Making aviation more sustainable: the role of business travelers
Flightpath host Joel Makower recently spoke with Amelia DeLuca, Vice President of Sustainability at Delta Air Lines, to discuss how to make aviation more sustainable. Part Three of their conversation discusses the role business travelers can play.
Read on for excerpts from their informative sit-down. Please note this transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
Joel Makower: What are you hearing from your corporate customers about what they expect of Delta and other airlines in the coming years from a sustainability perspective?
Amelia DeLuca: I was lucky enough recently to spend a whole day with Delta's top corporate and agency customers in person talking about what the future holds. I was told that I was a little bit of a celebrity because everyone wanted to talk to me about this! You've got people who are managing travel for either corporations, or they lead travel-agency programs or companies, saying, "I love this challenge. I've never been more excited to learn something new." I thought that was a really great testament to the excitement that's coming from the people who are going to lead us through the transition on the business travel side.
Corporations are walking alongside us in this journey in the sense that they're saying, "I'm all in on this." They know Delta is all in on this. But we're all kind of saying, "Okay, what does this look like? How do we build partnerships?" Sustainable aviation-fuel partnerships is a great example of something that happened fast, pretty organically. One corporation said, "Hey, I want to get involved in this” and then you got a whole bunch of other people saying, "Yeah, I'm in on this too." I think we're going to continue to see that evolve as we go, where we find new and creative ways to engage at an enterprise level, as well as directly between the brand and the consumer.
JM: Delta has made some pretty big commitments around buying SAF (sustainable aviation fuel) What's the ask of the business traveler in helping bring along the demand at the rate that we need?
AD: I think the first step within any corporation, at any level, from an individual traveler to an executive to the person who is working in the business travel space, is having educational awareness of what the impact of your business travel is, as well as what the solutions are. We talk a lot about education. Just understand the basics of sustainability, understand your footprint, look at the data, let the data guide you to where your impact is. That transparency is so important. We know our impact as a company. We know other companies know their impact when they travel on us.
Then, the second thing right after that is to say, "Okay, I want to take a step now. It may not achieve my climate goals of 2030 or 2035, but there are things available today for me to take steps." Many corporations are doing that because you see corporations who are also carbon neutral, who are also using offsets. But, in the journey forward, sustainable aviation fuel is the most critical thing that we have to achieve our joint efforts between me as an airline and that corporation who's trying to reduce their business travel emissions.
The ask here, essentially, to our business travel community is to understand that there's a solution available now. There is no reason to stop flying. One, choose your brands. Just like you choose your retail brands, choose your travel brands. Delta's a carbon-neutral airline, that should be a pretty easy choice of who you fly with. And then, if you're looking further, again, to hit those Science Based Targets, to hit your own internal emissions reductions targets, sustainable aviation fuel is there for you. Get in the game now with us because we also want our corporations to be with us to help figure out how we engage on this as we move forward. How do we form new partnerships, how do we talk to consumers about that? That's all in its infancy right now. We want our corporate customers, who are our top partners in everything we do, to be part of this journey, just like they are with everything else.
JM: So, Amelia, who's not at the table who needs to be?
AD: I think the next most important stakeholder in this is our everyday traveler. And it's no fault of their own that they're not thinking about this today, because for the last 18 to 20 months we have told them, "When you fly, we're going to take care of you. We're going to protect your health and safety." In fact, for quite a while we said, "Don't fly unless it's critical to travel unless you're an essential traveler." To intermix messages at that time about the environment, or saving the environment, or how you can participate, it doesn't make sense. What we really wanted to focus on, of course, was to make sure you're masked, make sure you're traveling safely, and make sure we're protecting our crew, our ground staff, as well as that consumer themselves.
Coming out of the pandemic, I am incredibly excited for Delta to have an opportunity to engage our consumers in new and creative ways to say here's how you can help us in this journey, here's what you can do to help us to fly more efficiently. There is so much we can do together when the time is right. But first, with international travel just returning, the main focus right now is how do you manage travel in a post-COVID world, or still in a COVID world. After that, we're going to be asking consumers to hold hands with us.
