Leading through collaboration

We recognize that the journey towards the future of sustainable aviation cannot be traveled alone and requires active and ongoing collaboration across the value chain, with stakeholders like policymakers, customers, airports, cross-industry partners, fuel producers, researchers, NGOs and more, to significantly reduce the emissions from flying. Our fourth strategic pillar focuses on collaboration with a wide variety of partners to advance a future of sustainable flight.

Accelerating the SAF marketplace through policy

United has a long-standing history of actively shaping the conversation and direction around the energy transition in our industry by leading various coalitions to create demand and market signals incentivizing production of low-carbon fuel and low-carbon technology.

A graphic displaying United’s public policy leadership and what we’ve accomplished in driving SAF usage. This graphic consists of:

  • A blue box labeled: Federal policy: Inflation Reduction Act
  • A green box labeled: Across the value chain: SAF Coalition
  • A dark green box labeled: State policy: Illinois SAF Tax Credits
  • A light blue box labeled: Based in science: EcoDemonstrator
  • A dark blue box labeled: Signaling demand: First Movers Coalition
  • Inflation Reduction Act: We have worked with federal policymakers to champion the passage of new production tax credits for SAF in the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. These credits create an economic incentive for increased SAF production in the United States. We continue to engage in a leadership capacity with the SAF Coalition, representing more than 80 companies across the aviation value chain advocating for enhancements to the current federal tax credits.
  • First Movers Coalition: As a founding member of the Biden Administration’s First Movers Coalition, we aspire to adopt emerging technologies, like SAF, with significant emissions reductions by 2030, when commercially available.
  • SAF Grand Challenge: We have joined forces with other airlines, low-carbon fuel producers and stakeholders across the SAF value chain to support the Biden Administration’s SAF Grand Challenge. The Administration’s aim is to supply 3 billion gallons of SAF domestically by 2030.
  • Industry-wide net zero emissions targets: We have been proactive in supporting the adoption of ambitious industry targets. Collaborating with both Airlines for America (A4A) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA), we have been instrumental in driving the adoption of industry-wide net zero emissions targets by 2050 for domestic and international carriers.
  • State policy - Illinois SAF tax credit: Recently, United also led an effort to incentivize SAF in Illinois, lowering the overall cost of SAF consumption at the state level.

Forging opportunities to research emerging climate considerations

United is collaborating with various stakeholders to improve understanding of opportunities to mitigate the non-CO2 impacts of aviation, including those from contrails, the ice clouds occasionally formed when water in high-altitude air condenses on particles from engine exhaust and freezes. Emerging scientific consensus is that the warming effect from contrails, created when persistent contrails block heat from escaping to space, are greater than the cooling effect created when contrails reflect solar radiation back to space. However, more research is needed to better understand the impact of contrails and, specifically, the climate trade off of mitigation solutions.

In 2023, United supported a science experiment in the sky with Boeing, NASA, DLR, FAA and GE Aerospace, aimed at understanding how SAF and advanced engine combustor designs can affect the characteristics of contrails and local air quality. The tests used Boeing’s second ecoDemonstrator Explorer, a 737-10 that flew with 100% SAF and conventional jet fuel in separate tanks, alternating fuels in-flight. NASA’s DC-8 Airborne Science Lab flew behind our jet and measured emissions produced by each type of fuel and contrail ice particles.

This first-of-its-kind testing explores whether new engines and SAF can reduce the number of soot particles, therefore reducing the numbers of ice crystals at altitude, in-flight. Although final research has yet to be published, SAF has the potential to provide benefit beyond CO2 reductions alone.

We recognize that this is a complex issue that cannot be solved by airlines alone; it requires multi-stakeholder solutions with implications for engine and aircraft manufacturers, fuel producers, air navigation service providers and air traffic control. We must also be able to quantify climate impact of any action which will require reduced uncertainty from climate scientists and academia. Through several coalitions, United is seeking to further understand the science.

This graphic depicts how contrails work and their effect on the climate. It showcases how solar radiation warms he earth and the contrails, which are ice clouds occasionally formed when water in high-altitude air condenses on particles from engine exhaust and freezes, and how they can either create a cooling effect by reflecting the sunlight into space, or a warming affect by trapping thermal radiation and reflecting it back to earth.

Strengthening industry-wide partnerships

United collaborates on a global scale to facilitate the change needed to decarbonize aviation and advance sustainability within our industry through various associations and working groups such as Airlines for America (A4A), the IATA and the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG). Notably, United is chair of A4A’s SAF Committee, a member of the global IATA Sustainability & Environment Advisory Council (SEAC) and involved in regular ATAG working groups. In addition, United chairs the Global Business Travel Association’s (GBTA) Sustainability Leadership Council.

This industry collaboration brings us together to address shared challenges and advance solutions that benefit air travel, and we remain committed to working with our industry partners as we have common climate and sustainability goals because we know that we are stronger when we work together.

Since 2009, United has been a strong advocate for a global market-based approach to addressing international aviation emissions. In 2016, ICAO adopted the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), which aims to limit the emissions associated with international aviation to carbon-neutral growth.

Through its participation in CORSIA and other industry working groups, United supported the development and implementation of CORSIA and its design framework. Recently, United participated in a trial with the FAA on how to report SAF for CORSIA eligibility, consistent with our objective of helping to promote the production and use of SAF.

This is a visual depiction of how we are strengthening our industry-wide partnerships to create sustainable change. This web showcases our:

  • Advocacy in green
  • Global collaboration in dark blue
  • Memberships in light blue
  • Aviation industry collaboration in blue

Cultivating a culture of environmental stewardship

At United, we are deeply committed to nurturing a culture of environmental stewardship among our teams. We understand that our responsibility to address environmental impact extends beyond our operations to every individual within our organization, and we are committed to fostering a culture of sustainability among our team members.

In 2023, United continued to engage employees in our path to sustainable aviation through two employee groups. A cross-functional Green Team within a business resource group focused solely on identifying and integrating sustainability initiatives companywide and our hub-based Eco-teams, comprised of operational, frontline employees passionate about local compliance and sustainability-related initiatives.

In celebration of Earth Month 2023, the Green Team organized a series of volunteer activities and speaker events throughout April. We collaborated with the Global Community Engagement team and various non-profit organizations to conduct seven volunteer events across United’s hubs, including efforts with the California Parks Foundation, Good360, the Houston Food Bank, and the Shedd Aquarium. These initiatives led to significant environmentally focused volunteer contributions, such as clean-ups at Baldwin Hills in LA, Halfmoon Bay in San Francisco, the Potomac River in DC and 57th Street Beach in Chicago. In Denver and New York City, we transformed unused Polaris amenity kits into hygiene kits for donation, and in Houston, we devoted our efforts to the Food Bank. Overall, these events mobilized over 200 volunteers, a resounding success, showcasing our dedication to environmental stewardship and sustainability efforts.

In 2024, United established its Fuel Council to identify opportunities to reduce fuel usage across our operation, focusing on four key areas:

  • Optimizing Auxiliary Power Units (APU) run times
  • Optimizing extra planned fuel
  • Optimizing payload weight of our aircraft
  • Improving the drag efficiency of our aircraft

“Fuel efficiency is something that United needs to focus on every day. We need to build thinking with sustainability at the forefront into our culture as a company, since this will further our leadership within the airline industry and our customer as an environmental leader.”

Rob Galbraith Director, Flight Operations Policy and Performance & Fuel Council Lead