Innovating for Sustainable Skies with Amelia DeLuca of Delta Air Lines

May 14, 2024

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Amelia DeLuca serves as Chief Sustainability Officer at Delta Air Lines, leading the airline on its journey to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 and deliver a more sustainable and elevated travel experience along the way. Prior to her appointment as Chief Sustainability Officer, DeLuca served as Vice President, International Customer Experience and Partner Sustainability. In that role, DeLuca led cross-divisional efforts to deliver a consistent premium customer experience across Delta’s partners. She also supported the development of Delta’s partner sustainability strategy across Delta’s global partner network to enhance and accelerate the alliance’s leading sustainability position and provide greater collective impact across the Delta network.

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John: Welcome to another edition of the Impact Podcast. I’m so excited and honored to have with us today, Amelia DeLuca. She’s the Chief Sustainability Officer for Delta Airlines. Welcome Amelia to the Impact Podcast.

Amelia DeLuca: Thanks, John. Thanks so much for having me.

John: It’s an honor to have you, and as my listeners and viewers have learned over 17 years, I don’t take advertising dollars on purpose. This show is all about the positivity that great people and great brands like Delta are making on this planet right now. But I do have to go out of my way to say I am a proud user of your amazing airlines. Whenever I can, it’s Delta first that I booked for my travel, and I just want to say thank you to you and all your colleagues because I’ll tell you what, you run a great ship over there. Your colleagues run a great ship and it’s just a joy and pleasure to fly with Delta Airlines.

Amelia: Thanks for that, John. I’ve been with the airlines for almost 18 years. My entire career has been at Delta, and I share that sense of pride in terms of what we do every single day and the amazing people that I get to work with. I’m always so grateful, it never gets old to hear from customers like you about how much you love Delta.

John: I love Delta. Amelia, before we get talking about what you and your colleagues are doing in sustainability and beyond at Delta Airlines, can you share a little bit about your background, where you grew up, how you got on this fantastic and important journey, and who or what inspired you along the way?

Amelia: Oh, my gosh, where do you begin? I’m sure you find that for so many people that they think and they, well, gosh, I’ve got to thank my mom and my dad and just, no, I’m just kidding. I think for me it comes down to a couple of different things. So one, I obviously love this industry and I love this company so much, and so to combine sustainability with it just felt like it still feels like a dream, right? Just an absolute dream to get to be in a place that I love doing something that matters so much. But I think the inspiration really comes from two things. Some of it’s things you probably heard before, kids, right? I have two daughters who are six and nine who will inherit the earth from all of us and who I want to be able to look back at some point and say, I got it started. Did I fix it? Absolutely not. But I got started on the journey that their generation will essentially inherit, but I also truly be able to believe to solve the hardest things about climate change. Separately though, I think the real inspiration has come from my husband who’s been involved in the sustainability field for quite some time, but through an educational lens. So he has been a middle school education teacher for decades at this point, and he was into sustainability before it was even cool to be into sustainability and that’s just because he looked around education and just thought we’re not educating kids with the right mindsets to be strategic thinkers, to be systems thinkers, and ultimately to be sustainable thinkers. So he really had already started that path within education and I can see why when you think about turning a giant ship, which is whether it’s decarbonization of the airline industry or anything within climate change, you have to really step back and talk about it’s how our brains are wired. It’s how our brains are wired to think that we have to first unpack before we start to get into the specific solutions.

John: It’s so true and you talk about big issues or big problems to tackle decarbonizing, the airline industry is one thing. How about decarbonizing the planet? I mean, we’re part of that whole ecosystem. Where did you grow up? I know you’re in Atlanta now. I’m in Fresno today. Where did you grow up originally?

Amelia: So I grew up in a suburb of Chicago, and I will just give you a really small story that’s kind of interesting. We’ll come back to it later in the show, but my whole world today with sustainable aviation fuel, which we’ll talk about what that is, right? But fuel that’s not coming from fossil fuel, but right. It’s coming from a product that is more sustainable potentially with corn residue is a big part of my life. So I spent a lot of time now with farms and farmers, and one of my earliest memories of corn is actually when I moved to the suburbs of Chicago, there was a farm in my backyard, which now there’s probably not a farm for within a hundred miles of where that suburb is, but just again, it kind shows what we, as a long time as society kind of did was kind of build, build without necessarily thinking about what we were doing to the earth. Now some of us are coming full circle to say, now I want to become part of the solution for some of the things that we did decades ago. So anyways, Chicago was home. I went to school in St. Louis, I started my career in Minnesota. I definitely say I’m a Midwest person, but at this point I’ve lived all over the world. So now I say I’m a global nomad.