JM: So, thinking forward a couple of years, what might that consumer experience look like?
AD: I think it's the same step-function process that we think about when we think about businesses engaging in this. The first step is education and awareness. Understand the impact of your traveling habits, understand how this industry is contributing to climate change and the work that they're doing, and be able to make decisions based upon what you know about a brand. If we think about how we changed how we engage when we purchase food with organic food, for example. Or we purchase retail products where we're looking for things made from recycled materials. That takes some education at first to understand, okay, what does this lingo mean? What am I looking for? What does it mean to be a more sustainable airline partner? Carbon neutrality from a Delta perspective is going to be a big push of ours to make sure everyone understands this is what carbon neutrality means. And this is what it means when you choose Delta.
Right behind that, there's a whole series of actions that consumers can take to travel more green. And some of them are super obvious, like bringing your own water bottle, for example. To the things people may not think about, such as the more you pack in your suitcase, the more fuel it is going to burn. It's not a binary solution here. There's a whole host of options that we can say to consumers, "If you do this, it's an opportunity for you to be more sustainable." The way I'd like to see this come to fruition as an industry is to essentially see travelers just traveling in a more conscious effort about the impact that they're having and be given a suite of options as to how they might travel a little bit differently.
JM: That's interesting. Do you think travelers or individual travelers are ready, willing, and able to change the way they travel for environmental reasons?
AD: I look to other industries, and I look to how I've changed my consumption habits. A little bit of information goes a long way when you understand the impact of how your everyday habits can impact our world. There's only going to be more heightened awareness. Again, think about how we've changed how we consume food, and how we compost or recycle in our house. And those are all things that people are choosing to do voluntarily. They're not receiving a reward. They are doing that and, in many instances, we're actually paying for someone to take our compost or our recycling away. And we pay more for our consumer goods that might be more sustainable.
With that as a little bit of a blueprint, we know that consumers are going to be able to be engaged, but I think we're going to learn as we go. If there needs to be ways that we approach it differently in the industry, perhaps by offering incentives or showing that there's a matching here in the sense that Delta's carbon neutral and if you come along with us and do this then you can kind of match our efforts, I think that's where we're going to find a lot of consumer engagement.
JM: You've been in sustainability for a while. How does it feel to be a celebrity all of a sudden?
AD: Well, I think people always regret asking me questions because I can't stop talking about the topic! But in all seriousness, it is inspiring to watch what's happening right now. I always joke with people that you would think it would be almost depressing at times to be in this field. It feels very daunting. Every day we read something else about how the Earth is warming more quickly than we thought, or how governments haven't passed the measures that we need, or how consumers don't care about this as much as we'd like them to be. But every day, each one of us in this space wakes up and says, "What can I do today to make the world a better place and make sure that Delta is also contributing the way that we should?" For me, that's super fulfilling.
Please check back for additional excerpts from this conversation. Part One examined Delta’s sustainability strategy and vision, and Part Two explored the role of sustainable aviation fuel.
Amelia DeLuca, Vice President of Sustainability at Delta Air Lines, explains how business travelers and corporations will play a crucial role in helping the aviation industry become more sustainable by clearly understanding their emissions footprint from flying and then partnering with airlines to reduce that impact.
The pandemic shut down most business travel and while it is starting to rebound, many companies are rethinking their corporate travel policies in response to increasing awareness of the need to act on climate goals. Amelia DeLuca, Vice President of Sustainability at Delta Air Lines, explains how sustainable aviation fuel can help corporations maintain business travel while meeting their emissions targets.
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Facing growing pressure from investors, customers, and regulators to act on the climate challenge, corporations must move swiftly to decarbonize their corporate travel. American Express Global Business Travel’s Vice President of Global Sustainability Nora Lovell Marchant, talks about several steps corporations can take: embracing carbon offsets, investing in sustainable aviation fuel, and working with suppliers that share their sustainability goals.
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