How airlines are thinking about sustainability A VIEW FROM THE INSIDE:
As the world hurtles towards a climate crisis, the need to decarbonise quickly and effectively has taken centre stage. Travel – specifically aviation – is in the crosshairs for its outsize contribution to global CO2 emissions. While the industry might argue that it accounts for “only about 3%” of emissions, context is key: 1% of the world’s population accounts for more than half of flying emissions. As a result, climate activists have grown ever more vociferous in their opposition to flying in general: from flight-shaming campaigns to complaints about greenwashing to gluing hands to the runway and protesting at airports.
The good news, however, is that the industry recognises the need for swift course correction. The aviation industry has adopted the goal of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. In October, the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) led two weeks of negotiations involving 184 nations to agree on CO2 emissions reduction measures. These include ramping up innovative aircraft technologies, “streamlining” flight operations and the increased production and use of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF). (See more in this World Economic Forum overview.)
While there is reason for optimism, there are certain tough pills one must swallow. Progress, in aviation specifically, is likely to be slow and laboured. Due to its sheer nature (no easy electric replacements such as in the automotive or rail industries), aviation will chart a complex path to decarbonisation. In recognition of this complexity, we spoke to leaders from ten very different airlines to understand how they are moving towards the 2050 net-zero target. Our special report illuminates the various pathways to sustainability these airlines are adopting.
Overall, there are five thematic issues that almost all airlines accept and recognise.
First, they admit that the challenge is much tougher than in almost every other industry since the only effective solution is likely to be a new kind of emission-less plane that might be decades away.
Second, they recognise Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) as the likely saviour. Almost all airlines want more of it. However, supply and price appear to be insurmountable challenges in the near future.
Third, while airlines may be at different stages of their sustainability journey,
they understand that – for once – going green is not merely a competitive differentiator but a societal good that the industry must cooperate towards.
Fourth, economic viability will remain a major concern (see the issues with SAF, for example). If it comes to a choice between reducing carbon emissions at a high cost and staying afloat, airlines will understandably choose the latter. This should neither surprise nor irk anyone. Hundreds of thousands of livelihoods depend on the industry. It cannot be shut down or wished away. Rapid technological investment and large-scale cooperation is the only way forward.
Fifth, airlines are awakening to the reality that sustainability efforts, knowledge and consciousness must permeate through the entire organisation. The right momentum for change arises when there is complete buy-in and support at all tiers of the company.
We are also delighted that so many women are leading airline sustainability efforts. In fact, six of the ten leaders we interviewed are women with deep experience in and passion for sustainability.
We hope you enjoy this deep dive into various sustainability strategies, straight from the leaders who are bringing in change.Shubhodeep Pal Chief Operating Officer
One of our executives once said, “the greatest challenge to sustainability is to sustain interest”. I would also add “interest and funding”. Pro-sustainability options are often more expensive than other options and do not necessarily have a monetary return on investment.Head
Etihad Airways is serious about sustainability and wants the world to know. Over the last couple of years, Etihad has taken the task of going green with sincerity, exploring new technologies and future paradigms of net-zero flying.
For example, in October 2021, Etihad ran a test flight (EY20) from London Heathrow to Abu Dhabi with 72% reduced carbon emissions, compared to an equivalent 2019 flight. In 2022, the airline went even further. In October, they operated a flight from Tokyo to Abu Dhabi using a 40% blend of SAF supplied by ITOCHU Corporation and NESTE. It became not only the first international airline to procure SAF in Japan but also represented the first delivery of 50,000 gallons of SAF, entirely produced in Japan, which will be used to fuel aircraft in the near future. (The airline has also partnered with World Energy to make carbon-neutral flying possible.)
On 13 November, Etihad also flew their “first net zero carbon flight” from Washington to Sharm-El-Sheik for COP27, claiming 10,000kms of emission-free flight. Recently, the airline was also recognised as Environmental Airline of the Year for 2022 in the Airline Excellence Awards.
MEET THE CHANGEMAKER
If you’re marvelling at the rapid clip of sustainability initiatives at Etihad, Mariam Musallam AlQubaisi, Head of Sustainability & Business Excellence at Etihad Airways is the person to congratulate. While sustainability initiatives enjoy support right from the top, Mariam’s single-minded focus on going green is a key driver at Etihad. Mariam is a self-motivated Emirati with a multidisciplinary background in renewable and nuclear energy, natural resource management, change management, and innovation. At Etihad, she supports a pro-sustainability transformation within the organisation, making Abu Dhabi’s airline a thought leader in sustainable aviation focused on cleaner fuels, operational efficiency and carbon offsets. She is also an active sustainability expert serving task forces within the GCAA, IATA and ICAO.
She is quick to tout Etihad’s sustainability transition as their greatest achievement.
“Supporting sustainability was an option, today it is a must! Sustainability has grown into a core pillar in our corporate strategy, and our CEO meets with us bi-weekly solely to discuss how we can make Etihad and the industry greener and cleaner”, she says.
According to Mariam, this transition has given Etihad a pro-sustainability persona underpinned by the airline’s decarbonisation, waste management, and biodiversity protection efforts.
OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES
Mariam believes that technological research and regulatory support offer the greatest opportunities for the industry. In the UAE, she says, there is an excellent support system as the country aspires to become a global sustainability champion. “With its national commitment to net-zero by 2050, the UAE has engaged key industrial, academic and regulatory stakeholders in creating a roadmap for net-zero, one that does not compromise the livelihood of the industry”, she points out.
Moving forward on sustainability will require effort but Mariam believes mainly education and collaboration will be the key differentiators for those who succeed. “We need to support the global effort to educate people and stakeholders about the importance of this sustainability transition, and of course we need to work and
collaborate with industry, academia and government to see it through”, she says.
As far as decarbonisation is concerned, Mariam knows there is no quick fix or single solution. She admits that when she first joined the airline, she was naive to believe that decarbonisation can only be achieved through SAF. “I was wrong”, she now says.
“Decarbonisation needs a multi-faceted and interactive approach, characterised by a number of interventions, not limited to SAF.”
She points to the 2021 Sustainable Flight as a testament to this approach. “We included SAF, weight reduction on aircraft, route optimisation and contrail management, allowing us to reduce over 70% of emissions compared to a regular flight.”
Etihad Airways has launched its sustainability-focused corporate rewards programme "Corporate Conscious Choices" that focuses on organizations committed to reducing emissions and operating sustainably, with rewards and incentives that support pro-environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiatives.
Under Mariam’s leadership, Etihad has taken an aggressive approach to communicating its sustainability efforts. “We have a number of outlets – our verified annual report and our emissions/ efforts reporting to local and international organisations. We are happy to be one of the few carriers that are stage 2 certified under IATA’s environmental assessment programme which ensures that a proper and transparent sustainability management system is in place,” she says.
Etihad has also pledged to reach a 20% reduction in emissions intensity by
2025, and by 2035, to have cut 2019 net emissions by 50%. The airline is bullish on leading the development of sustainable aviation fuels, and is investing in technology to make sure their aircraft are as fuel-efficient as possible.
The airline admits that climate change isn’t something they can take on alone. They have also invested in key programmers with industry leaders – such as the Etihad Greenliner and Sustainable50.
Read their sustainability report for more.