John: Oh, that’s awesome. I love it and that’s just tremendous. You’ve been at Delta 17 years, like you said, most of your career if not all of your career. Talk a little bit about where you entered at Delta and talk about the evolution of your career at Delta Airlines.

Amelia: Yeah, I always say I was a math major trying to avoid the insurance industry, and I don’t think that was totally true. It’s mostly just making a joke. I think it was more of I really had a desire to live and travel the world, and obviously airline is a perfect place to do that. I was a math major and had just, I would say one of probably the first groups of students who learned coding through a math degree. So that’s really what got my foot in the door in the airline industry is that I was able to code at a time when that wasn’t as common of a skill as it is now. So my first number of jobs were pretty analytical technical jobs, grew up on the commercial side of the business, so your sales, revenue management, network planning, and just always loved the work. I will say some of that pulls through to sustainability because within sustainability, we always say, let the data set us free in the decision making because you can get caught up in what’s the right decision for the planet or what do our stakeholders really think about this issue, right? We’re dealing with really complex not only problems but solutions and so I always go back to my math roots, which is somewhere out there, there’s a way to do an analysis that’s going to help inform our path forward.

John: So true. You can’t manage what you can’t measure. So it comes down to that wisdom and that adage. Talk a little bit about, one thing I’ve learned over the years, Amelia, is that chief sustainability officer, chief ESG officer, chief impact officer, or some combination thereof can be read narrowly or can be read broadly. So as a chief sustainability officer, talk a little bit about your day to day, week to week, month to month, quarter to quarter and year to year. What do you do at your job and how wide or narrow is your mission as a chief sustainability officer of Delta Airlines?

Amelia: Well, I think the most important thing as a chief sustainability officer is to be flexible. It’s going to change on a dime in terms of what your focus areas are and your priorities and I would say you almost get started pretty wide, like really look at the scope of your company’s impact on the planet as well as opportunities and then narrowed into things that are tangible that you can deliver on today. So I was talking to a group internally at Delta today saying just a joke, I’m not a tree hugger, right? That’s not my job. Though, I appreciate, and that is part of the ecosystem, we do care for the planet, but I am a steward of the company’s bottom line and I’m helping the company make more sustainable decisions, which are also obviously environmentally beneficial as well and so day in day out, my team looks for ways in particular to drive down cost to Delta, which is also how we drive down our fuel footprint, which is one of our largest cost drivers. So we look to try to operate as efficiently as possible to bring in new sources of more sustainable aviation fuel while also driving down our fuel footprint. That’s the one side and a lot of that we can do today, and we’ll talk through some of those initiatives we can do today to be more fuel efficient. But on the other side, it’s to proactively lead the industry to a more sustainable future. It’s to acknowledge that many of the solutions that we need for net Zero aren’t here today, but we can still take steps to show the proactive leadership that’s needed to keep the trust of that group of stakeholders that sits around not just me at Delta, but all of my counterparts to other airlines. We’ve got investors, we’ve got customers, we’ve got our employees. We’re also all brands, which is a little bit unique from other CSO perspective is that we also lead large brands and brands are beloved and some of that, like I said, just comes down to trust more than anything else.

John: Brands are not only beloved, but listen, I love having start a bunch of brewers on this show who have come up with real disruptive technology that is hopefully going to change the world. But I love also having folks like you who represent iconic and beloved and big brands because when you guys move and when you move at Delta, you move the needle in a very sizable and measurable way. But let’s go back to something you just mentioned three minutes ago or so when I started this show, 17 or so years ago when back then even chief sustainability officers weren’t even, it wasn’t a common title frankly speaking, but someone was involved with sustainability or some form thereof at a company, and the word sustainability would come out on the show and a lot of the response I got and a lot of the common thinking back then in 2006 and seven was sustainability equals then the c-suite would hear, that’s going to cost me money that’s going to cost the company more money. It’s not good for the bottom line, but you just turned that on its head and you disavowed that you are in the business of running a profitable company for the shareholders and sustainability can equal more profits if done the right way.

