The British airline – which returned a profit for the first time in three years in 2014 – said the results showed that “increased profitability and reduced environmental impact can go hand in hand”.

The firm’s latest CSR report showed that emissions intensity, or CO2 per kilometre flown, is now down by 10% since a 2007 baseline, putting Virgin Atlantic on track to meet its 2020 target of a 30% reduction.

Virgin said the success can be attributed to a $7bn investment in new fuel-efficient aircraft, including the Boeing Dreamliner, which is about 30% more efficient than the aircraft it is replacing.

Virgin Atlantic CEO Craig Kreeger said: “Our latest sustainability figures show that profitability can be de-coupled from carbon, which is fantastic news for our airline and our industry. Last year we successfully delivered on our recovery plan, posting a profit for the year ending December 2014, and we are now looking to an even more sustainable future, in every sense of the word.”

Industry action

Air travel emits more than 650 million metric tons of carbon pollution each year – nearly the amount emitted by 136 million cars. The aviation industry has committed to hold its carbon emissions steady after 2020 and cut net carbon emissions to half of the 2005 level by 2050. 

A recent report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found that biofuels would be crucial in reaching these targets – an area which Virgin Atlantic says it is fully committed to.

Since 2011, it has been working with LanzaTech to develop a fuel derived from waste carbon monoxide from heavy industry, which would have 60% lower emissions than conventional kerosene.

“We’re doing all we can to make sure this sustainable aviation fuel becomes a commercial reality,” said the report. “This is the first development of its kind, so getting it just right takes a bit of time.”

On the ground…

While aircraft fuel is the main priority, since it accounts for 99% of Virgin Atlantic’s direct carbon impact, the company has also reduced energy use across UK office by 23% since 2008-09, and sources 99% of office energy from renewable sources.

On waste, the airline diverted 92% of its ground waste from landfill. This includes food waste which is sent to anaerobic digesters, while aircraft waste is recycled where possible. One recent initiative has seen seat foams recycled into carpet underlay.

Brad Allen

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