Delta Air Lines Budgeting $30M To Offset 2020 Carbon Emissions

Delta Air Lines sunset
Credit: Delta Air Lines

Delta Air Lines said it will budget more than $30 million to offset 13 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted in the last 10 months of 2020.

Atlanta-based Delta committed in March 2020 to achieve carbon neutrality through a combination of short-term offsets and longer-term investments in sustainable technologies. To that end, the airline has assembled a portfolio of projects to offset its emissions for the period beginning last March and extending through 2020’s end. 

The carbon offset projects include sizable investments in forest conservation efforts in Bolivia and Cambodia, which Delta said will support a combined half million acres while preventing the release of 5 million metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere annually. Altogether, the company estimates its offsets for the March-December 2020 period are equivalent to the carbon sequestered by 17 million acres of forest, or enough to cover the state of West Virginia.

“As Delta invests in future technologies, carbon offsets are a viable, proven and immediate way to make an impact today,” Delta VP strategic corporate initiatives Sue Kolloru said in a statement. “Our offset projects are making a measurable and meaningful difference by protecting forests, conserving wildlife and helping communities develop around the world.”

In addition to the offsets, Delta has set a medium-term goal to replace 10% of its jet fuel with sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) by 2030. As part of this commitment, the carrier has agreed to purchase a future supply of 70 million gallons of SAF annually beginning in the middle of the decade. That sum includes 10 million gallons from Colorado-based SAF provider Gevo from 2024, and 60 million gallons from Oregon-based Northwest Advanced Bio-Fuels beginning in 2025.

Longer-term, Delta said it will invest in new technologies related to carbon sequestration and storage and propulsion technology—including fuel cells and hydrogen propulsion—although the company did not provide more specifics about what form those investments may take.

“We must continue to take immediate actions today and can’t wait for future solutions to become a reality,” Delta CEO Ed Bastian said. “While there are many paths to carbon neutrality, Delta chose to make an impact today and invest in a future where aviation itself becomes cleaner for the world around us.”

Bastian also said Delta looks forward to partnering with more corporate customers to invest in SAF, following a recent deal that will see consulting firm Deloitte pay a premium to purchase SAF fuel credits that power select Delta flights. 

“This is not a competition,” Bastian said. “Uniting across industries to create a more sustainable future is imperative. The more that join us on this mission, the better.”

The investments by Delta come as U.S. carriers work to align themselves behind U.S. President Joe Biden’s stated focus on combating climate change. On March 4, the CEOs of the country’s largest carriers—including American Airlines, Delta, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines—met virtually with U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to discuss issues related to sustainability, Reuters first reported. 

Other carriers are also making big investments in sustainability. In February, United Airlines announced an order for 200 four-seat eVTOL air taxis under development by California-based startup Archer Aviation, which the companies say could potentially power select regional and short-haul routes following initial deliveries expected in 2024. 

Ben Goldstein

Based in Boston, Ben covers advanced air mobility and is managing editor of Aviation Week Network’s AAM Report.