Amelia: Absolutely. No, that’s the thing. We sometimes I think get caught up a little bit in the rhetoric of the word sustainable or the politicization of the word at times. But I think at the bottom, at its core, it is just looking at how a business operates and doing it differently with a better end in mind than we have today. So for us, it is consuming less fuel every single day than we did the day before in terms of flying more efficiently while innovating to bring a more positive customer and employee experience to potentially the aircraft of the future, while similarly bringing a new source of fuel in which can reduce carbon today up to 80%. But more importantly, just step back for a second, just as a business person, that business economics, most people don’t go through business school without having some case on airlines and about the basics of the fact we run razor thin margins and they are all over the place, and why are they all over the place? Well, sometimes you have a pandemic COVID that no one can avoid, but often it’s tied directly to the cost of oil. So if we can move away from being completely reliant on the price of oil to be dictating our company’s profitability by moving into a more renewable source for one of our largest cost drivers, a renewable and potentially limitless source, which is your future synthetic fuels, it’s kind of beautiful and that’s where I love to tell the story of there’s a lot we can do today to impact that helps our bottom line, and there’s a lot we can do for the future to just really smooth out our business to make it profitable and sustainable for centuries to come, dare I say.

John: That’s so interesting. It’s funny, one of the most impactful stories I heard in person from a person who was senior to me in a very successful business owner is he was in the airline industry and he still is in the airline industry. He runs an airline now, not on Delta’s level, but still a great airline and 1999, I was flying with him somewhere and he said to me, ”John, just based on the price of oil that could take a profitable airline on Tuesday and overnight, make us unprofitable on Wednesday.” I was like, come on, it’s not that simple. He goes, it’s that simple.

Amelia: It is, exactly. I think back to some of the questions just at the beginning, John, I joined the airline industry when I was in bankruptcy in 2006, so I’m very acutely aware of how quickly this industry can turn. So some of what I do is, like I said, just this utopian future that I really believe will come with net zero, which is when we are using a 100% sustainable aviation fuel, that’s coming from again, potentially capturing carbon and green hydrogen, which is coming from renewable energy. It’s zero emissions and it’s a stable, and there’s some modeling that says it actually could be cheaper than jet fuel, which then you talk about the social goodness of this industry becomes more accessible to more people from an economic perspective, which it’s great.

John: Really, if we were forced to get rid of the word sustainability to your point of a couple minutes ago and you were not allowed to be called the Chief Sustainability Officer, you’d probably be called the Chief Resilience Officer.

Amelia: Yeah, I love that word. I shouldn’t really thought about that before. But yes, I mean, I think that’s what it is, right? Looking at areas of the business, and I will say from our perspective as Delta, there’s no better time to do this than right now. We’re coming out of COVID, we’re having a chance to really look at everything. During COVID, we had a chance to relook at a lot of our strategies, and that’s where you saw a little over a year ago, we rolled out a new multi-layered sustainability strategy. But similarly, day in and day out in terms of how we operate and how we can operate more efficiently, now is the time to be having that conversation because Delta has weathered the worst of COVID, and we’re very open and understanding that yes, we can do things differently in a pursuit of a better good.

John: Let’s talk about that though. Let’s talk about short-term actions with long-term impact, and how do you go about thinking about today, like you just said, no better time than now to start making a better tomorrow.

