returns for their owners and value for their customers.  For customers, they want to be the easiest airline in the world to fly.

4.  Philanthropy Goals – Alaska Airlines is well known across the Pacific Northwest and Alaska for their commitment to giving back to the community.    Alaska Airlines’ employees are also encouraged to volunteer.  Their goal is to volunteer 45,000 hours and they “crushed it”, way overachieving last year.

What you may not know is that they also have a very generous “dollars for doers” program, paying nonprofits & schools an hourly rate for each hour their employees volunteer – and it’s a lot!

Alaska Airlines’ philanthropic sustainability goals are focused in several areas:  STEM education, Medical Emergency & Research including, Social Services within the communities they live and work, in-kind airline miles, and Arts & Culture.

Alaska Airlines does a whole lot more than just provide money.  It’s really taking the unique talent in their organization & channeling those unique gifts each employee brings to the table.  Giving back is part of their culture.

So, the next time you fly?   

Remember to pack light, don’t place the peanut pack wrapper inside the pop can before tossing in the recycle or trash (the cans must be empty to be recycled)….

 And most of all, fly on Alaska Airlines – they really do care about our Earth and its people.