On 23 October 2021, Etihad Airways operated its most sustainable flight ever, leveraging the learnings and efficiencies developed over the last two years of its comprehensive sustainability programmeSource: Etihad Airways
More needs to be done at the European and national levels to incentivise the production of SAF. The additional production of SAF and greater availability of raw materials are needed to support mechanisms that can cover additional costs for products brought to market.Thomas Fowler Director of Sustainability and Finance at Ryanair
For the longest time, Ryanair, Europe’s largest airline by passenger numbers, has been known for flying millions of passengers at rock-bottom prices. In the last couple of years, however, the airline has made a conscious effort to change the narrative and present itself as “the greenest and cleanest airline in Europe”.Source: Ryanair
Ryanair’s sustainability efforts are defined as “Aviation with Purpose” in its most recent sustainability report. While the airline says it is committed to growing annual traffic from 149m to 225m customers annually over the next 5 years, it insists that this planned growth will be accompanied by lower cost of air travel and reduced environmental impact.
At the centre of Ryanair’s sustainability strategy is the following plan: cutting CO2 emissions per passenger/km by 10% over the next decade; use 12.5% SAF fleet-wide by 2030; and to be plastic-free on board within the next 4 years. Most importantly, at the heart of Ryanair’s environmental strategy is their $22bn investment in new ‘Gamechanger’ aircraft which will reportedly deliver more seats per flight with more leg room for
improved comfort, yet burn 16% less fuel and reduce noise emissions by up to 40%.
MEET THE CHANGEMAKER
Thomas Fowler is Director Of Sustainability and Finance at Ryanair, where he has worked for over 15 years. For the last three years, Thomas has been leading Ryanair’s sustainability initiatives.
When it comes to sustainability, Thomas is quick to get right to the point. He believes two things are needed at the EU and national levels to support the aviation industry’s net zero ambition.
The first is that more needs to be done to incentivise the production of SAF. “The additional production of SAF and greater availability of raw materials are needed to support mechanisms that can cover additional costs for products brought to market. Similar incentives have been introduced in the US and since then we
have seen the US overtaking the EU in SAF production efforts”, he says with a touch of disappointment.
The second thing is the immediate introduction of the Single European Sky initiative that aims to increase the efficiency of air traffic management and air navigation services by reducing the fragmentation of European airspace.
Thomas believes this alone will help reduce the emissions generated by the aviation industry by up to 10%, by removing unnecessary route changes and the imposition of longer flight times.
OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES
Continuing on SAF, Thomas says – like many of his other airline counterparts –that since the vast majority of fuel used in aviation is fossil jet fuel (refined petroleum known as kerosene), moving to SAF is a viable solution to minimise global warming
Source: Ryanair website
On 19th April 2021, Ryanair & Trinity College Dublin announced the launch of the Ryanair Sustainable Aviation Research Centre. With this partnership, Ryanair commits to power 12.5% of its flights with sustainable aviation fuels by 2030
Existing and announced sustainable fuel production facilities in Europe with SAF production capacity 2020-2025
causing carbon emissions by up to 80%. The advantages, of course, are that SAF can be blended with fossil jet fuel (as a drop-in fuel) and requires no special infrastructure or changes to equipment. Once blended, this fuel can be fully certified and have the same specifications as that of fossil jet fuel.
“That is why we teamed up with Trinity College Dublin to accelerate the use of SAF”, he says. “By appointing best-in-class researchers, we’ll achieve our industry-leading goal of powering 12.5% of our flights with SAF by 2030.”
Thomas has also been driving Ryanair’s communications push about its sustainability efforts. In November 2021, Ryanair published their first sustainability report. The report communicates the airline’s goals, targets, and initiatives that support their sustainability agendas. Its most recent report is even more comprehensive and Ryanair’s sustainability efforts are defined as “Aviation with Purpose”.
“We have also begun using social media more to communicate our message. In keeping with the brand of Ryanair, we are communicating our sustainability strategy in a clear, simple, and (almost always) fun way. An example of this is the video we published to mark International Women’s Day”, says Thomas.
In addition, Ryanair is also investing time and effort into on-the-ground engagement. The airline has been engaging with governments, industry bodies, and other forums over the past few years sharing with them Ryanair’s sustainability efforts and what more needs to be done. For example, the CEO, Michael O’Leary, met with policymakers in Brussels at the end of 2021 and continued his outreach in 2022.Source: World Economic Forum
In recent months, there have been a spate of announcements as Ryanair has ramped up its sustainability efforts. In December, it signed a memorandum of understanding with Shell to access up to 360,000 tonnes of SAF from 2025 to 2030, a fifth of what it says it needs to reach its 12.5% target. Earlier in September this year, the airline signed a deal with OMV for 160,000 tonnes of SAF. The Vienna-based OMV will provide Ryanair with SAF at select airports in Romania, Austria, and Germany.
In November this year, Ryanair announced a partnership with Citi to become the first European airline to deposit funds in its new Sustainable Deposit Solution, which launched earlier this year. This means that Ryanair can now invest excess cash to support different sustainable financing projects across Citi’s portfolio. These include a range of areas such as water conservation, renewable energy, as well as healthcare and education in emerging markets.
That’s not all. Ryanair is betting on the future and investing in it too. Earlier this year, IE School of Science and Technology hosted the IE Sustainability Datathon in partnership with Ryanair. This year’s corporate challenge will enable students to work alongside the company for three weeks, with Ryanair providing a dataset and a sustainability problem for students to solve with predictive modelling.
In the early days, the business criticality of sustainability was sometimes difficult to get across. Nowadays it is well understood within the business world that sustainability is critical to future success. However, short-termism can sometimes still be challenging, not only in business but across society.Jane Ashton Sustainability Director at easyJet
In Sep 2022, easyJet took the remarkable decision to move away from carbon offsets as a sustainability pillar. Although controversial because of occasionally opaque outcomes, offsets have, in general, been a go-to solution for the industry till now. easyJet’s move opens up a new front for moving airline sustainability towards initiatives that directly impact carbon production and removal.
The airline is not shy to tout its sustainability credentials. For example, easyJet says its Airbus NEO aircraft are at least 15% more fuel efficient than the aircraft they replace and also have a 50% noise reduction.
As a result, “all these measures mean that since 2000, over a 20-year period, we have already reduced our carbon emissions per passenger, per kilometre, by one-third.”
The airline has also updated its sustainability strategy for “net zero by 2050” to include other holistic initiatives including introducing hydrogen-powered jet engines, using sustainable aviation fuel, more fuel-efficient planes and carbon capture to reach the target. It also said it will cut carbon emissions by 35% by 2035.
MEET THE CHANGEMAKER
Jane Ashton is Sustainability Director at easyJet. With extensive experience in sustainable tourism and leisure travel management in multiple European travel companies, Jane brings a deep desire to create a more sustainable tourism model, which, in her
words, delivers commercial success while optimising social value within environmental limits.
Although she is a sustainability champion, Jane believes that travel is undoubtedly a force for good, connecting friends and family, culture and understanding, and a very significant driver of direct and indirect economic benefit. However, as the climate crisis becomes ever clearer, so does the urgency with which all ‘hard to abate’ sectors – aviation included - need to tackle the challenge of decarbonisation.
“Ultimately, with investors, regulators and customers increasingly rewarding more environmentally efficient travel, it makes business sense to prioritise opportunities to reduce environmental impact, focusing on meaningful carbon reduction by investing in new technologies and innovative business practices”, she says.