Amelia: Yeah. Well, let’s talk about how we bucket our work just to make sure we’re talking about the specific time horizons. It is what we fly, how we fly in the fuel we use. The fuel we use is the one that’s the furthest away, and I think we’re going to dive into that. But what we fly and how we fly are two things that have major impacts today that we can show just a litany of things that we’re doing. So every new aircraft that we bring online, and we brought on plenty in the last couple of years as we retired, some of our oldest ones during COVID and brought on new ones can have anywhere between 10 to 20% more fuel efficiency, already is huge, not only fuel savings for us, but carbon savings for us. Then within how we fly, you get into just a really interesting discussion on how 90% of an airline’s emissions come from jet fuel, but we know that consumers expect us to be sustainable, and when they think about what their sustainable expectations are, sometimes it’s related to jet fuel, but sometimes it’s related to elimination of single use plastics or offering more sustainable food options and so you’ll see on board as well as things you don’t see, just a lot of different examples of sustainability and how we fly today. So we’re eliminating our single use plastic cup. We’re testing a paper cup right now, and then we are tackling weights on board in a lot of different ways. So if you can pull weight off board, it means you are burning less fuel, but that also has consumer goodness. So we’re really trying to build personalization and bring personalization on board. If you’ve set in a premium cabin with us recently, especially overseas, you’ve probably had a chance to pre-select your meal. That’s a great customer experience. That also helps us to board less meals and to have less waste at the end of it. So all these things are in the vein of customer and employee goodness. Then when it comes to jet fuel usage today, this is the one I could just go on and on about. I was actually just in Kansas City yesterday where we have a large maintenance operation where we are installing these, they’re called splitter winglets, don’t worry about the name. They sit at the end of the wing. You’ve seen them before. They kind of look like this, and now they kind of go back, if that makes sense. Those are things we can do today to bring down our fuel efficiency. So we are hard at it from modifying our planes to changing how we power our airplanes when they’re on the ground to really thinking about landing procedures. There’s kind of no stone unturned at this point from a Delta perspective in terms of trying to walk our fuel footprint down now while we scale the fuel of the future.

John: It’s a fascinating thing you just talked about, you just talked about inside and outside, client experience, flyer experience, but also operations and operational efficiencies. What informs you? Do you look to clients? Is there an email box or something where clients are saying, hey, if you did this, it’d be better for all of us. Also internally, how do you work with sustainability ambassadors inside of your company to make sure you’re getting the feedback from the floor because you’re only one person, you can’t be everywhere all the time. Who’s informing you on what issues can make the biggest impact if you tackle them now?

Amelia: Right. Well, let’s start with our employees because that’s where everything at Delta starts. We’ve had for years now Greenup, which is an employee business resource group, which is our employee led sustainability initiatives where we get a lot of our, we also run a number of councils at this point. We run a waste council, we run a sustainable aviation fuel council, and we run a carbon council, and that’s where we get our senior most leaders from all the operational divisions show up, and we work together to achieve fuel savings every year. So last year we saved 8 million gallons of jet fuel. We are aiming to at least more than double that this year and that’s led by the operating divisions with us in the center, just facilitating the conversation and making sure the business cases are set up for success and funding some of those pilot projects. When it comes to consumers that’s where it gets a little bit trickier to your point. But the good news is we are a very trusted consumer brand. We have a lot of means of listening, and we’re just trying to expand those touch points. I’m actually looking at a body of work that’s fresh off the process. We just did this with our consumer insights team and we had last done it a couple of years ago where we’d really gone in depth and quantitative and qualitative to just say to both our most high value customers, to our gen members, to all the generations of ages that fly. What does sustainably mean to you? What are your expectations for your brands? What are your expectations for Delta? Some of it’s no-brainers, but behind it is when you have that specific data that says, okay, here’s the demographics of the individuals that say that they want this. Here’s the demographics of the individuals that say they want that. But one of the more eye openers I would say to us is that it is becoming an expectation. It’s being tied direct into how someone feels about a brand. So that’s the first thing. It’s no longer this conversation exactly of willingness to pay, but more of a eye expect my brands to be sustainable and I think with that flyers in particular, looking to airlines to make a difference first and foremost, they don’t want us just passing on to them. They want us to tell them all the things that we are doing today, which we’re already doing and I think the other thing though that we did find is that, again, the spectrum of concerns about the environment is quite wide, but most of our consumers do care about what they see first and foremost. So again, while we as sustainability professionals, we get really fixated on jet fuel, and you’ll hear me talk about sustainable aviation fuel, most of our flyers were like, well, I don’t know what sustainable aviation fuel is, but it really bothers me that I still see a plastic cup when I get on board and you tell me you’re a sustainable brand. So we’re going to use that body of work to really accelerate some of the remaining things that are out there on board while simultaneously walking down our carbon.

