U.S. and Europe’s most eco airlines revealed

U.S. and Europe’s most eco airlines revealed

Two airlines stand out in Greenopia’s fourth annual eco airlines study, but elsewhere there’s still room for improvement
richard branson virgin america
Sir Richard Branson enjoying his airline's hospitality.

Virgin America has been declared the most environmentally friendly airline in the United States for the fourth year running and Air France the most eco in Europe.

The report, released May 8, 2012 by U.S.-based eco directory site Greenopia, is the fourth in a series of annual reports ranking airlines on various eco credentials, including:

  • Fuel conservation practices
  • Progress on alternative fuel types
  • Recycling programs
  • Green food options
  • Green building design
  • Carbon offsets

Scroll down for full list of airlines

Virgin America aircraftVirgin America led the field in the United States by some way.

Virgin America takes four in a row

“For the fourth straight year, Virgin American was the greenest overall airline in the U.S. (by a considerable margin),” the report said. “It has one of the youngest and most efficient fleets around. They are a leader in in-flight food offerings, recycling, and biofuel research … and offer some of the best carbon offsets.”

Other U.S. airlines awarded “leafs” for their eco efforts included Alaska Airlines, United, JetBlue and Delta.

The most improved airline from last year’s guide was United, who earned three out of four Greenopia leafs and placed third overall.

But the U.S. airlines’ efforts regarding carbon efforts could be better, said Gay Browne, founder of Greenopia. “Offsets in particular are a great way to mitigate some of the impact from traveling, but have not really taken off in the U.S. as they have in Europe.”

Air France eco airlineAir France won praise but Europe in general needs to improve its reporting of eco initiatives.

Air France takes top Europe spot

In Europe, Air France was praised for its “incredible reporting, strong commitments to biofuels and recycling, and carbon offsets.”

It was the first time non-U.S. based airlines were covered by the study. 

The report said: “Air France’s score is only slightly below Virgin America in the US, which is especially impressive given how much larger of an airline Air France is.”

The report uses a system of one, two, three or four leafs to represent an airline’s eco-friendliness, with one leaf characterizing “a solid light green commitment” and four leafs characterizing “best in class.”

Doug Mazeffa, research director at Greenopia and author of the report, praised European airlines for offering carbon offsets more frequently that their U.S. counterparts “and on average had a stronger commitment to biofuels.”

But he said European airlines tended to be weaker in terms of environmental reporting, especially in regards to carbon efficiencies and recycling rates. 

“Their fleets also tended to be younger on average. All things considered, the scores were very similar to that of the US Airlines.”

In general, Mazeffa said the airline industry was one of the best improving industries in terms of eco friendliness in the world. “Airlines really should be commended for the progress they have made across the board as no company is really way behind the curve unlike most industries we study.”

See the online report here

Most eco U.S. airlines

Virgin America – 4 Leafs
Alaska Airlines – 3 Leafs
United – 3 Leafs
Jet Blue – 3 Leafs
Delta – 3 Leads
US Airways – 2 Leafs
Southwest – 2 Leafs
Air Canada – 1 Leaf
American Airlines – 1 Leaf

Most eco European airlines

Air France – 4 Leafs
Lufthansa – 3 Leafs
British Airways – 3 Leafs
Virgin Atlantic – 3 Leafs
EasyJet – 3 Leafs
Cathay Pacific – 2 Leafs
RyanAir – 2 Leafs
SAS – 1 Leaf
Air New Zealand – 1 Leaf
Aer Lingus – 1 Leaf

As senior producer for CNN Travel, James commissions stories, writes for, edits and manages the homepage of the site. 

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