American Airlines Carbon Offsets but Delays Commitment to Carbon Neutrality

By Jazmin Murphy | Updated on September 15, 2021

Airlines for America, a group of companies committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from air travel, (A4A) has come up with a plan for companies to become carbon neutral, like having American Airlines carbon offsets offered to passengers.Scientists agree that excessive carbon dioxide emissions — spewed by combustible engines, like those in jets — are contributing to climate change.6

To put in perspective, one flight between Montreal and London emits the same amount of carbon emissions as an entire year of heating a European home.6

Member airlines are working hard to achieve a balance with the environment… but American Airlines was not one of A4A’s companies to commit to the net-zero carbon neutrality plan. Many people wonder what this company is doing to reduce its negative impact on the planet.

The answer may surprise you…

American Airlines plane on tarmack.

Does American Airlines Have a Carbon Offset Plan?

Following their own path, American Airlines veered from the world’s leading aviation companies to declare its own carbon offsets and CO2 mitigation programs, known as “Cool Effect.”

With these carbon offsets, American Airlines takes actions that would sequester CO2 from the atmosphere, meaning carbon dioxide is sucked out of the air and stored somewhere. This is often done by planting trees, which store CO2 for growing its trunk and other parts, but also through renewable energy, methane capture, and other projects aimed at mitigating CO2 emissions.

Mitigating these emissions is the key to combating climate change. While many sectors are working to curb their emissions, aviation’s have continued to grow because flying is going up 5% a year, while efficiency improvements have only grown by 1-2%.6

Because of this, the airline industry’s CO2 emissions increased by 75% from 1990 to 2012, and it’s expected to continue to grow rapidly until 2050. If no new, drastic, changes are made, the industry could consume a quarter of the available carbon budget.6

Luckily, you can offset the carbon dioxide cost of your flight yourself, using ecological offsets aimed towards immediate relief for the environment, animals, and the climate.

An 8 Billion Trees graphic of popular airline's commitment to carbon neutrality, with American airlines only having .1% of total scope of emissions.

Note: Scope 1 emissions (and Scope 2 and 3) are terms used to divide the emissions generated by any operation. Scope 1 pertain to all direct emissions, like those that are generated by burning fuel in an engine, and that occur through sources (like planes or trucks) that are owned and operated by a specific organization. Scope 2 emissions are those generated by indirect operations, like buying electricity or heating, while Scope 3 emissions are used to describe all the other indirect emissions generated by a business operation.

What Does Cool Effect Do?

Although air flight has revolutionized the world’s connectivity in ways that human predecessors would never have dreamed, it has also has a tremendous impact on Earth’s climate.

Globally, flights emitted 912 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (~1,005,307,916 tons) in 2019 alone. Yet, in general, aviation only accounts for a mere 12% of carbon dioxide emissions in the transportation sector (compared to 74% from road travel).1

Yet, air travel is critical to global productivity. Aircraft carried 4.5 billion passengers in 2019 and supported almost 88 million jobs before the pandemic. Only 11.3 million of those individuals worked directly in the aviation industry.

Taking a step toward sustainability, the company introduced their program “Cool Effect.”2

“Sustainability is as important to us as it is to our customers, and even in circumstances as challenging as these, our focus on climate change has not diminished,” the Chief Customer Officer for American Airlines, Alison Taylor, stated.3 “Carbon offsetting is not a complete or perfect solution to the environmental challenges we face as a society and as an airline, but we want to do what we can right now to make a difference.”

How Does The Cool Effect Program Work?

American Airlines recently partnered with a 501(c)(3) nonprofit known as “Cool Effect” to help their flyers offset their flights’ carbon dioxide emissions. Participation in this program enables passengers to contribute to “verified carbon reduction projects,” financially. The funds are used for resource conservation, helping to protect the planet from prolonged environmental damage.

Cool Effect makes it pretty easy to calculate the amount of money you need to offset your flight’s emissions. As a baseline, the program values one tonne (about 1.1 tons) to USD 7.60.

Jet-setters can enter their CO2 output directly into the website if you already know it, or they can use the calculator to find out how much carbon dioxide needs to be offset.

(Click here to measure flight emissions and the total impact it has on your personal carbon footprint… or you can measure your yearly emissions using an ecological footprint calculator.)

