Sustainability at every altitude

United is committed to integrating sustainability across our operations. From the customer experience and our employee spaces to the communities in which we serve, we understand that our operations need to reflect our company’s focus on safety, dependability, efficiency and sustainability.

Demonstrating sustainability onboard

A key facet of the travel journey is the experience onboard our aircraft, and we aim to embed sustainability in a meaningful capacity during the flight experience. For example, in 2023, we refreshed our Polaris bedding through a new partnership with Saks Fifth Avenue and a limited launch with contemporary fashion designer Claude Kameni. The new bedding supports United’s sustainability goals by incorporating pieces made from 100% recycled plastic. Further, the new bedding eliminated 200,000 pounds of single use plastics onboard that was previously needed to wrap the day blanket and comforter. In mid-2023, we also refreshed our Polaris, United Premium Plus, Transcontinental and Hawaiian customer experiences, through new partnerships and amenity kits. All amenity kits now come in reusable bags made with recycled materials and include eye masks made from recycled plastic materials and bamboo toothbrushes.

In 2023, United introduced official sustainability branding in the form of a multi-colored ribbon to denote specific items or initiatives that embody our sustainability goals and vision. Starting in 2023 and continuing in 2024, the sustainability ribbon will be added to new and existing onboard items that demonstrate and embody environmental sustainability through materials, partnerships, end-of-life applications and more.

While we are eager to introduce sustainable, alternative products to the travel experience, the current regulatory environment poses challenges for a global airline. For example, there is a lack of consistency among regulations governing single-use plastics at the airport, regional and national levels. This patchwork of rules can potentially result in differing alternative products being introduced into onboard service, resulting in a lack of uniformity from one route to the next or even on separate legs of a journey. We anticipate that over the course of the coming year, we will continue to see additional governing bodies creating and implementing their own guidance and United will continue to identify opportunities to reduce or eliminate single-use plastics where possible.

Exploring recycling & waste minimization

In 2023, United made notable progress in understanding opportunities for waste diversion and recycling in airport terminals, clubs, lounges and onboard our aircraft. Over the year, cross-functional teams led efforts to better assess and quantify current waste and recycling practices, volumes and diversion rates at each of our hubs. These work streams provide the basis to continue collaboration across the network to enable more sustainable practices focused on enhancing waste diversion and recycling effectiveness.

For example, in collaboration with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, United successfully implemented a food waste collection pilot program at Newark airport in 2023, across multiple departments including the United Club℠, terminal concessionaires and restaurant departments. This pilot program led to the reduction in food waste sent to landfill, and organic and food waste landfill reduction pathways remain a priority for United to investigate and reduce.

EWR Organics Pilot

In 2023, United conducted an organics recycling pilot study of select locations at United’s Terminal C operations at the Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) in support of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s (PANYNJ) Airport Solid Waste Management and Recycling Standards and Guidelines (Guideline). This Guideline outlines the PANYNJ’s Zero Waste Policy, which includes a goal of achieving 75% to 90% waste diversion from landfills and incineration by 2030.

United’s 2023 waste diversion efforts at EWR focused on the planning, implementation and monitoring of a 6-month-long organics recycling pilot study implemented at three, and eventually four, back-of-house food establishments. The pilot study commenced in July 2023 and extended through December 2023. United partnered with the WM, formerly known as Waste Management, CORe® facility located in Elizabeth, New Jersey, to recycle the organic material collected during the pilot study by converting the waste into an organic slurry through bio-digestion which is then used by a local wastewater treatment facility to generate green energy.

During the six months of the pilot study implementation, approximately 26 tons of organic waste was collected, recycled and diverted from landfill. The data obtained during the pilot study is being used to perform a feasibility study to evaluate the potential to implement an eventual full-scale organic waste recycling program at United’s Terminal C operations.

Employee initiative spotlight: Upcycling

As part of our commitment to reducing waste in our operations, we continue to identify upcycling opportunities such as our collaboration with Bag 2 Life, a Germany-based company which upcycles expired life jacket material and its various components into new consumer products.

“While working to dispose of expired life vests at IAD, I wanted to find a more creative solution to divert this material from landfill. Thankfully I was able to connect with a company who upcycles the life vest material (typically thrown away), into fun and practical products to be sold. I hope that this project sparks continued discussions around our waste streams and other potential upcycling opportunities.”

Erin Taylor Manager, Environmental Affairs

Life vests, which expire within an eight-to-ten-year period, are not recycled, accounting for a portion of United’s waste each year. On average, United’s operations dispose of over 1,500 life vests per month and nearly 19,000 life vests annually for its 737 fleet alone, not including infant or crew vests.

Through the partnership, United diverted 900 pounds of waste to be generated into consumer goods such as travel items. Based on the incredible initial successes, United is looking to expand our partnership with Bag2-Life in 2024, adding new products and doubling the inventory from the first order.

Educating and empowering our travelers

In 2023, United enhanced its transparency with customers when it became the first U.S. airline to show customers the estimated emissions when booking their travel, empowering sustainability conscious travelers to choose flights with lower carbon emissions.

Additionally, as a feature of the Sustainable Flight Fund’s launch, United provided its customers the opportunity to directly contribute $1.00 to $7.00 to supplement United’s investment in the fund when booking travel on United’s website and app. This initiative helped to bolster the demand signal for SAF, while allowing our customers to have a direct role in helping us achieve our future sustainability goals. Notably in less than 12 months, more than 115,000 people have contributed nearly $500,000.

