Delta Air Lines Dropped from a Corporate Sustainability Index Despite New Green Efforts

Take change

Delta Air Lines unveils new amenity packages, eye masks and new wine selections served in aluminum cans. But in the cutthroat world of sustainability competition, Delta may be doing its best to get back on a list of sustainability leaders that was scrapped last fall.

Ted Reed

In the airline industry’s ongoing race to demonstrate a commitment to sustainability, Delta Air Lines has unveiled a range of new cabin products with environmental benefits, including a reduction in plastic use.

Starting this month, Delta will focus on reducing single-use plastic consumption by approximately 4.9 million pounds per year, roughly the weight of 1,500 standard-sized cars.

The reduction will be achieved through the use of new bamboo utensils, amenity sets, eye masks made from regenerated cotton and sustainably grown wine packaged in aluminum cans instead of plastic containers.

The new amenity kits, which will be introduced on board from February, will eliminate single-use plastic items such as zippers and packaging, reducing the use of plastic by up to £90,000 a year. Each kit includes a bamboo toothbrush, an eye mask made from regenerated cotton and natural lip balm that will be packaged in an aluminum package from April.

Nevertheless, Delta has been removed from the Dow Jones Sustainability North America Composite Index, a list it had been on since April 2013. The airline was scrapped in November.

Neither Delta nor Index spokesmen will say why. Also in November, American Airlines replaced Delta on the list.

“The DJSI North America represents the top 20% of the largest 600 North American companies in the S&P Global broad market index based on long-term economic, environmental and social criteria,” S&P Dow Jones Indices said in a prepared statement.

“There is a 30 percent buffer rule for existing supporters to minimize turnover,” the statement said. “So if an existing constituent is removed from the index, the S&P Global (Environmental, Social and Governance) Score was no longer in the top 30% of its peers.” A 28-page methodology summary notes that each quarter, companies whose score falls by more than 0.6 points can be removed from the index.

Look how green we are

Sustainability announcements are becoming more common in the airline industry.

In December, Delta bedding is made from recycled plastic bottles and packaged in reusable packaging. Delta is also introducing two aluminum canned wines, a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Chardonnay, from Imagery Estate Winery in Sonoma. Using aluminum cans will eliminate up to 250,000 pounds of plastic annually.

Last week, for example, Etihad Airways announced a new green loyalty program that allows passengers to compensate not only their flights, but even how much they drive and their air conditioning use.

Like Etihad, all three U.S. airlines have committed to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. Of the three, United has been the most vocal about its environmental initiatives. On December 1, United Airlines flew a Boeing 737 Max from Chicago to Washington, powered by sustainable aviation fuels made from cooking oil, agricultural waste and other sources.

“We are embracing a new goal of being 100 percent green by 2050 by reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by 100 percent,” CEO Scott Kirby said in a statement on the carrier’s website. “And we’re not going to get there with flashy, empty gestures, but by taking the harder, better road to actually reduce emissions from flies.”

Delta spokesman Morgan Durrant said on Thursday that Delta has taken several steps toward sustainability in addition to its new cabin products. For example, last year Delta joined an alliance to measure sustainable aviation fuel emissions data in September. In December, Delta also hired the industry’s first sustainability director.

“It’s not just about promotion,” Durrant said. “It’s about taking action to do the right thing and we believe our customers don’t have to choose between saving the world and seeing it. There is room to do both and we should do both.”

‘Delta thrown away by the way’

No one has publicly announced Delta’s removal. Last week, however, the aviation industry website View from The Wing reported that American Airlines CEO Doug Parker stated in a January 20 employee meeting that American had been added to the Dow Jones Sustainability North America Index and that Delta had been removed.

“Dow Jones goes ahead and selects companies that they believe represent the best in each industry in terms of sustainability and they added American Airlines to that index — Delta threw it out, by the way — and put us in it,” Parker said, according to the website. .

American made an announcement when it was added to the index in November. “The recognition is a testament to the airline’s continued commitment to environmental, social and governance (ESG) excellence, including reducing carbon emissions from its operations; promoting diversity, equity and inclusion; and providing regular and transparent ESG disclosures,” the airline said, noting it was the only U.S. passenger airline on the list.

The list also includes five foreign airlines: Air France/KLM, China Airlines, LATAM Airlines Group and the Japanese airlines ANA and Japan Air Lines.

Perhaps the most important element in an airline’s carbon emission levels is the age of its fleet, as newer aircraft are the most efficient. In this area, American leads its American colleagues: the average age of the main fleet is 11.3 years.

According to company spokespersons, the average age of the main fleet is 13 years for Southwest, 13.9 years for Delta and 16.5 years for United.

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