Offset pricing examples, as of June 2021(for one trip only):

  • Up to six hours on a flight: 0.86 tons,, $5.93
  • Seven to nine hours: 1.46 tons, $10.03
  • 10-12 hours: 2.08 tons, $14.36
  • 13 hours or more: 2.44 tons, $16.11

How Do Cool Effect Carbon Offsets Erase CO2?

Cool Effect states that more than 90% of participant contributions go directly to the following projects:

  • Seeing the Forest for the Trees: This is an afforestation project involving rural Mexican communities. The locals are working together to save their forests by regenerating these habitats.
  • For Peat’s Sake: This initiative focuses on preserving and restoring 157,000 hectares of peat swamps to continue reducing the current estimate of 8.3 tons of CO2. The project also helps create jobs in affected areas.
  • Mirador Clean Cookstoves: By engaging with families in rural Honduras, Cool Effect supports the construction of improved cookstoves to cut wood consumption in half, lowering CO2 emissions.

The rest of participant funds are dedicated to these fees:

  • 1.5% research fee
  • 2-4% payment processing
  • Registry fee, when applicable
  • Cool Effect Administration fee

Is Cool Effect Legitimate?

American Airlines’ Cool Effect initiative is a commendable cause, but it passes on the responsibility of offsetting to the individual, when the airline was the source of the GHG emissions. Some argue this may discourage passengers from taking action.

American Airlines has not committed to the A4A initiative that pledges net zero emissions by 2050, and also requires companies to establish two billion gallons of sustainable aviation fuel by 2030. This change could reduce emissions by up to 80% compared to conventional jet fuel.

Other A4A commitments include:

  • Tax credit to encourage SAF production
  • Modernization of the air traffic management system
  • Improving technologies for CO2 capture and sequestration

While the Cool Effect partnership with American Airlines is certainly authentic, there are alternatives that can deliver increased benefits for the planet right now.

Using Direct Ecological Offsets To Erase American Airlines Emissions

Cool Effect’s offset programs offer an effective and beneficial way to help the planet, but there are additional offset programs available that go a step farther, helping rebuild rain forest ecosystems that restore habitats and carbon-sequestering abilities.

Some airlines in the A4A have also committed to quantifiable goals, and take on the cost of carbon offsetting themselves. This choice produces substantial change and supports a more sustainable future, especially when paired with the direct backing of ecological programs that provide immediate benefits to ecosystems worldwide. You can do the same, taking your ecological footprint into your own hands by partnering with other offset providers accessible to the general public.

With the option to do more than just offset the flight’s carbon dioxide cost, ecological offset projects offer a way to increase the positive impact on the environment. By restoring habitats, preventing soil erosion, and creating carbon sinks, ecological offsets could be the next step to truly mitigate the negative effects of the airline industry.

American Airlines carbon offsets might be on the horizon, but you can still check out one of the best carbon offset providers to ensure that your tree planting offset is doing all you can to remove the emissions generated by your flights.


References

1Air Transport Action Group. (n.d.). Facts & figures. Retrieved June 30, 2021, from https://www.atag.org/facts-figures.html

2American Airlines. (n.d.). American Airlines: Together we can help protect our planet. Cool Effect. https://www.cooleffect.org/american-airlines

3American Airlines Newsroom. (2020, July 22). American Airlines launches carbon offsetting partnership with cool effect. Newsroom – American Airlines Group, Inc. https://news.aa.com/news/news-details/2020/American-Airlines-Launches-Carbon-Offsetting-Partnership-with-Cool-Effect-CORP-OTH-07/default.aspx

4Silk, R. (2021, March 31). U.S. airlines to go net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Travel Weekly | Voice of the Travel Industry, Hotels & Destinations: Travel Weekly. https://www.travelweekly.com/Travel-News/Airline-News/US-airlines-to-go-net-zero-carbon-emissions-2050

5American Airlines. (n.d.). Sustainability. Retrieved June 29, 2021, from https://www.aa.com/i18n/customer-service/about-us/sustainability.jsp

6Air travel and climate change. David Suzuki Foundation. (2020, September 24). https://davidsuzuki.org/what-you-can-do/air-travel-climate-change/.