United’s Kirby: Carbon offsets “a fig leaf for a CEO to write a check”


Speaking on CAPA Live on 10-Mar-2021, United CEO Scott Kirby had some forthright ideas on carbon offsets.

"We’ve changed the conversation on climate change because we have a high profile brand. Others have committed to be 100% net-zero by 2050 but we are committed to getting to 100% without using carbon offsets, because the truth is that most carbon offsets aren’t even real."

CAPA Live is broadcast on the second Wednesday of each month. The next CAPA Live will be on 14-Apr-2021.

Climate change is about “something bigger than just being an airline”

“I have been pleasantly surprised at the actions we've taken on climate change. I get some of the most emotional, positive feedback of anything that we've done, really changing how people feel about United Airlines by standing for something that's bigger than just being an airline. And I'm more and more convinced that we actually have a platform that we can do things to change the world.” 

“We're doing a lot at United on climate change. It's not just about what we're doing, but we've also had an opportunity to change the conversation with others, and we're going to have a magnified impact because we have a high profile brand, and we have a platform, that we can have a magnified impact.”

“Others have committed to 100% net-zero, other companies at least. What we did, we called it 100% green, which is different than the net-zero. And a big, big difference; the most important difference, is that we committed to getting to 100% without using carbon offsets. Today, basically everyone that says they're going to get to net-zero uses carbon offsets. And the truth is that carbon offsets, most of them aren't even real.

SAFs and carbon capture are the only way to go

“First of all, what we're going to do is reduction through things like sustainable aviation fuel, which is a huge component of what we're doing. But the other one is direct air capture and sequestration. And unlike a carbon offset, which is basically planting trees.

“And by the way, we produce 4,000 times as many annual emissions since the industrial era began. We simply can't plant 4,000 times as many trees. There's not space on the planet. But what we can do and what we're doing is we're a partner with Oxy1PointFive and the first, what will be the world's largest direct air capture and sequestration. 

“It sucks carbon directly out of the atmosphere and permanently stores it underground, so it's permanently gone. It's not a tree that's going to die later and put the carbon back into the atmosphere. It permanently stores the carbon underground. And each plant can store the equivalent of planting 40 million trees per year. This is what the solution ultimately has to be.

What I hate about carbon offset programmes; "just a fig leaf"

“And what I hate about traditional carbon offset programmes is so many companies are using them, and they are a fig leaf for a CEO to write a check, check a box, pretend that they've done the right thing for sustainability when they haven't made one wit of difference in the real world.

“And so we're focused on something that can really make a difference.”


For the full transcript of United CEO Scott Kirby’s interview on CAPA Live, please see CAPA Live: United’s Kirby – government subsidies “a unique situation”

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