Airlines are usually in the business of filling up their planes with passengers, not telling prospective fliers to reconsider air travel. But in a June 29 open letter from CEO Pieter Elbers, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines did just that, asking its readers to make “responsible decisions about flying.”
The letter is part of the airline’s larger “Fly Responsibly” program, which was launched in June 2019 with the aim of helping to make air travel more sustainable. (Flying is terrible for the environment, with the aviation industry alone making up 2 percent of global carbon emissions.) Already, KLM stands out for its eco-friendly efforts: The airline recycles 14 kinds of waste on each flight, upcycles old uniforms for cabin carpeting, has paper-free cockpits, and maintains electric vehicles on the ground. The airline today also uses fuel that’s 57 times more sustainable than what it used in 2011; with SkyNRG, it is currently developing the first sustainable fuel plant in the Netherlands, to be located in the city of Delfzijl.
The airline is quick to point out that sometimes, traveling by train or other modes of transportation is faster and more environmentally friendly than flying, especially in Europe—between Brussels and Amsterdam, for example, which takes around two hours. In addition to exploring other ground-based travel options, the airline encourages travelers to purchase carbon offsets through KLM’s CO2ZERO program, which contributes to reforestation in Panama. (Fliers can select to opt in to CO2ZERO when booking their flight or via the KLM app.) The airline also suggests packing light—less weight equals less fuel consumption—and staying at eco-friendly properties.
Although other airlines haven’t gone quite so far as to suggest reconsidering flying, KLM isn’t the only carrier committed to making a difference. As we explored in our Carbon Offsets: 101 primer, major U.S. airlines are now making serious moves when it comes to offsetting carbon: Delta has pledged to keep its carbon emissions to 2012 levels via the purchase of offsets, and last September, United became the first U.S. airline to commit to cutting its emissions by half come 2050, which it will accomplish by adding more fuel-efficient planes and expanding their use of biofuels.