Dec 20, 2013

Choosing Greener Airlines: Seattle's Alaska Airlines Pushes For Sustainability

Photo Credit: Flickr user Ken Lund via CC
Traveling for the holidays? It’s wonderful to be able to visit family or escape to a special place. If you are going to travel, and you are sustainability minded, why not take a look at factors other than price to choose your airline ticket?

Seattle’s own Alaska Airlines is an industry leader in overall energy efficiency. They recently took the top spot in the International Council on Clean Transportation’s ranking of US Airline fuel efficiency. The report rated many factors, including ground transport, airplane design, seating occupancy, and logistics. Surprisingly, there is a 26% gap in efficiency between the top-ranked airline (Alaska) and the bottom ranked (Allegiant).

Aviation Biofuels

Another factor to think about when choosing an airline is sustainability innovation. The Sustainable Aviation Fuels Northwest (SAFN) is a group of diverse stakeholders exploring the possibility of creating an aviation biofuels industry in the Northwest.  With the region’s natural resources, technologies, political will, and citizen support, this is a viable goal. In 2011, Alaska Air, a SAFN participant, stepped up and demonstrated commitment to being a biofuel customer.

Over the course of three weeks, in 2011, Alaska and Horizon Air powered 75 flights on routes to Washington DC and Portland with a 20 percent biofuel blend. When we asked about these flights, Carol Sim, Alaska Airlines' Environmental Affairs Director, shared that this was done to essentially say, “If you make it, we will buy it.” This action demonstrates the viability of biofuel use as well as providing commercial support for the product. 

As reported in The Seattle Times, "The airline had to search hard for enough supply to cover 75 flights." And although cost of the biofuel was six times more than conventional fuel, the point was to demonstrate that there is a market for the product. Also as reported in the The Seattle Times, if Alaska Airlines ran their cleaner, greener flights for a whole year, it would be the equivalent of removing 64,000 vehicles off the road. As innovation and further development move technologies forward, costs are expected to come down significantly, making aviation biofuels a real possibility in the Northwest and worldwide.

If you’re traveling this month and do decide to choose a greener airline carrier, let them know you appreciate their steps toward sustainability. Your feedback fuels their commitments towards changing industry standards- it also pumps up others to take a look at more than just price when booking their next trip too.


  1. Immense green kudos to Alaska Air!! Your executive staff must have a huge buy-in from the Board to both talk the talk and then fly the skies sustainably. Virgin Air is moving this direction as Sir Branson likes to make headlines but to do this just to become more protective of the commons is a powerful public statement.