APPROACH TO SUSTAINABILITY
At easyJet, Jane’s sustainability strategy (which launched end-2019) has encompassed several key areas:
The recently certified ISO14001-
aligned IEnvA Environmental Management System for easyJet –the only major and low-cost airline in Europe to have achieved this. According to Jane, the formal structure of an Environmental Management System is “invaluable in engaging scores of managers across the business to systematically evaluate priority environmental impacts and develop measurements, targets, accountabilities, and improvement plans.”
The management of easyJet’s voluntary carbon credit portfolio (8.7M high-quality Gold Standard or VCS credits retired to date).
Collaborating across the business to develop easyJet’s Net Zero Roadmap – a pathway to transform the business to a low and ultimately net zero model by 2050.
Beyond these initiatives, the airline is also focusing on reducing the amount of plastic on their aircraft – more than 36 million single-use plastic items have been eliminated – as well as reducing waste and plastic within the wider operations and the
supply chain. “We also recently introduced new crew uniforms made from recycled plastic bottles”, says Jane. “Forty-five bottles go into each outfit – with the potential to prevent 2.7 million plastic bottles from ending up in landfill or in oceans over the next five years.”Source: easyJet
easyJet is aware that customers are increasingly concerned about the environmental impact of flying, therefore they expect and value efforts to manage and reduce it. Therefore, Jane also drives their communication about sustainability along the customer journey. She says she would welcome a Europe-wide methodology to communicate the carbon impact of individual flights. easyjet are involved in EASA’s (European Union Aviation Safety Agency) project to implement such an initiative.
easyJet’s roadmap is also aligned with the UNFCCC-backed Science-based Targets initiative’s (SBTi) Aviation Sector Decarbonisation approach, published a year ago following a development process of which easyJet was part of. “It is a logical follow-on from our ‘Race to Zero’ commitment to Net Zero by 2050, signed during COP26 last November”, she explains.
Jane believes the immediate opportunity lies beyond an individual airline’s capacity to change. She argues that smarter international air traffic management could lead to a 10% carbon reduction from aviation across Europe alone if the Single European Sky was finally implemented. (Ryanair, featured later in our report, argues for the same.)
In addition to their solo efforts, easyJet is also working with partners across the industry, including Airbus, Rolls-Royce, GKN Aerospace, and Cranfield Aerospace Solutions. Together with Rolls-Royce, airline is supporting the development of hydrogen combustion engine technology, capable of powering an easyJet sized aircraft in the future. Moreover, easyJet is also the first airline to support Airbus’ ZEROe programme for hybrid-hydrogen aircraft and recently signed a letter of intent with Airbus to support the development of carbon removal technology.
Sustainability is a road that we build together. When it comes down to taking care of our planet and our people, there is no such thing as competition. When airlines and organisations unite for the common good, complex problems are solved with much greater ease.Martin Vice President Marketing & Sustainability at Aeroméxico
Following the brutal travel shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mexico was one of the first countries to see a real bounce-back in terms of domestic travel after the early days of the virus. However, even as the immediate focus was business recovery and health safety, the COVID-19 pandemic gave Aeroméxico much food for thought about sustainability.
One of the first pillars for the airline is improving aircraft efficiency via a fleet renewal programme. In 2021, it announced an order for 24 new Boeing 737-8 MAX and 737-9 MAX jets, alongside plans to retire some of its Boeing 737-700s and Embraer E190s. In partnership with Neste, it also carried out three flights between the US and Mexico using sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) for the first time in November 2021. The airline also began undertaking a range of other initiatives, such as phasing out single-use plastics from 2022.
MEET THE CHANGEMAKER
Like many other airlines, while the mandate for sustainability comes from the top, the planning and execution is driven by a dedicated sustainability function. Xiomara Martin is Vice President Marketing & Sustainability at Aeroméxico. With over 20 years of experience across various functions, she leads the marketing and sustainability agenda at Aeroméxico by “adopting a client and environmental centric approach and executing the global strategy to maximise brand equity and minimise the company’s environmental impact”.
Xiomara says that Aeroméxico’s commitment to a greener future is exemplified by their fleet that emits 40% less CO2 than 15 years ago.
“This has been possible due to the Fleet Renovation Plan and the implementation of a fuel efficiency programme over more than 10 years that applies new technologies and optimises processes to generate even fewer emissions. These efforts have positioned us among the most efficient airlines in the industry, according to IATA”, she says.
Ultimately, what drives Xiomara’s work is the desire to give future generations a planet they can enjoy. In addition, she says she wishes to create the environmental and social wealth that will allow Mexico’s sustainable development. And on top of her agenda, of course, is proving that sustainable aviation is possible.
Aeromexico uses a sensible pictorial format to tell people about their green initiatives
OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES
Xiomara admits that now more than ever passengers consider the sustainability aspect of flying. Which is why Aeroméxico’s efforts to promote ESG give them the opportunity to be the airline of choice. However, since the aviation industry is highly regulated and susceptible to the climate, social, cultural, economic, and political conditions of every country, this makes implementing a sustainability policy more difficult, but also more exciting.
As Mexico’s legacy carrier, Aeroméxico has specific goals such as making SAF more readily available and cost-effective, and promoting a culture of sustainability with their suppliers, associates, and passengers. Xiomara’s aim is to get governments, suppliers, employees, and passengers involved to build a more sustainable aviation ecosystem together. For her, flying towards a better future involves not only decarbonization efforts but also waste reduction and sustainable travel packages that not only benefit the environment, but also the communities in which the airline operates.
Like many other airlines, Xiomara says one of the major focus areas for Aeroméxico is to continue developing SAF “in every region according to each country's situation, guaranteeing the creation of environmental, social, and economic wealth, while also educating our passengers on the reduction of emissions from these types of fuels.”
For Xiomara, it is of vital importance to employ a sustainable culture within the organisation.
“Identifying natural sustainability leaders, giving them a voice, recognition, the power to transform, as well as support is important”, she says. “They are the ones who promote sustainable values throughout the organisation while generating projects of environmental and social value.”
In May 2022, Aeroméxico participated in SkyTeam’s Sustainable Flight Challenge – a call to participating airlines to use everything at their disposal to operate a single flight with minimal impact on the environment.
Aeroméxico stepped up to the Sustainable Flight Challenge by operating a flight from Mexico City to Vancouver on May 10. During the flight, it adopted a range of techniques to reduce the carbon footprint of passengers on board.
Measures included providing free, shared minibus transport to the airport to reduce the use of individual cars; creating a more sustainable onboard menu; handing out reusable cups for in-flight beverages to cut the amount of single-use plastics; and distributing blankets made from recycled plastic bottles. Aeroméxico also agreed during the flight to double each passenger donation to its Vuela Verde voluntary carbon-offsetting programme, which supports sustainable projects throughout Mexico.
Aeroméxico also publishes a yearly sustainability report that conforms to international standards like those of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) which guarantees transparency in reporting. In addition, the airline communicates their sustainable initiatives through social media campaigns. It also responds to the requirements of institutional investors and suppliers through the different questionnaires of international organisations like the Carbon Disclosure Project or the CSA, with the objective of providing utmost transparency in the performance of environmental, social, and risk management.
