Southwest Airlines Plans 20% Per Seat Mile Carbon Emission Cuts

Southwest Airlines has released its 10-year plan to maintain carbon neutrality to 2019 levels while continuing to grow its operations. Through 2030, the airline is targeting a minimum of 20% reduction of carbon emissions per available seat. This will be done through various initiatives, including fleet replacement, the expanded use of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), and emission offsets.

Southwest 737 MAX
Southwest Airlines has released its plans for the next ten years on sustainability. Photo: Getty Images

Southwest targets carbon emissions reduction

Southwest Airlines has set a goal to reduce its carbon emissions per available seat mile by at least 20% by 2030. The carrier plans to hit this goal through a variety of different initiatives, including fleet modernization, route optimization, and other initiatives.

Fleet replacement is a huge part of this goal. As Southwest moves to retire more Boeing 737-700 Next Generation planes, its order book through 2031 includes both 737 MAX 7 and MAX 8 aircraft, which are more fuel-efficient and offer lower per-seat costs and emissions. Southwest will be investing more than $10 billion in new and existing firm aircraft orders focused on fuel efficiency and carbon emission reductions.

Up in the air, Southwest is continuing its work with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on the NextGen program. The effort is designed around modernizing the country’s air traffic control system by addressing limitations on air transportation capacity and making the airspace more efficient. This is in addition to new technology to reduce taxi wait times and delays. Within its own fleet, Southwest has implemented new technology to monitor fuel efficiency.

Southwest Airlines Plans 20% Per Seat Mile Carbon Emission Cuts
Southwest is betting on its MAX order book to phase out older, inefficient jets. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

On the ground, Southwest is looking to switch to electric vehicles for some ground services equipment. This will see a sizable expansion of its over 1,400-strong fleet of electric-powered vehicles.

Incoming CEO Bob Jordan stated the following on the initiatives:

“As a leading global citizen, we’re building on prior efforts to address our environmental impact, and with today’s announcement, we’re setting goals to reduce our carbon emission intensity and increase SAF in our operations; and we’re working to advance knowledge in the field of sustainability.”

Replacement fuels

Another major component of the Southwest sustainability plan over the next ten years is replacing 10% of its total jet fuel consumption with sustainable aviation fuels. Southwest has already begun the work on this initiative.

The carrier has partnered with Neste for up to five million gallons of SAF through December 2023. Separately, it has worked with Marathon Petroleum Corporation and Philips 66 to facilitate the development and production of SAF at a significant scale. Lastly, it has worked with Deloitte, Siemens, and Zurich North America for SAF beta partnerships to help support Southwest’s utilization of SAF in its operation.

Southwest Airlines Plans 20% Per Seat Mile Carbon Emission Cuts
Southwest wants to replace 10% of its jet fuel usage with SAF. Photo: Getty Images

There is still a lot of work the airline industry has to do on SAF usage and development. However, with major airlines putting their weight behind that technology and development, it becomes even more likely that SAFs can gain more traction and replace more existing fuels, leading to fewer emissions per flight.

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Offset emissions

Another significant component of Southwest’s strategy includes taking steps to offset its energy consumption. This target is primarily about Southwest engaging with its customers – including corporate customers.

Southwest is partnering with CHOOOSE and its customers by providing the first US-based airline carbon offset offer with loyalty points. For every dollar contributed toward offsetting Southwest’s carbon emissions, Southwest will match the contribution. Rapid Rewards members can earn 10 Rapid Rewards bonus points per dollar contributed towards the purchase of offsets, with a maximum of 500 Rapid Rewards bonus points per month.

Southwest Airlines Plans 20% Per Seat Mile Carbon Emission Cuts
Southwest is also looking to bring its customers into the initiatives. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Separately, the airline has launched the Green Incentive Program. This is a Southwest Business performance-based incentive program. Southwest’s corporate clients will be able to earn and use funds for their company’s sustainability initiatives, including offsets or other initiatives.

For Southwest’s Dallas corporate campus, Southwest has sourced 100% renewable electricity as of May 2021. The carrier has done this through the purchase of renewable energy certificates.