Green Living: Flying Greener

I have traveled a lot this year, both within India and abroad. My personal carbon footprint on a day-to-day basis is pretty great but all this flying has made it stratospheric. Yes, I have used carbon offsets but I have several gripes with offset programs - more on this later. As a normally ethical consumer, I would like to extend my green living into travelling better. This is one of my early resolutions for the New Year.

We all know why flying is bad for the environment. But with the advent of cheaper flights, more airlines offering quick holiday getaways, it is hard to resist. Work requires travel and it is becoming more mobile as well, all a result of globalization. After doing a bit of research, I found a list of green airlines. Earlier this year, 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 topped the list and this is primarily because its fleet is new and extremely fuel efficient. They have also introduced biofuels on several flights  and have installed winglets on its planes which lead to better fuel efficiency ]They have a recycling program that airms to divert 50% of its waste by 2012 and they only serve Fairtrade coffee. They also offer their passengers a carbon offsetting options and the projects they source revolves around renewable energy.

Alaska and Continental Airlines made the list as well. Alaska received top marks for fuel conservation, recycling and green building efforts. Delta, Jet Blue, Southwest, American, Northwest, United and US Airways all figured on the list. Jet Blue are working towards reducing their ecological footprint by eliminating disposable headsets, idling their planes less, shrinking the size of their boarding documents and recycling fuel.

Southwest have paperless tickets, fuel-saving winglets, fleet-wide advanced avionics and other eco-friendly upgrades. They are the EPA’s Blue Skyways Collaborative Partner and have won several environmental awards since 1995. They save 274 million pounds of CO2 per million flights. They recycle oil and even work to reduce noise.

Flying with fossil fuels is still not an ethical consumer's best way to travel. However, flying from Los Angeles to New York has a lower carbon footprint than driving the same distance, for example.  According to Greenopia founder and CEO Gay Browne, "It's a dilemma. People are going to travel. Whatever method they chose will impact the planet. Our readers want to know how to get to their destination with the smallest environmental footprint, especially if they are boarding a jumbo jet."

I write this at a time when people are likely to be travelling  for Thanksgiving and Christmas. But regardless of whether you are travelling for business or pleasure, keep in mind these airlines to make a greener choice.