My motivation is to bring the industry to a point so that the wonders of air travel can be enjoyed without detriment to the climate. My personal mission is to be on course to deliver this by the time I retire – and I don’t want to be too old when I retire! So we need to act quickly.Carrie Harris Director of Sustainability at British Airways
In 2021, British Airways (BA) launched a comprehensive sustainability programme called BA Better World. It was developed in recognition of the fact that flying comes at a cost to the environment and that urgent action is required to create a better, more sustainable future. The airline calls it their “most important journey yet”.
The airline has committed to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050 through a clear short-, medium and long-term plan. In the short-term this includes improving operational efficiency, investing in more efficient aircraft, funding carbon offset projects to mitigate emissions on UK domestic flights and progressively introducing sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) using waste feedstocks. In the medium to longer-term BA will invest in the development and scale-up of SAF and new technologies, such as zero emissions hydrogen-powered aircraft and carbon capture technology.
MEET THE CHANGEMAKER
Carrie Harris is Director of Sustainability at British Airways. She brings rich experience in the field having previously served as Group Sustainability Manager at International Airlines Group (IAG), coordinating sustainability strategy across the Group’s airlines Aer Lingus, British Airways, Iberia, Vueling and LEVEL. In 2019, she helped deliver a world’s first "Flightpath net zero" programme, making IAG the first airline group worldwide to commit to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050.Source: British Airways
For Carrie, aviation sustainability brings together three of her core passions: respect and awe at the natural world and a deep sense of responsibility to protect it; a love of travel and cultural experiences; and a love of technology and innovation.
Speaking of bringing her experience with Flightpath net zero, Carrie says the difference was that they published a quantified pathway on how net zero could be achieved, also a world first. “This was pivotal in driving sector-wide change, first in the UK, then Europe and the USA, then across our alliance partners in Oneworld, and most recently with the global industry body IATA. The momentum and industry support are now there and we’re hopeful ICAO, the UN body for aviation, will also commit to net zero at its Assembly meeting”, she says.
However, the highlight for Carrie has been launching the BA Better World sustainability programme along with a fresh new brand identity and a special livery aircraft in September 2021.
“Positioning sustainability at the heart of British Airways’ corporate strategy to deliver transformational change in the coming decade and beyond is a dream come true”, she emphasises.
Ultimately, Carrie says it was a massive team effort made possible by clear direction and support from the CEO and Chairman Sean Doyle and involved people across the entire organisation.British Airways has teamed up with ZeroAvia, a leading innovator in decarbonizing commercial aviation, in a project to explore how hydrogen-powered aircraft can play a leading role in the future of sustainable flying Source: British Airways
OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES
In April 2021, IAG became the first European airline group to commit to powering 10 percent of its flights with sustainable aviation fuel by 2030.
“We believe that sustainable aviation fuel can be a real game changer for aviation. We’re investing in first-of-a-kind SAF plants in the UK and US to scale up the availability of this drop-in replacement for fossil fuels”, says Carrie.
“We took delivery of the first direct supplies of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) including enough to power all our flights from London to Scotland for the duration of COP26 and our first transatlantic flight operated on 35% SAF.”
In 2021, BA announced a partnership with Phillips 66, making it the first airline in the world to use SAF produced at commercial scale in the UK. They have also partnered with LanzaJet, which will see the airline invest in LanzaJet’s first commercial scale facility in the USA and acquire cleaner SAF from the plant. In addition, the airline’s parent company, International Airlines Group (IAG) has to date committed 865 million dollars in SAF purchasing and investments.
WHY CARBON PRICING COULD BE A VIABLE SOLUTION
For Carrie, the single most effective sustainability measure would be global, economywide carbon pricing. “This would mean that all products and services purchased by consumers would have climate externalities internalised”, she explains. Establishing this would make carbon a valued global commodity, freely tradeable across multiple markets, and in turn, this would:
Enable consumers everywhere to make informed choices about the products and services they buy
Create market conditions that accelerate the shift to ‘green’ products, making some other products less desirable due to their impact and carbon cost
Drive investment into the faster scale-up of low carbon solutions including, in the case of aviation, sustainable aviation fuels, hydrogen propulsion, and carbon capture and storage solutions
It would also help protect biodiversity and natural ecosystems that offer valuable carbon sink
With over 30,000 employees and a global network, British Airways understands that it has a huge opportunity and responsibility to inform and educate people about sustainability and to inspire action. Carrie says that with BA Better World, clear and transparent communication and engagement is at the heart of the airline’s strategy to create a culture of sustainability that's visible and tangible for their customers.
Since launching BA Better World, the airline has created several short films that articulate their action in a clear and engaging way. These include the BA Better World launch film, the Flightpath net zero films, and most recently a short docuseries that kicked off with a fun look at Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF), showing how BA’s pioneering supply of SAF is produced in the UK.
The airline has also revamped their website with a dedicated BA Better World section; featured sustainability in BA’s ‘The CheckIn’ podcast; and regularly provides updates on sustainability initiatives on social media, through press releases to media and to employees through internal channels, webinars and events. BA also maintains a sustainability factsheet, available on their media centre for anyone interested in a comprehensive overview of the airline’s actions.
In October 2022, BA announced an upgraded consumer-facing platform for sustainable flying in partnership with CHOOSE. According to reports, the
upgraded programme, named Co2llaborate, will allow customers to gauge an accurate reading of their emissions and state the percentage of SAF they would like to purchase versus carbon offsets. The SAF comes from the Phillips 66 plant in the Humberside area, where the feedstock is made from used cooking oil as part of the plant’s sustainable operations.
BA has also invested in ZeroAvia to accelerate the development of 50+ seater aircraft capable of running on zero emissions hydrogen electric power. “British Airways’ early partnership with ZeroAvia, the hydrogen-electric propulsion start-up, in 2020 and our subsequent investment in them in January 2021 was another landmark moment, sending a clear signal of intent to incumbent manufacturers that innovation in clean technology is important to us,” says Carrie. “The momentum and excitement around hydrogen continued to accelerate and in late 2021 Airbus published its programme, bringing forward the projected entry into service by 15 years.”The plane on which British Airways has chosen to showcase its special 'BA Better World' livery is an Airbus A320neo that bears the registration G-TTNA
It is no secret that aviation has a real climate impact – and my fear is that in the long-term, if our industry does not take meaningful steps to decarbonize, our business is at risk. And so is what we offer society: a chance to explore and connect with the world.Sara Bogdan Director, Head of Sustainability and ESG at JetBlue Airways
JetBlue plans to achieve net zero emissions earlier than most airlines in the world: by 2040. Counter-intuitively, most of JetBlue’s recent sustainability efforts – including the 2040 target – were thought out during the lull of the COVID-19 shutdown, when business was hurting and planes were grounded.
To get to net zero, the airline has committed to several short- and medium-term targets including reduction in aircraft emissions 25 percent per available seat mile (ASM) by 2030 from 2015 levels; 10 percent of total jet fuel to be from blended SAF by 2030; 40 percent of three main ground service equipment vehicle types to electric by 2025 and 50 percent by 2030; eliminate single-use plastics within service where possible; where not possible, ensure plastic is recyclable; and maintain at least an 80 percent recycling rate for audited domestic flights.
MEET THE CHANGEMAKER
Sara Bogdan is Director, Head of Sustainability and ESG at JetBlue Airways. She manages a series of operational sustainability programmes that “better prepare the organisation for a changing and resource-constrained world”. This includes the execution of JetBlue being the first US airline to achieve regular carbon-neutral flying for all domestic flights via carbon offsets, investments in sustainable aviation fuel, and increasingly fuel-efficient operations.
