Delta Air Lines, the official airline of Duke Athletics, and Duke University, are expanding their partnership with a first-of-its-kind sustainability program.

 Delta and Duke’s combined purchase of 5,000 carbon credits, simultaneously offsets carbon from all Duke University business travel on Delta in 2017, while supporting urban forestry in the Raleigh-Durham area through funding 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 trees being planted locally will generate the removal of an additional 5,000 metric tons of CO2 from the air during their lifespan – together, that’s like neutralizing the carbon footprint of around 9,000 roundtrip flights between Atlanta and Los Angeles. The program is being facilitated by North Carolina-based Urban Offsets.

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“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.”

Approximately half of the trees being planted will benefit historically disadvantaged Raleigh-Durham 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 being planted in mostly wealthy white neighborhoods.

Delta was the first U.S. 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, and more than $8 million-worth since it started the voluntary effort. This new program builds on the global airline’s efforts to continue the carbon-neutral growth it has maintained since 2012, and builds on its industry-leading program that encourages customers to use the carbon calculator at to estimate their carbon emissions associated with 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, Executive Vice President, 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.”

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