In The Americas

Published on May 25th, 2008 | by Levi Novey

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LAN Airlines Attempts to Fly Toward Greener Skies, Nearly Crashes

Green seats on an airplaneHave you ever heard of LAN airlines? If you haven’t ever traveled to South or Central America, then probably not. Here though, LAN is one of the big boys.

They recently sent us a press release announcing that they were the first airline in Latin America to sign the IATA’s Green Aviation Partners agreement, which will commit the company to reducing carbon dioxide emissions through various methods. At first I thought, that’s good. That’s very good. Then I thought, “so just what is the Green Aviation Partners agreement? And who is the IATA? Am I buying into a greenwashing effort by LAN Airlines?”

Getting back to that press release, LAN claims that the Green Aviation Partners agreement

includes 10 initiatives among which is the incorporation of environmental criteria in daily decision-making; use optimization of resources with available technology, focusing on the use of environmental management systems and eco-efficient programs; the promotion of research, development and implementation of innovative solutions in order to decrease the environmental footprint, among others.

The first step will be the donation of 500 trees, to be planted in Calan Hill in Santiago.

What? 500 trees is the first step? How lame is that? Fortunately, LAN impressed me a little more with the following information:

For several years now, LAN Airlines has been carrying out environmental conservation measures. One of the most important of these is its fleet renewal program. This program started in 2000 and, so far, 38 new Airbus A320s have been added to its fleet. These aircraft consume less fuel, enabling LAN to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by approximately 10%. Once the withdrawal of the Boeing 737-200s from the short haul fleet has been finalized, during the upcoming months, this reduction will reach 15%.

Ok, so this sounds like a more reasonable and meaningful effort to me to reduce carbon emissions.

But this got me wondering, how does LAN compare to other airlines with its new green initiative? I first checked out Delta, the goliath that hails from my home state of Georgia. Their website had no obvious information about green initiatives. Eventually I found their very cool Delta blog (it’s raining sarcasm in Peru right now) that had five tips “in honor of Earth Day” for making “a positive impact on the environment.” They also mentioned their “industry-leading recycling program.” After clicking the link for more information, I learned that through recycling they had saved “roughly 192 trees” and “enough cans to build a Boeing 747.”

Next, I looked at Southwest Airline’s webpage. I expected Southwest to have some respectable environmental commitment given their cheaper tickets and clever advertising campaign. Nope. Nothing. Although, I will share with you all this wonderful segment that introduces Southwest’s mission statement.

It seems de rigueur now for every company to have a mission statement, a necessity similar to issuing an annual report. As an early adopter—we wrote our current version in January 1988—I guess we’re partly to blame for the trend.

No, Southwest, were are not laughing at you. We are laughing with you.

Perhaps the most useful thing to come out of my “research” was an understanding that most airlines consider themselves to have a “green initiative” if they simply ask you to buy your own carbon offsets. Let me write that again. If you buy carbon offsets for yourself when you fly on Delta, then you have made Delta’s green initiative a success.

There’s nothing wrong with buying carbon offsets for ourselves to help counter our own use of planes for travel. But it’s terrible that so many airlines now consider themselves to be doing the world a favor by suggesting that we use these programs as part of their environmental efforts. What are the airlines really doing to help curtail global warming?

Me personally, I think I’ve planted at least ten trees in my lifetime. From my calculations, that’s roughly 2% of LAN airlines “first step.” I might not be an industry-leader, but I bet I rank around #3.

At least LAN airlines bucked the trend and didn’t suggest that part of its green initiative was to “permit” customers to buy their own carbon offsets. For this reason, I give them a little bit more respect. I guess only time will tell if their new green initiative is for real, or if it is simply another set of dirty laundry to throw in the greenwasher.

Related on the GO Network:

Summer Travel Turns up the (Global) Heat by Courtney Carlisle

Airlines Losing Climate Change PR Battle? by Maria Surma Manka

Red, Green & Blue: How Do We Cut Airline Emissions? by Shirley Siluk Gregory

Airbus A380 First to Fly with Alternative Fuel by Max Lindberg

Continental, Boeing Schedule Biofuel Test Flight for 2009 by Clayton B. Cornell

Fly the Greener Skies by Alicia Erickson

Additional Reading:

Greenwashed! How to spot the travel industry’s eco-lies by Christopher Elliot

Photo Credit: Michael W. Hays on Flickr under a Creative Commons license




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About the Author

Levi Novey is a conservation professional who has received a bachelor's degree in History from Tufts University and a master's degree in Conservation Social Sciences from the University of Idaho. He worked for the U.S. National Park Service for 10 years, as a park ranger in 6 national parks, as a social science researcher in 5 parks, and as the science communicator for a Natural Resource Inventory and Monitoring Network that serves 9 parks. He has authored several scholarly papers as well as several guidebooks to U.S. national parks. Levi also has taught an undergraduate Environmental Communication Skills course at the University of Idaho, won several photography contests, and regularly enjoys visits to parks, protected areas, historical sites, museums-- and just about anywhere where he can learn something new about the world. He currently lives in Peru, with his wife Alicia, and their daughter Coral.



  • http://www.keyboard-culture-global-warming.com Mr. Sustainable

    Chile is one of those places which need as much help from big business as possible to retain its forests. If an airline can help, even by baby steps, let’s direct their good will where it will be most effective.

    Regarding Delta, you are correct that their website is not nearly as out-front as it could be with the company’s environmental initiatives. However, they were the first US-based airline to make a bold statement about green issues. What I’d like to see is a “fly carbon neutral” link featured prominently on the site the way Qantas has on its site.

    If we keep pressing home the truth to these companies, eventually, it will stick.

  • http://www.talkclimatechange.com Mark

    All airlines continuously try to reduce fuel consumption since fuel is thier biggest cost. This is why through continuous fleet renewal (each new generation of aircraft usually makes a significant contribution to fuel economy) most airlines have achieved improvements of close to 70% over the past 30 years.

    In comparison to almost any other airline in the world LAN’s performance in this regard is average at best. Their press release is pure PR hot air, and not very clever PR at that.

  • http://Web Robert

    There is a company called GREENHORIZON Aviation that ranks airlines on their environmental footprint.

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