Sara admits that the challenges of the last several years would have made it easy for JetBlue to abandon their sustainability goals, but in fact adversity has only strengthened the airline’s commitment.
She offers two reasons for the passion that underpins her work – first, a deep concern for the climate. Her background is in climate change research, studying the vast impacts of a warming climate on wildlife. It is this work that inspired Sara to work in sustainability. “I felt so deeply concerned about the climate crisis that I wanted to dedicate my efforts to implementing meaningful, tangible, and quantifiable decarbonising initiatives”, she says. The second is her love for the industry and her company. Sara believes that while the air travel industry provides a critical service to society, we urgently need to pursue all solutions to allow us to continue to do so – with significantly fewer emissions.
OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES
For JetBlue, the global pandemic helped illuminate first-hand the vulnerability of the business to external risks, and actually sharpened the airline’s focus on sustainability and ESG. The work has only continued to grow in scope and ambition – JetBlue’s SAF
commitments lead the aviation industry by percent of total fuel, and the airline continues to achieve per-seat emissions reductions as new fuel-efficient aircraft and flying procedures are introduced
According to Sara, the greatest challenge is simply a matter of physics – airplanes rely on liquid fuels, which are 99.9% fossil fuels. And while travel currently represents a small percentage of overall Greenhouse Gases (GHG), Sara admits it will become proportionately more impactful as other industries are able to accelerate sustainability efforts faster.
“For a “hard to decarbonise” industry like aviation it’s important to acknowledge that change for us will happen incrementally but are doing the work to make a meaningful impact in the short term with moves like investing in SAF, electrifying our ground service equipment, and optimising fuel use with efficient an efficient fleet, routings, and operations”, she says.
Sara points out that Instilling an internal
culture with a focus on making sustainable decisions across the operation has been incredibly useful in delivering immediate results.
“We’re giving leaders across the operation the tools to understand the short- and long-term sustainability impacts of their decisions, along with business and financial impact, so they can make decisions that are not only best for the organisation but best for the planet”, she says.
SAF AND OFFSETTING
JetBlue has long been on record with the view that SAF is the most promising solution currently available to help the industry reach its net zero goals. JetBlue works with its SAF partners — Neste and World Energy — to aggressively acquire and utilise SAF in its operations. Sara says that while the airline is proud to have been the first U.S. airline flying regularly on bothSource: Air BP In November 2021, JetBlue announced it had joined Sustainable Aviation Buyers Alliance (SABA), a joint initiative with Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), and a forward-looking group of corporate travelers and U.S. airlines to help drive investment in high-integrity SAF.
Ventures Last year, JetBlue became the first airline to invest in Universal Hydrogen, an aerospace company working to decarbonize the global aviation industry through the adoption of zero-carbon emitting hydrogen as fuel
commercially available SAF suppliers in the U.S, and has made significant commitments with other producers to continue to grow our SAF mix, challenges remain. It is no secret, after all, that there is still a very significant price premium for SAF. However, Sara argues that much can be done from a policy standpoint, and while JetBlue continues to advocate for a SAF-specific blenders tax credit, that’s just one means of reducing the premium. The second is around economies of scale.
“As more and more airlines buy SAF, we’ll get to this space where there’s more supply, more economies of scale, and the price will come down”, she explains.
In addition, the airline has offsetting partnerships with CarbonFund, South Pole and EcoAct — to help ensure that they are investing in high-quality carbon credits. These partners help JetBlue identify a portfolio of diverse projects all over the world that are registered with a third-party, internationally recognized verification standard or standards verified by the UNFCCC.
Ultimately, even though JetBlue recognises that offsetting is not a long-term solution, they believe that offsets are an important short-term bridge to reducing environmental impact.Source: JetBlue
PLANNING AND PARTNERSHIPS
Sara says that partnerships will ultimately be the most pivotal in helping JetBlue reach their sustainability goals. “Whether it’s working with regulatory bodies and governments for policy support, joining consortiums like SABA or ACT to share best practices, or partnering with everyday businesses looking to manage their corporate travel emissions while encouraging the emerging SAF market, these partnerships require a lot of balancing priorities and mutual trust. Establishing those partnerships and aligning on goals takes effort – but we recognize we can be exponentially more effective as partners than attempting to change the world all on our own”, she says.
JetBlue also recently established the Sustainable Travel Partners program for corporate customers. It offers access to a suite of offerings to help reduce business travel emissions and meet their own corporate sustainability targets. Through the purchase of JetBlue SAF Certificates, corporate customers enable
JetBlue to expand its usage of SAF by helping cover the price premium between conventional and sustainable aviation fuel. This additional investment helps increase demand for SAF, creating a positive feedback loop for the emerging industry to produce more supply.
Sara’s ESG philosophy centres around continuous improvement, not perfection. “On day one, the best you can do is acknowledge a challenge”, she says. “Next, study and transparently report the current state. From there, set meaningful yet achievable targets. And then the really fun work begins – executing the solutions to improve.”
She says that throughout this process, honesty and transparency are key. Whether it is the airline’s crews using single-engine taxiing and getting onto GPUs quickly, or encouraging next-gen ATC systems to
Source: JetBlue website
– Sara Bogdanis facing climate change head on and preparing our business for a new climate reality.”
improve routings, she believes that sharing and acknowledging limitations are a strength, not weakness.
“We don’t get there by telling people what we’re doing or by claiming perfection from the start, but by helping lead everyone to do the work along with us”, says Sara.
In fact, such transparency helps the organisation find immediate opportunities to make an impact while showing what’s possible when everyone works together.
Last but not least, JetBlue Airways’ investments in early-stage companies through its JetBlue Ventures division reflect its willingness to commit financial resources to a wide range of eco-conscious enterprises. Recently adding its 41st company to its portfolio of investments, JetBlue’s venture capital arm doesn’t limit its financial interest to technology companies. But a commitment to sustainability remains at its core, as evidenced by its stakes in companies such as eVTOL developer Joby, Universal Hydrogen, and, most recently, battery pack developer Electric Power Systems.
For me, sustainability is a state of mind, a lifestyle, an area in which I continue to learn from, admire and develop a deeper passion and connection to. The key to understanding the future can be narrowed down to one word: Sustainability.Yaser Farhood
In 2016, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) launched the ambitious Vision 2030 programme. Essentially, Vision 2030 is a roadmap for the future of Saudi Arabia with sustainability at the heart of everything the Kingdom does, from policy development and investment to planning and infrastructure. With more than 20 planned projects of massive scale, Vision 2030 aims to transform the Kingdom’s economy and society, while moving it away from its oil-dependent roots. In 2021, the Kingdom as a whole committed to reaching net zero by 2060
Unsurprisingly, Saudi Arabian Airlines (SAUDIA), the Kingdom’s flag carrier, is set to play a major role in the country’s transformation. Since sustainability has been at the heart of Vision 2030 since its inception, it has been at the top of the airline’s agenda as well. Currently, there’s a large-scale effort underway to ensure that the airline moves towards a sustainable future.