United also continued to educate its travelers about SAF in plain language through unique market-facing partnerships and collaborations that helped break down the complex topic into easily digestible information. This allowed United to highlight the environmental impact of using SAF consistently throughout our operations while also highlighting the safety of using SAF. These campaigns were displayed onboard using seatback screens and Hemispheres, our onboard magazine.

“Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is one of the fastest, most effective ways the airline industry can reduce its carbon footprint. But most people have never even heard of SAF! That’s why we’ve focused on finding creative ways to teach our customers about the wonders of waste and how things like used cooking oil and algae, could one day help fly a plane. Our campaigns have taken over streaming platforms, billboards, our inflight entertainment, social media and outlets like The New York Times and The Washington Post, and we’ve been able to drive real visibility in the aviation industry and beyond.”

Dana Hughes Senior Manager, Films + Special Projects, Global Advertising and Social Media

Increasing electrification of equipment on the ground

As of December 2023, more than 35% of United's total ground support equipment fleet was electric, indicating a significant step towards electrification in both hubs and line stations. Notably, in our hubs alone, nearly half of our entire equipment has been electrified.

Electric supertugs

As an airline, most of our emissions are derived from the fuel it takes to fly a plane. But what about when we are on the ground? At the airports where we operate, our teams are responsible for aircraft tows and maintenance pushback for our aircraft, and now with our electric supertugs, we are moving some of our aircraft with the newest technology to reduce our carbon footprint.

Representing the latest development in our emission-free ground support equipment, each electric supertug saves approximately $50K per year in diesel fuel costs, allowing us to move airplanes without burning jet fuel. The supertugs can run up to nine hours on a single charge, providing great aircraft towing versatility.

United’s year-over-year progress from 2021 to 2023 demonstrates a notable increase in eGSE purchases. In 2023 alone, United purchased more than a thousand pieces of electric equipment and spent $6M to install more than 350 new charging ports across its network. In doing so, we have also accelerated the pace of retiring fossil-fuel based equipment.

Total of new electric GSE purchases

Our total of new electric GSE purchases from 2021 to 2023, represented in a vertical bar chart with dark green bars.

  • 2021: 334 orders
  • 2022: 765 orders
  • 2023: 1,349 orders

The continued progression of our eGSE strategy is in large part due to the ongoing internal and external stakeholder engagement efforts, which identify the opportunities, challenges and necessary investments needed for the long-term planning of eGSE and charging infrastructure across our network operations.

In addition, grants play an important role in United’s ability to accelerate our eGSE efforts. United received $5.5 million in grant funding in 2022 to help procure 77 additional electric GSE and 20 electric mobile Ground Power Units (GPUs). Since 2019, United has been directly awarded over $8 million in grant funding to procure eGSE and has supported multiple airports seeking VALE funding resulting in over $26 million to procure common-use equipment to reduce Scope 1 emissions.

Certifying clubs and maintenance facilities to LEED

United’s dedication to environmental stewardship within the aviation industry also extends to our built environment. The United LAX Technical Operations Center (LEED Gold) and Willis Tower Corporate Support Center Floor 4 & 5 Amenity Space (LEED Silver), demonstrate our commitment to pursuing environmentally conscious design, reduction of utility consumption and implementation of resourceful construction practices. The newly complete pilot training center in Denver is equipped with solar panels on the roof to support generation of renewable power. Finally, several additional customer-facing spaces, such as our newest clubs in Denver and Newark, introduced over the course of 2023 were also designed and constructed in accordance with low impact design standards.


The new Technical Operations Center, housing an aircraft maintenance hangar and ground service equipment facility, provides a 400,000-sqft complex programmed to service the next generation of wide‐ and narrow‐body aircraft utilized by United and partners at LAX. The complex is designed for flexibility ranging from Category 1 aircraft maintenance to a GSE facility with ability to repair anything from the smallest rolling stock to the largest tug, tractor or bus. The facilities are designed to provide an experience for both employees and visitors that foster United’s desire to be forward-thinking and practical at the same time. The connected facilities are designed to comply with California Green Building Standards (CALGreen), City of Los Angeles Green Building Code (LAGBC) and achieved LEED Gold certification in partnership with the LAWA Sustainable Design and Construction Policy.

Reducing our noise footprint

United participates in Airport Community Roundtables and Fly Quiet programs at LAX, SFO, ORD, LHR and other airports. We won a silver award for our operations in 2022 at LAX in the category of large airlines with over 100 daily operations at LAX and are consistently ranked one of the best airlines as part of LHR’s League Table within its Fly Quiet and Green program. These programs and awards all consider our use of preferential runways, quieter aircraft and other measures that minimize aircraft noise exposure to surrounding communities. United also completed installation and pilot training for Required Navigation Performance Authorization Required (RNP AR) procedures for the Airbus A319/A320 fleet, supporting more opportunities to use near idle power approaches when landing at many airports in the US. United also voluntarily retrofitted almost 100% of its 179 Airbus fleet with a vortex generator, a device that eliminates the unique “whistling” noise exhibited on arrival by Airbus aircraft manufactured prior to 2014.

Recognizing that noise reduction is a system-wide challenge, United continues to work with the FAA through the Airspace Modernization Program to implement procedures that avoid significant engine power at lower altitudes.