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Virgin, Continental Fly High in Green Airlines Rankings

<p>The latest rankings of the airline sector from Greenopia find wide differences among how many environmental initiatives airlines are undertaking, with room for improvement the only consistent element.</p>

Greenopia today released its latest rankings of the airline sector, finding wide differences among how many environmental initiatives airlines are undertaking, with room for improvement the only consistent element.

Virgin earned the highest score overall, the only airline to earn four leaves from in the website's ranking system, while Alaska and Continental each earned three leaves. The laggards in the rankings were Northwest, United and US Airways, each with one leaf.

The rankings incorporate six elements:

• Adoption of Fuel Conservation Practices
• Progress on Alternative Fuel Types
• Recycling Programs
• Green Food Options
• Green Building Design
• Carbon Offsets

Virgin, with the newest -- and therefore most fuel efficient -- fleet in the nation, is well poised to take the lead, although Continental earned praise as well despite having an average fleet age of nine years, compared to two years for Virgin.

Here's what Greenopia has to say about Virgin's green efforts:

Virgin is positioning itself as a green leader in air travel and its actions back up its claims.... Virgin installs winglets on its planes which lead to better fuel efficiency (and therefore fewer emissions). Virgin has made progress with biofuels and has even done several flights with planes solely powered by biofuels. Virgin has a comprehensive recycling program and hopes to divert 50 percent of its waste by 2012. Many airlines have yet to add any environmental or ethically sourced food options, but Virgin has risen to the challenge and serves only fair trade coffee. Virgin offers passengers the ability to offset their carbon footprint when flying and the projects they source are good mostly revolving around green energy generation. Lastly, Virgin has solid environmental reporting on its website.

Continental earned points for its efforts to use biofuels for flights, as well as the quality of its corporate reporting. Greenopia creates its rankings using publicly available data, especially corporate reporting information, in order to create the rankings, so airlines that publicly reported data fared better in the rankings overall. 

Alaska Airlines also received praise for its flying practices, part of a "Greener Skies" program launched in 2009. Greenopia's ranking reads: "Alaska Airlines has retrofitted its planes with winglets and practices several fuel saving techniques such as single engine taxiing, Required Navigation Performance, and Continuous Decent Approach which help minimize the plane's overall impact."

The list's laggards, United, US Airways, and Northwest, fall short for a number of reasons, largely due to fledgling or far from comprehensive green initiatives. US Airways, for example, lost points for minimal in-flight recycling, failing to offer any green food options for meals, not building any terminals to green standards, and not offering any options for carbon offsets for passengers.

The full list of rankings is below; for more details about the list and individual airlines' scores, visit


Name Average Fleet Age Rating
Virgin 2 yrs 4 leaves
Alaska Airlines 6 yrs 3 leaves
Continental 9 yrs 3 leaves
Delta 14 yrs 2 leaves
Jet Blue 3 yrs 2 leaves
Southwest 14 yrs 2 leaves
American 15 yrs 1 leaf
Northwest 12 yrs 1 leaf
United 13 yrs 1 leaf
US Airways 12 yrs 1 leaf


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