In 2022, SAUDIA was at the forefront of some promising achievements. As a participant in the SkyTeam Sustainable Flight Challenge (TSFC), it was the first airline to operate the world’s longest net-positive flight on May 12, by offsetting a total of 346 tons of carbon emissions, including radiative forcing impacts by a factor of two, for flight SV227 from Jeddah to Madrid.
On the same flight, SAUDIA also led the world’s in-flight sustainability lab. It involved guests on the flight submitting ideas on how air travel could become greener. Each guest and staff member inflight were also asked to contribute suggestions while airborne. This later won the highest award in the Customer Engagement category of the flight challenge.
That’s not all. The airline also offset 100% of SAUDIA flights to London for the Formula E race weekend in July and is committed to do more in the sustainability sphere. Recently, it became one of the the five leading Saudi Arabian business partners of the MENA regional Voluntary Carbon Market (VCM). It is also the first in the MENA region to invest in sustainable air mobility with plans to purchase 100 all-electric Lilium Jets (eVTOL) and support certification across the region.
And this is just the beginning.
MEET THE CHANGEMAKER
Yaser Farhood is General Manager, Operations Projects at SAUDIA. His role includes a mandate to initiate, lead, and manage a sustainability roadmap preparing the airline’s journey towards net-zero operations by 2050.
Mr. Farhood’s professional background includes more than 35 years of aviation experience in both aviation safety and operations. During the pandemic, in April 2020, Mr. Farhood
led SAUDIA’s Restart Operations working group and implemented safety measures for COVID-19. In September 2021, in addition to his role as General Manager Operations Projects, Mr. Farhood has been assigned the duties and responsibilities of the VP Environment & Sustainability.
“Our airline is aware of the aviation industry’s 2050 commitment to net zero and is wasting no time in planning and implementing green initiatives”, says Mr Farhood. “We know that no matter how small or simple, every little bit counts.”
OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES
Mr Farhood recalls how the in-flight sustainability lab in May 2022 was a game changer and crucial in getting the sustainability message across to everyone, right from the crew to every single passenger on the flight. Each passenger was given three post-it notes (printed on recycled paper), where they wrote down their suggestions, before handing the notes back to the cabin crew.
The in-flight lab was mirrored by a similar ‘ideas initiative’ that took place at SAUDIA’s headquarters in Jeddah, involving the
“The results were just fantastic and really gave us insight into what our guests, the passengers, think when it comes to solutions. We enjoyed having our guests be a part of the conversation”, says Mr. Farhood.
On the flight, the airline also introduced local farm products and farm-to-table offerings onboard, in order to deliver sustainable, locally sourced meal offerings on board. The local aspect is important, as it showcases the massive variety of localSource: Forbes
products available from within Saudi Arabia, not to mention the freshness and reduction of environmental impact. Moreover, as part of the Sustainable Flight Challenge (TSFC), SAUDIA designed its inflight menu using sustainable ingredients in partnership with local company, “Red Sea Farms”. The farm uses salt water and sunlight-based agriculture systems.
Furthermore, during the period when Covid-19 safety measures were introduced, SAUDIA introduced an all-digital, paperless solution for passengers. “This has been a great success ever-since, considering that the airline has close to 600 takeoffs daily”, asserts Mr Farhood. “We have also had a completely all-digital card for our Al Fursan privilege card members for more than five years now.”
HARNESSING THE POWER OF PARTNERSHIPS
Collaboration and successful partnerships are SAUDIA’s strengths, and as the official airline partner of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship, the airline is a contributor to the sustainability goals of the motorsport series.
As part of the airline’s sustainability initiatives and in support of its partnership, SAUDIA operated a full weekend schedule of flights which had 100% of unavoidable scope 1 carbon emissions offset from Riyadh and Jeddah to London Heathrow last July.
SAUDIA offset the unavoidable scope 1 carbon emissions for the flights, including radiative forcing impacts by a factor of 1.9 by an enviro-tech company “CarbonClick”, who also facilitated the airline’s world’s longest net-positive flight as part of the SkyTeam Sustainable Flight Challenge.
With a flight time of 6 hours 55 minutes between Riyadh and London Heahthrow and 6 hours 15 minutes between Jeddah and London Heathrow, the routes are among the longest carbon-neutral flights worldwide.
The flights were offset via a Gold Standard approved and CORSIA certified wind power carbon offsetting scheme in India. The project will replace carbon intensive coal powered electricity with clean, renewable wind power.
“This was a true group effort”, recalls Mr Farhood. “It required a number of crossfunctional teams coming together to deliver a first for the airline – operating a total of 10 flights back-to-back on a net-zero basis.”
SAUDIA has introduced just under ten new routes in the last year. “We are on a mission to ensure the airline’s growth accelerates with as minimal environmental impact as possible”, emphasises Mr. Farhood. “We believe utilizing technology, innovation and the digital experience will provide massive returns not just environmentally, but in safety as well.”
As part of SAUDIA’s transformational journey, one in particular that holds a sizable impact is the aircraft fleet upgrade programme. The current fleet of just under 150 narrow and widebody aircraft has undergone a revitalisation with new aircraft cycled in to replace older ones.
In addition, a retrofit project has remodeled the entire cabin to embed new technology and state-of-the-art equipment. SAUDIA aims to have one of the youngest fleets in the world. The benefits, of course, include significantly lower emissions – and a consequently better environmental footprint – compared to the older fleet.
Meanwhile, in October 2022, SAUDIA signed a joint Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) announcement with Lilium to purchase up to 100 electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) jets.
Saudi Arabia’s first-ever eVTOL service in its history will serve a growing passenger segment looking to make expedient journeys to both congested airports and remote locations. Given Saudi Arabia’s diverse landscape and vast landmass, it makes sense for the airline to develop this new product, with the main advantage being its reduced environmental and noise impacts.
Mr Farhood is positive as he considers the flight path to sustainability for SAUDIA. “What the past year taught us is that where there is a will, there is always a way. We are proud of the entire team which took on challenges and collaborated to devise creative and effective solutions. It was all new territory for us, and this only paves the way forward and gives us the confidence to continue on this green trajectory”, he concludes.
Flying is about dreaming. It’s about bringing down obstacles and barriers. Avianca has been around for over 100 years and has faced the fiercest challenges one can imagine. For me, the main inspiration is to be part of a team that will make sure Avianca will prevail while facing the most difficult challenge of all: Sustainability.Felipe Andrés Gómez Vivas Director of Sustainability and Institutional Relations at Avianca
Avianca Airlines was one of the hardest hit airlines during the COVID-19 pandemic. After changing its cost structure in 2019, the company declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy in mid2020 and underwent a financial restructuring process.
While others might have baulked at taking on the challenge of going green so soon after suffering acute financial distress, Avianca actually reiterated its commitment to the environment through planned incremental improvements. It is entirely to the airline’s credit that sustainability features as a key component of their strategy going forward.
Avianca’s 2021 Sustainability Report outlines two of its key sustainability initiatives after emerging from bankruptcy. The first is a certified Environmental Management System that helps prevent environmental pollution through cleaner production practices and compliance with legislation. The airline reported no aberrations in 2021. The second is a fuel conservation programme called "Avianca Fuel" that designs, implements and monitors fuel conservation initiatives. The programme has 24 fuel conservation initiatives, of which 9 are executed by pilots, 11 are managed by flight dispatch and 4 are executed by maintenance.
