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Delta, Duke Team Up to Transform Carbon Credits Into Community Sustainability Projects

Delta Air Lines is expanding its partnership with Duke Athletics and Duke University with a first-of-its-kind sustainability program.

Delta Air Lines is expanding its partnership with Duke Athletics and Duke University with a first-of-its-kind sustainability program.

As part of the program, Duke and Delta will purchase 5,000 carbon credits, thereby offsetting all of Duke University’s business travel on Delta in 2017. The credits will then be used to fund urban forestry in the Raleigh-Durham area, more specifically, the planting and care of 1,000 new trees. A single carbon offset is equal to one metric ton of CO2 being removed from the air, while the 1,000 newly planted trees are expected to remove an additional 5,000 metric tons of CO2 from the air during their lifespan. Together, these actions equate to neutralizing the carbon footprint of around 9,000 roundtrip flights between Atlanta and Los Angeles.

The program is being facilitated by Urban Offsets, a North Carolina-based company that works with businesses and higher education institutions to invest carbon offsets into community development work that helps create climate resilient cities.

“Duke’s passion for offsetting their travel with Delta is multiplied by their commitment to use the offsets to improve certain Raleigh-Durham neighborhoods where tree canopies have all but disappeared,” said Tim Mapes, Delta’s Chief Marketing Officer. “Projects that build pride in local communities and expand our global sustainability efforts are what being part of a community is all about.”

Of the 1,000 trees being planted, half will be allotted to historically disadvantaged neighborhoods identified through a 2016 Duke Nicholas School of the Environment student-led report outlining the red-lining policies of the 1930s that resulted in trees predominantly being planted in wealthy, white neighborhoods.

Delta was the first US airline to offer carbon offsets to customers and is the only airline to cap greenhouse gas emissions at 2012 levels by purchasing carbon offsets — more than 2.5 million in 2017 alone. This new program builds on the global airline’s efforts to continue the carbon-neutral growth it has maintained since 2012, as well as its program that encourages customers to use the carbon calculator at to estimate the carbon emissions associated with their trips and invest in carbon offset projects of their choice.

“This is a great example of the type of carbon offset project we’re interested in,” said Tallman Trask, EVP of Duke University. “Rather than seeking out the cheapest available carbon credits, we’re continuing to invest in projects with multiple benefits for our community in North Carolina. We’re happy for the opportunity to partner with Delta Air Lines and Urban Offsets to further catalyze this market.”

Adding trees to urban areas not only means more shade coverage and wildlife habitat, but also improved air quality, noise levels and storm-water control. Cities and their nonprofit partners often struggle to properly fund urban forestry initiatives. This first-of-its-kind carbon offsets program directly addresses that funding gap, helping to ensure every new urban tree can be cared for while it grows, and providing local volunteering opportunities for Duke University faculty, students and staff, as well as Delta employees.

“This model unites the sustainability goals of multiple organizations,” said Shawn Gagné, CEO and founder of Urban Offsets. “Cooperation is the key to addressing sustainability challenges, and Delta and Duke are true champions in this regard.”