John: Awesome. Just for our listeners and viewers who’ve just joined us, we’ve got Amelia DeLuca with us today. She’s the Chief Sustainability Officer for Delta Airlines. You can go and find Amelia and her colleagues and all the important work they’re doing in sustainability at We’ll put links in the show notes to their sustainability links and their sustainability sections and things of that such. We’re going to make it really easy for our listeners and viewers to find, you just brought up sustainable aviation fuel safe. Talk about that a little bit because I am myself am one of your clients, very happy clients, love flying Delta, as I shared at the top of the show, but again, I do not know the use of sustainable aviation fuel, but I see the overt things in the cabin and in and around the Delta ecosystem. So yes, that’s what’s top of mind to me, but I’m excited to learn more about the sustainable aviation fuel.

Amelia: I think where sustainable aviation fuel is critical, whether a lot about it or not is just the acknowledgement that in order for Delta to align to the science of climate change, in order to support the world’s global ambitions to walk towards net zero at 2050, for the airline industry as a hard to decarbonize sector, the single and only lever that we have today is sustainable aviation fuel. We can’t get away from the fact that 90% of our impact on the planet comes from jet fuel and while I can do a lot within Delta, and we are doing a lot within Delta to be as efficient as possible, there comes a limit to where you can get new aircraft that become the rate of return essentially starts to plateau. Some of the efficiency things that I can drive similarly will start to plateau, I would say probably in the next 10 to 15 years. So then you look and you say, okay, well then what else does an airline do? It’s really, it needs to replace its fuel. So when you think about fuel and the impact on the world, just very simply, fuel has two things that cause carbon to go into the air. It’s when I’m extracting the fossil fuel to begin with and when I’m combusting it. So if we look at that process for extracting the fossil fuel and say, hey, not only can I get a source that doesn’t extract that carbon when I’m taking the fossil fuel, but maybe can I actually start from negative in the sense of a product like corn, which has actually sucked carbon out of the air. I’m still going to have to combust it, but I can get pretty close to a zero emissions fuel product if I use things that come from the earth that have large carbon reductions through the growing of that product and through sustainable farming practices and hey, while I’m at it, while I’m building this whole new industry of sustainable aviation fuel, let’s make sure through the refining and production process that I’m using renewable energy, that I’m capturing my carbon, right? It’s rethinking how we make the fuel every step along the way to truly make it a cleaner fuel. The problem, of course, is it is a whole new industry. So every plant that opens, and there are very few around the world right now, we celebrate. We as Delta pink one, last year we used about 3 million gallons of sustainable aviation jet fuel. We are a 4 billion gallon jet fuel user, so it just shows the magnitude of the challenge and we got every drop that we could last year. So I think it just speaks to the challenge of it, but it’s a really exciting thing. It will scale in the United States. It has huge economic development for many of our Midwestern hub states in particular, it’s tied to farmer livelihoods, it’s tied to energy security. It’s tied to a place for sources of waste to go. So it’s kind of a beautiful narrative. We just got to get it off the ground.

John: Wait a second, here’s just a silly question, but I mean, if you have a 4 billion, 4 billion gallon fuel consumption need, I’m sure other sizable airlines also are in the billions. So I’m hearing this and I’m a young entrepreneur and I have the ability to raise some money. Why wouldn’t I go out and say, I’m going to help build their seemingly insatiable needs right now or at least, I mean needs that are, there’s a huge delta of opportunity from 3 million to 4 billion, and then the times that by the algorithm of many big airlines, why aren’t there more, how do we say, I mean gold rush people out there on the sustainable fuel aviation rush mantra right now?

Amelia: A 100%, and that’s what’s so interesting because basic economics would say if there is demand, there should be supply and so we’re getting a lot of questions, well, where’s the supply? The issue is the product is so expensive today, and that wouldn’t be a huge issue except for that again, as we talked about at the beginning, we’re an industry that runs on razor thin margin. So we cannot take all that grain premium on ourselves. We take some of it on, but then we look to other parties to share in the green premium, and that’s where you just run into just everyone’s doing their part. But each one of those has little areas of risk. So there’s us, there’s the federal government, there’s the state government, there is corporate and cargo customers who also participate in the green premium with us. But every one of those steps has a challenge in terms of longevity. These plants are being built today to operate for many decades and so what’s the willingness to pay for multiple decades? What will the government incentives look like at that point? This is all new technology and in many instances it’s also new feedstocks. So it’s just a new industry that is just going to take a little bit longer, I think potentially than any of us anticipated. It’ll scale, it’s just going to take longer. Side note, PSA, if you have kids in college who aren’t sure what to do, point them towards the staff industry, it’s going to have a huge job economic boom for the United States because these plants should be favored to exist in the United States versus anywhere else.

