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How the travel industry is embracing sustainability

The pandemic has not caused the travel and hospitality industry to lose sight of sustainability. Major airlines and hotel chains are still paving the way for a better future -- whether it’s sustainable aviation fuel or relying more on LED lighting in hotels, the best of the best in the travel and hospitality industry are taking steps to reduce their carbon footprint.  

Greener skies  

In a recent commitment to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, Airlines for America (A4A), the industry trade organization representing most of the U.S.’s major airlines, aims to make sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) widely available by 2030. In September 2020, the Air Transport Action Group released a sustainability plan that hinges on making SAF widely available and used.  

JetBlue is the first American airline to achieve carbon neutrality; they have done so by prioritizing fuel efficiency and using sustainable aviation fuel to reduce the company’s environmental impact. The airline also invests in carbon offsetting, which is an opportunity for individuals or organizations to finance carbon reduction programs to compensate for carbon emissions. 

"Today, ultimately, we need liquid fuels. The good news is, it doesn't have to be fossil fuels. Sustainable aviation fuel exists. It is well-proven. Airlines have been flying on it for some time, including JetBlue," said Sara Bogdan, JetBlue’s head of sustainability, in a PBS interview

Alongside JetBlue, Boeing, the world’s second-largest airplane manufacturer, pledged to have all of its aircraft able to fly on 100% sustainable fuels by 2030 as well.  

"Sustainable aviation fuels are proven, used every day, and have the most immediate and greatest potential to reduce carbon emissions in the near and long term when we work together as an industry," said Boeing Chief Sustainability Officer Chris Raymond

Alaska Airlines CEO Ben Minicucci said the airline is researching electric-powered aircraft and the technology will be an essential piece of aviation sustainability efforts in the future. Electric aircraft are "going to come in more rapidly in the next decade than you think," Minicucci said, beginning with aircraft carrying five to 10 passengers and "then moving into the bigger regional market."  

As travel by air increases and COVID-19 hopefully becomes a problem of the past, airlines are more focused than ever on achieving environmentally-friendly measures. LanzaTech CEO Jennifer Holmgren told the Atlantic Council’s 2021 Global Energy Forum: “I think sustainable aviation fuel is a key way to bend the carbon curve and do something in the aviation industry now.”  

The shift has political support, with U.S. President Joe Biden pushing for a tax credit for sustainable aviation fuel that will support aviation industry efforts to shift toward sustainable fuel. A4A helped craft that policy and supports a credit of up to $2 per gallon as a way to further develop the market for sustainable aviation fuel. 

United Airlines’ Eco-Skies Alliance recruits companies to purchase millions of gallons of sustainable aviation fuel, with current participants including Nike, Palantir, Siemens and Takeda Pharmaceuticals. 

"While we've partnered with companies for years to help them offset their flight emissions, we applaud those participating in the Eco-Skies Alliance for recognizing the need to go beyond carbon offsets and support SAF-powered flying, which will lead to more affordable supply and ultimately, lower emissions," said United CEO Scott Kirby in a company release. 

Greener Hotels 

The shift toward sustainability goes beyond air travel as millennial and Generation Z travelers increasingly seek out hotel brands that prioritize sustainability, and many hotels are incorporating sustainability into design and operations in order to stay relevant going forward. Several hotel brands have been keeping these travelers in mind for years now. 

“Many properties already use sustainable systems such as condensate capture for irrigation and fountains, lower-flow water fixtures, LED lighting and local control over guestroom mechanical systems,” writes hospitality consultant Pete Chalfant

A recent survey by GlobalData finds that hotels are eager to address the issue of food waste by reducing and recycling. 

“When it comes to environmental policies, there are plenty of initiatives to address climate change and reducing carbon footprint, but the same level of attention is not given to the increasingly pressing issue of food wastage,” said GlobalData’s Ralph Hollister in a release about the survey. “This increases operating expenses for the likes of hotels and weakens green credentials.” 

Hotel booking portal HRS is incorporating sustainability scores for hotels. These scores will let corporate travel managers and individuals include sustainability in selection criteria. The HRS formula takes into account such factors as energy and water consumption and waste disposal practices. 

"It's a mega-trend; there is great new momentum and acceleration in the space," said HRS Chief Product Officer Martin Biermann in a Business Travel News article. A survey by the company finds many travelers are interested in sustainability, including reducing water usage and using single-use plastic bottles for shampoo and soap.  

The pandemic hasn’t slowed down these efforts. In fact, it’s had the opposite effect -- over the last year, the hotel industry has had the time to increase sustainability initiatives. Touchless technology, for example, has become more popular than ever, which is more energy efficient and doesn’t waste paper. Marriott started using EPA-approved electrostatic sprayers similar to those used by airlines to disinfect rooms and other large areas, as well as UV light technology to clean. These actions reduced the spread of harmful chemicals released by outdated cleaning products.

Airlines and hotels not only want to leave smaller carbon footprints, but ensure their customers’ needs are met. Booking.com found that over half of the world’s travelers make sustainability a high priority, and about 70% of travelers are more likely to make eco-friendly bookings. Thanks to new innovations and changes in the travel industry, these mindful travelers will find more airlines and hotels that live up to their standards in the future.

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