MEET THE CHANGEMAKER
Felipe Andrés Gómez Vivas is Director of Sustainability and Institutional Relations at Avianca. A political scientist with over 19 years of experience, he has worked as a consultant and as an executive in the food, building materials, government and airline sectors. For the last two years he has been leading Avianca’s government relations and sustainability initiatives. Despite leading the function at Avianca, Felipe insists that sustainability is not an office, an area, or a title.
“It’s a capability that should be visible and accountable in every single project and role inside the airline. Every executive is responsible for making sure ESG practices are present in his or her KPIs and their analysis processes”, he says.
Felipe is proud of what Avianca has achieved despite stiff challenges to its business. For example, as part of its commitment to caring for the environment, under its sustainability strategy, Avianca offset more than 70% of the CO2 emissions generated in its domestic operation in Colombia between 2017 and 2021.
Moreover, a new cabin transformation is set to ensure that more than 90 A320 aircraft will have 20% more capacity per aircraft in order to reduce the carbon footprint per passenger by 13%. In addition, Avianca participated for the fifth consecutive year in the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), the highest-ranked airline in Latin America for its
actions against "climate change".
Finally, the airline is one of the first 100 companies participating in the Carbon Neutrality Program established by the Colombian Ministry of the Environment, contributing to the fulfilment of the goals that the country has set for 2030 and 2050.
OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES
For Avianca, the main challenge, of course, has been to put their sustainability agenda together in the middle of a brutal pandemic. Felipe says that the airline’s main achievements have been three strategic decisions that are making their flying greener:
Densification of the fleet which will allow Avianca to fly more passengers with less fuel usage and emissions
Growing their point-to-point network, which increases aircraft usage and
Buying more than 80 Airbus aircraft with the latest technology that will make emissions decrease significantly.
According to Felipe, the biggest opportunity lies in coordinating and organising all stakeholders involved in air transport operations around fighting emissions and climate change. “We need our staff to understand the risks and opportunities”, he says. “But we also need to achieve this with authorities, passengers, suppliers, and manufacturers. It is not easy but there are signs that show that we are moving in the right direction.”
Felipe is bullish on SAF and sustainable energy for aircraft. He says there is nothing more important than working on this front. “This should be the number one priority. We need to agree on better practices regarding SAFs, airport operations, offsets, new fuel technologies, waste management, carbon taxes, etc. The opportunities are endless”, he emphasises.
Since Apr 22, 2022, Avianca’s passengers have the option to offset their carbon footprint through the CHOOOSE™ platform, making a voluntary contribution
Since April 2022, Avianca customers have also been able to voluntarily offset their carbon footprint through a digital platform available as a result of the airline's partnership with CHOOOSE. The first phase of this initiative will enable Avianca customers to contribute to the protection of more than 103,000 hectares of tropical rainforest in Colombia, support the production of wind energy in Costa Rica and help conserve forests in Guatemala.
While there are reasons to be hopeful, Felipe is cautiously optimistic. He explains that in the aviation industry there are so many challenges that it is difficult to set sights, as an organisation, on the biggest challenge that seems far away and not immediate.
“We need to make sure all of our people understand the sustainability challenge is as relevant and serious as any operational challenge we face”, he says.
In July 2022, the airline announced that it had offset 97.7% of CO2 emissions (equivalent to 401,000 tonnes) from its operation in Colombia between January and June 2022, through duly certified carbon credits. According to the company, it will invest a total of approximately $4.3 million in emission compensation actions during this year. The sum will be invested mainly in the purchase of carbon credits.
The work is only beginning, however. Felipe says that communication is a huge challenge: “I think that the best way to communicate, additionally to your own communications efforts and activities, is to make sure your allies, your passengers, and stakeholders understand your strategy, that they feel part of it, and make your message their message,” he says. “You need to build strong long-term alliances based on consistent and coherent actions that allow your stakeholders to be your strongest and most credible defenders and validators.”
The challenge of decarbonizing aviation is complex, so it is fascinating and intellectually stimulating. But it is people that keep me going – especially the people across our company who are constantly coming up with new ideas to make progress.Birkett Rakow
In April 2022, Alaska Airlines celebrated its 90th anniversary, a remarkable achievement by any measure. However, its eyes are firmly set on navigating the next 90 years, with sustainability set to be a key part of those plans.
It is worth noting that Alaska is one of the few airlines that have committed to reaching net-zero before 2050. In fact, their five-part plan – released in 2021 – outlines how the airline plans to get there as soon as 2040.
That’s not all. They have outlined short-term plans until 2025 as well. These include focusing on improving operational efficiency with procedures and technology that minimise fuel burn. For example, by implementing route optimisation software Flyways; taking delivery of new Boeing 737 MAX aircraft; improving use of electric ground power and air and continuing to evolve the ground fleet toward lower-emissions options. Last but not least, the airline is aggressively investing in developing and procuring SAF.Source: Alaska Airlines
MEET THE CHANGEMAKER
Diana Birkett Rakow is Senior Vice President, Public Affairs & Sustainability at Alaska Airlines. She is a senior ESG and public affairs executive and Board Director with over two decades’ experience across multiple industries and private, not-for-profit, and government sectors.
Diana’s approach to sustainability is people and process-oriented.
“People keep me motivated and inspired”, she says. “Especially those in the organisation who are improving processes to save fuel or be more efficient, and who reach out with ideas about recycling or waste management.
Years ago, our flight attendants designed and implemented our onboard recycling programme – and more recently, our dispatchers worked with software developers from Airspace Intelligence to develop new route optimization called Flyways which dispatchers can use to support their development of flight paths that save fuel, time, and emissions.”
The biggest lesson for Diana is the critical need for partnership and collaboration – on all fronts, inside and beyond Alaska Airlines. She says sustainability involves work that cannot live in a silo, and no one organisation has all the answers.
Inside Alaska, this means sharing responsibility for progress with teams and colleagues across the company. For example, working with the supply chain to navigate the diverse market for SAF; with the food and beverage team to evaluate products to replace single-use plastic; with the airport teams to make the ground vehicle fleet increasingly electric; and more. Starting last year, the airline also added a carbon intensity goal to the employee performance pay programme to embed this drive for sustainability in their culture.Flyways AI™ – The use of an AI-powered flight monitoring and routing platform that aids in critical decisions is a first in the U.S. air transportation industry Source: Alaska Airlines
OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES
Diana recognises that aviation is a complex and ever-changing industry. “In the last few years, especially, the industry has faced concurrent crises: health and safety through the Covid-19 pandemic; the economic viability of the industry; and the imperative to preserve jobs when demand went to nothing, more deeply understanding the continued impact of racism in our country, working to advance equity and ensure that all employees feel they belong, and the tragedy of war in Ukraine and its human and global impacts”, she details. Diana says the challenge is to at once hold, navigate, and address these and the drive to improve Alaska’s climate impact.
Alaska Airlines has a long-term goal of reaching net zero by 2040, and a five-part path to get there: operational efficiency, fleet renewal, sustainable aviation fuels, electrified or hybrid aircraft propulsion, and
credible carbon offsets only as needed to close any remaining gaps to their target.
Diana says that the airline continues to work on all five fronts but knows that making SAF available at a commercially viable price and scale can have the greatest impact on decarbonising aviation in the next two decades. “SAF is safe and easy to use in aviation because it is certified as a “drop-in” fuel meaning it can be added to the broader jet fuel supply, and it can reduce the lifecycle carbon emissions impact of fuel by up to 80% or more”, she explains.
