“Corporations are walking alongside us in this journey,” Amelia DeLuca, Delta’s Vice President of Sustainability, said in an interview.

The first thing companies need to do is understand the emissions impact of their business travel along with possible solutions, DeLuca said in an interview with Joel Makower, Editor of Greenbiz.com.

“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,” she said. “Sustainable aviation-fuel partnerships is a great example of something that happened fast, pretty organically. 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.”

Getting in the game with SAF

Aviation faces a steep challenge in its goal to decarbonise. Passenger traffic is expected to double over the next 20 years and experts say there is no easy solution to mitigating the sector’s emissions. Unlike with other forms of transport, electric or hydrogen-powered aircraft are decades away. Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is a reality today but needs more support from customers, investors, and policymakers to scale more rapidly.

Delta has embraced sustainability as a core part of its business strategy. In 2012, the Atlanta, Georgia-based airline committed to capping its emissions at that year’s level, then followed that in 2020 with a pledge to be carbon neutral. Delta has also emerged as a big buyer of SAF and will begin taking delivery of more than 303 million litres (80 million gallons) in 2024, compared to 11 million litres (3 million gallons) a year now, DeLuca said.

“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,” she said. “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.”

Raising awareness, changing behaviors

As the world emerges from the pandemic with renewed ambitions to travel, Delta will start engaging business and leisure travelers about how to fly more sustainably, DeLuca said.

“I think the next most important stakeholder in this is our everyday traveler,” she said. “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.”

DeLuca pointed to changing consumer behaviors in other areas of sustainability, such as recycling or composting, or researching climate-friendly brands.

“Those are all things that people are choosing to do voluntarily. They're not receiving a reward. 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,” she said.

DeLuca said her conversations with corporate customers have her feeling optimistic despite the daunting task ahead.

“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?’ For me, that's super fulfilling.”

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