John: It’s a great call. Everyone talks about technology and there’s nothing about with technology and talking about AI, everybody should go into AI and all that other kind of fun stuff. But here you just pointed out, what a growth industry, it’s coming. It has to come, it has to exist, and it has to scale. You want us to go make a paycheck and also make the world a better place, the south industry, why not?

Amelia: Agreed. Yeah, and I think it’s just a cool industry too, because so many people are getting, myself included, are getting back to agriculture roots that run pretty deep. My grandfather worked for an ag-company. Both my grandfathers had farms and so now it’s many of us getting to go back and say, okay, let’s understand how farms are run and how farmers, they’re great, very smart business people, and they are very excited about staff. It provides quite a bit of economic benefit for them at the farmer level as well, which then makes it bipartisan from politics, which is great. So again, it’s got all these ingredients for success. It’s just going to take a little while I think, to just get all the pieces of the puzzle lined up to start to really see that acceleration on the supply side.

John: A constant theme that I’m hearing more and more of is that, listen, the day of the iconic and soul entrepreneur who disrupted the world, Bill Gates, as the Richard Branson, the Sara Blakely still exists to a degree, but more and more collaborations, public private partnerships are creating bigger and more sustainable impacts, both on a short-term basis, but also with long-term effects. Talk about your view on collaborative public-private partnerships and how you see it and how Delta wants you to execute that.

Amelia: Well, I think first there’s an acknowledgement that these are new partnerships. So Delta is a great company with a great respected, trusted brand, but now we’re starting to partner with companies that we never have before. Again, ag companies as a great example, Delta has not had much of a relationship beyond just how do we source the beef that’s on the plane, for example. So part of it is just going back to let’s build a relationship, right? We’re going to be in it for a long time and let’s not be transactional. So we spend an immense amount of time choosing our partners. Sometimes I would say there’s been a couple examples where we get pushback for maybe being the last ones out with the chosen partner for whatever new technology or new thing it is and the point is, behind the scenes for Delta, our partners really matter to us. These are people that we want to be by our side day in and day out through the good and the bad of what we’ll be scaling this industry. So we really think about who we want our partners to be, and not just that direct partner from the startup perspective, but the whole value chain. So a great example of that is the Minnesota SAP Hub for us. We had a problem, which is there’s not enough staff supply. We knew Minnesota has the right ingredients to make SAP, it’s got corn, it’s got a state level incentive, it’s got a governor as well as locally, this economic development arm that’s just hugely interested in SAP. Then we kind of said to all of our just major corporate customers out there who’s in, and they almost all raised their hands, John. They were like, yes, sure. We’re not going to fly staff. We don’t have planes, and we’re going to need some of this for our corporate travel, but we’re mostly just in because to your point, this matters and it matters locally to the economy. So those are the sorts of relationships that Delta’s looking at right now to build these new partnerships to take us forward and that’s a great example of private public partnership. But the same thing exists across the airline industry. We cannot go at this alone and the second we try to do it is the second that this is not going to work. And so on a daily basis, I’m exchanging texts with my counterparts at the major airlines just saying, hey, what do you think about this? Or What do you know about this? Obviously all within the realm of what is allowed to be shared, but it’s all in good spirit. When we launched our new paper cup, I fielded a number of phone calls from my counterparts saying, how’d you do that? How’d you figure out a paper cup that doesn’t have a plastic liner? I said, ”Well, contractually, you got to give me three months, but then I promise I’ll share with you.” So the point is, we’re doing it for the betterment of our industry and for the planet. So I think collaboration is the most important word here.

John: You and I talked about a little bit off the air, you really are part of the coolest fraternity on this planet, and not only in your industry, also outside of your industry. The truth is, every chief sustainability officer I’ve met, or chief impact officer or chief ESG officer or some version thereof understands that this is not a net zero game here. We’re all in this together. We all are protecting the same environment and the same planet. If someone’s doing something adverse over here, whether it’s in the country or outside of the country, those adverse effects are going to eventually catch up with us wherever we are. Similarly, the positivity that you and your counterparts get to create and get to share those positive effects all have a net positive benefit to make the world a better place, that we’re going to eventually, as you say, top of the show, we’re going to leave behind to our children and grandchildren. So why not share what your best thinking is? Also outside of your industry, I’m sure outside of your fraternity, inside of the industry, you also reach outside of the industry for benchmarking and inspiration and aspirational goals to find out what others are doing outside of your industry just to keep you fresh and to give you some other thinking as well.