However, Diana admits that scaling supply and making it commercially viable at scale requires both public policy and private action. For example, even though Alaska Airlines has been using SAF since they started demonstration flights in 2011, the amount of SAF available today is still less than 1% of total fuel demand.Flyways AI™ – The use of an AI-powered flight monitoring and routing platform that aids in critical decisions is a first in the U.S. air transportation industry
Diana believes reaching aviation’s net-zero goals will require public policy and private market action.
That is why Alaska is doing its part by developing agreements to purchase and use SAF from a diversity of suppliers; working with partners like SkyNRG and Twelve to support their paths to produce new sources of supply; collaborating to develop book-and-claim methodologies to share in the benefits of SAF; and engaging corporate customer partners to help address the near-term financial hurdle of investing in these fuels and kick-start the market.
In addition, Alaska not only collaborates across the industry, including with global Oneworld alliance partners, but has created a diversity of partnerships such as with SAF producers mentioned above; science advisory firm Carbon Direct; Microsoft; Boeing; and Washington State University.
Alaska has also, very successfully, managed to engage and recruit customers into flying more sustainably. For instance, in November 2021, Alaska Airlines switched to 100% boxed water. According to the airline, the boxed water is packaged in recyclable, 92% plant material sourced from sustainably harvested trees. Even the resealable cap comes from leftover materials in the paper-making process. Furthermore, pivoting to boxed water is expected to eliminate 1.8 million pounds of plastic waste.
“The level of continued learning and innovation happening in aviation specifically and clean tech more broadly is truly incredible,” Diana marvels. Last year, Alaska Airlines established Alaska Star Ventures, a venture arm to scale access to this innovation and identify and enable technologies that can accelerate the airline’s path to net zero. “We’re proud to have made initial investments in two venture funds, The Westly Group and UP.Partners, focused on clean energy and advanced air mobility respectively. And in ZeroAvia who are working to develop a hydrogen-electric powertrain that could retrofit regional aircraft to future zero-emissions propulsion.”
“We know we cannot reach our goals alone”,
The biggest challenge in sustainability is convincing management and changing the mindset of staff members to discontinue their way of thinking and adhere to a more responsible approach and incorporate sustainable work practices.Dhanushka De Silva Former Environmental Affairs & Sustainability Manager at SriLankan
While Sri Lanka’s political and economic meltdown grabbed international attention in the last year, the national airline continued to make quiet progress towards a more sustainable planet.
In October 2022, SriLankan Airlines won the Best Aviation Sustainability Program Award, beating 118 other submissions at the SMBR Global Aviation Awards for its signature upcycle project, ‘Mathaka.’ Project Mathaka was SriLankan Airlines’ answer to minimising its contribution to landfill waste and ecological footprint by repurposing the airline’s scrap material into a variety of lifestyle products.
SriLankan partnered with House of Lonali, a Sri Lankan organisation that designs and manufactures upcycled lifestyle products, to develop the exclusive range of products under the ‘Mathaka’ brand such as travel bags, wallets and jewellery. The items, made entirely from disposed airline uniforms, aircraft interior components and other material, will eventually be introduced for sale onboard SriLankan Airlines’ flights and through the website and retail partners of House of Lonali.
MEET THE CHANGEMAKER
Dhanushka De Silva, Former Environmental Affairs & Sustainability Manager at SriLankan Airlines is an aviation enthusiast with over 23 years of experience at Sri Lanka’s national flag carrier. He holds a specialisation in ‘aviation environment management’. For the airline, Dhanushka was engaged in various programmes and efforts such as Carbon Offset and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), Global Market Based Measures (GMBM), European Union Emission Trading Scheme (EU EST), SAF and United for Wildlife, the global initiative to crack down the global illegal wildlife trafficking. In October 2022, Dhanushka moved on from his position, but not before giving us some valuable time and insights into SriLankan's strategy.
Dhanushka was responsible for establishing the environment unit at SriLankan and developing the airline’s strategy on environment conservation while introducing green initiatives throughout the airline. “This led SriLankan to be recognised and praised by IATA as one of the most environmentally conscious airlines in the region”, he proudly says. It’s worth noting that SriLankan was the first airline in Asia to introduce ‘Planet Friendly Flights’ back in 2009 and was named the second lowest carbon emitting airline in the Asia-Pacific in 2016 by Business Traveller. Since 2015, it has also had a voluntary carbon offsetting programme called Fly Green.
OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES
For Dhanushka, the challenge and inspiration for his work lie in elevating the airline to be at par with other industry leaders. “Being sustainable is being creative, especially when you are short of funds and the environment is not on your organisation's priority list”, he says.
is highly valued and these factors push the industry towards more sustainable initiatives.
Unsurprisingly, Dhanushka says the industry should invest collectively in SAF development, as it will bring in the highest emission reductions. His reservations, like his counterparts at other airlines are the higher costs, due to which it becomes the hardest and most important resource to develop and acquire.
However, there are reasons to be hopeful. Dhanushka believes the greatest opportunity is the change in passenger behaviour, perspective, and expectation toward greener travel. He firmly believes people are becoming more responsible towards selecting sustainable services and are more inquisitive about service providers' track records. In addition, transparency
“I believe it is better if the industry could collect funds from global market-based mechanisms and channel them into more SAF development, so it will be affordable and equally available to everyone”, he explains. “This will be beneficial to all partners in the industry and especially to airlines to reduce their emissions and meet net zero targets.”SriLankan Airlines featured ‘Mathaka’, its latest up-cycled lifestyle accessory range at the MercedesBenz Fashion Week – Sri Lanka, on 10th December 2021 Source: SriLankan Airlines
“When the industry is going through the toughest period in history, convincing management and continuing with sustainability initiatives is the real challenge.”
Most recently, in November 2022, SriLankan announced a partnership with the Sri Lanka Forest Department to establish a new Mangrove Forestation site in the Negombo Lagoon that will span 3 hectares. As an initial step, the airline constructed an onsite mangrove nursery and staff volunteers planted 1000 mangrove propagules to kick start the project. The airline hopes to plant 5000 more in the coming months.
The airline says it is also championing blue carbon stock restoration, ocean and marine life conservation through research and knowledge sharing.
This follows Dhanushka’s general philosophy: “Try to do what you can do to make the world a better place,” he says.
“Every little initiative or strategy is worth it if you do it right and with the correct intention. Be transparent, communicate properly and effectively, explore all possibilities, be creative and encourage out-of-the-box ideas.”
However, Dhanushka is quick to warn that airlines must not waste their time with big ideas if they do not have proper funding. It is better to stick with initiatives that can be tackled and completed with tangible results.
His final word of advice is that airlines must learn to communicate better. “I believe communication is the key to being successful”, he says. “But it could work adversely if you are not being careful. Moreover, timing is important. If you do not put out your communique on time, it is not worth the effort.”SriLankan Airlines steered a reforestation initiative together with the Forest Department of Sri Lanka and athletes participating in the second leg of Raid Amazones 2022, March 2022
Progress, in aviation specifically, is likely to be slow and laboured. Due to its sheer nature — and no easy electric replacements such as in the automotive or rail industries — aviation will chart a complex path to decarbonisation.Shubhodeep Pal Chief Operating Officer SimpliFlying