Amelia: Absolutely, there’s an incredible network of CSOs and environmental leaders. Like my mentor is a CSO at another Fortune 100 company. I’m regularly in a peer group with other CSOs where we can talk about everything from disclosure requirements for ESG reporting to how do you keep team morale up when this is a tricky space to navigate, especially in an election year, to everything in between. How are you building it into your executive priorities for the year? So there’s a really great community out there that I know I have someone I can call when I don’t what the problem is.

John: A good friend of mine knew we were having this conversation, was very excited about having this conversation, and he educated me. He’s a pilot, he’s also a member of the AATC, so he is an air traffic controller as well, very rare group of folks. His name’s Derek Evans. He said to me, ”Hey, you’re talking to the chief sustainability of Delta?” I said, ”Yeah.” He goes, ”Wow.” He goes, ”Delta is doing it right when it comes to innovation and when it comes to avoiding turbulence. He sent me an article about your Delta flight weather viewer and how it helps Delta Airlines avoid turbulence, which to me creates a better client experience because which of your flyers want to have more is everyone wants to have less turbulence? Talk a little bit about the spirit and the DNA of innovation at Delta both on avoiding turbulence and beyond.

Amelia: Yeah. Well little plug here. So everything John said is true. Also, if you haven’t been on us recently, fast free Wi-Fi is here on the majority of our fleet. So I promise you, you can’t go wrong. So you’re going to have less turbulence and fast free Wi-Fi. Yep. That’s how people like John get hooked on us and it’s no, but all joking aside, I think we’ve always operated as a company and pursuit of our employees and our customers. If we take care of our employees, our employees will take care of our customers. Then it’ll last, and then only then can we talk about our shareholders. So it’s always been in pursuit of employees and customers and the same thing is true when it comes to sustainability. So any action that we take, we first vet through employees and customers through the lens and make sure that, are we doing it for the end, so are we doing this because it’s good for the environment and has an employee benefit and has a customer experience benefit? You’ll see that across the board. Let’s use the example of electrification of our ground support equipment. So we are almost a 100% electrified at a couple of our hubs. We are over 30% of our fleet is now electrified. It’s obviously good for the environment. Hey, guess what? It’s also really good for our employees. There’s no noise. It’s a much safer product for them. So everything that we do, and that’s the great thing about sustainable and sustainability in general. If you think about any kind of big brand that you’ve thought about in the last couple of years who is, ”a sustainable brand” it’s not just the sustainability aspect that gets us, think about your car, for example. Potentially you have an electric vehicle. You probably also bought it because it might be good for your fuel savings and we at Delta certainly are always considering the cost as we bring things on, but also probably has a great experience potentially in the interior, right? I’m using that electrification on board to also make it easier for me to move through navigation or preheat my car, like you name it, right? Let’s use this as an opportunity to rethink the experience and that’s what Delta does every single day with sustainability. It needs to be safe and it needs to have an excellent customer experience and employee experience angled in addition to being the right decision for the planet.

John: So you do have technology that’s superior to some other brands that helps you avoid turbulence. Is this true or not true?

Amelia: Yeah. No, it’s true. No, and I think what’s cool about that, to your point, the other thing I’ll just say, John, is that was a homemade system made. So it is allowing us to have pretty straightforward conversations with the sustainability team when we say, hey, what if we wanted to integrate this new concept of flying into our systems? We know how to do it in a way that fits into the systems that we have today, that provides a great experience for our pilots, right? As well as achieving our own objectives and yes, indeed, we will help minimize turbulence. We cannot eliminate it, unfortunately. Sometimes I laugh because I’m like, it feels like a battle though of conflict because also climate change can cause more turbulence, but hey, at least we can avoid it more. No, I’m just teasing. We’re doing the best we can and we’re really proud of what we have at Delta

John: With regards to innovation and sustainability, I read about a little bit, but I’d like you to share more about Delta Sustainable Sky’s Lab. What does that mean in terms of your sustainability strategy? Where does it fit in?

Amelia: So we took a lot of time, as I mentioned, Delta sometimes pauses for a second to say, what do we want to do and how do we want to achieve that in a way that is consistent with all things Delta and the sustainable Sky Lab is one of my favorite example of this. You are looking at new innovations every single day to tackle climate change. You sit there and you think, well, what is the role of Delta? The role of Delta is we have some incredible assets in our people and in our systems and in our operations today. So the sustainable Skies Lab sets out to say to any startup, any innovator come and if we partner with you, it’s not about the money necessarily though we will certainly be there to support on that side, but it’s making sure we have the people that we’re freeing up our resources from our tech ops organization, from our operations control center, from our onboard services team to say whatever the challenge is as we bring it on board it’s not just about the money, but it’s really about adults as people and it’s human capital that we’re going to help to support to not only move this from innovation to pilot, but really move it into reality. So some of the things that behind the scenes right now we’re trialing and we’re not public with yet are things that you’re going to say, yeah, that’s probably still a few years away from being able to be fully scaled, but Delta’s thrown a bunch of resources at it, and we’re so excited about the sustainable Skyes Lab from that regard. It’s a little bit of a differentiator. It’s not research, it’s not venture, it’s just truly saying, here’s a handful of problems that are out there and someone has a solution, and we’re going to offer them up our facilities, our time, our people to help make it a reality.

John: Amelia, you’ve been at Delta now about 17 years , this July, you’ll have been the CSO for about a year. So you have something that’s very important perspective. So let’s have a little fun here and look back present, and let’s look a little bit to the future of things. I know you’re a publicly traded company, so limited in what you can really say. Talk about one favorite initiatives in sustainability looking backwards that you’re most proud of, currently, that you’re most proud of, and looking to the future that you’re most excited about that gets you out of bed in the morning.

Amelia: Oh, this one I’m just going to use because it’s opportunistic. I’m going to share not the full details of it, but we had our earnings today and I will tell you, this isn’t an initiative because here’s what I’ll say real quickly. Sometimes for sustainability, it’s not the what, it’s the how, it’s how am I getting the work done? So today we released our earnings and in the line, there’s a line in there that says Delta was 1.9% more fuel efficient this quarter led by fleet renewal and sustainability initiatives. John, that’s huge, right? That we’re starting to tie our fleet and our fuel efficiency directly into a more sustainable future and so some of the things we’re doing behind the scenes there, as I mentioned, are every single day how we fly. A big one is we’ve been really pushing Delta’s organization throughout all the teams to recognize when an airplane pulls up to the gate, if we have the right gate equipment there, we want to get the little engine on the back turned off because that’s a really inefficient way to cool an airplane and burns a lot of jet fuel, and we want to get it plugged into ground power and that’s been just a labor of love across this organization the last couple of years to make sure that we’ve got the right procedures, we’ve got the right equipment at the gate, provides a better customer experience because you’re able to have a better cooler experience on board because you’ve got a bigger machine. So I think that’s one I’m just super excited starting to see that really pay off in terms of our fuel efficiency that we can drive. Next is Minnesota, that’s the thing that’s here, but it’s just starting now. Minnesota will produce staff. We are so proud to have a hub state like state of Minnesota where I started my career being on the forefront of sustainable aviation field development. Then I think finally I just get excited about what the aircraft of the future could look like. We have a couple partnerships through a sustainable Skyes Lab from an eVTOL company to Airbus and Boeing. Both have new airframes of the future or new propulsion systems, and I just get excited just thinking about what air travel looks like in the future, just as long as it is sustainable, I’m very open to change.

John: That’s awesome. What I want to just say is this, you and I both know sustainability is a journey. There’s no real finish line. There’s a lot more to discuss that we’re going to discuss. I want you to know you’re always invited back on the Impact Podcast to share the continued journey at Delta in sustainability and all the important things you’re doing that make a great impact on this planet Earth with your colleagues. Amelia DeLuca, thank you for spending all this time with us today. Thank you and your colleagues at Delta for making the world a more sustainable and a better place.

Amelia: Thanks, John. Really appreciate the conversation.

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