Holidaymakers, businessmen and women, even global philanthropists are at it – despite the maelstrom of activity focusing on sustainability and environmental consciousness, flying is still the premier choice of millions looking to travel both domestically and internationally.
In an age where convenience is king, the benefits associated with jumping on a plane mean that overhauling flying habits is an unlikely outcome anytime soon. Not to mention, it’ll require action from more than just one group of people. Noticeable sustainability benefits can only be achieved if all parties work together – the passengers, the suppliers, the airlines and the industry as a whole. So, how do we affect change holistically and make flying a more responsible mode of transport?
Fuelling the flames
When we look to airline sustainability, fuel has to be the first stop. It is estimated that the airline industry produces between 2-3% of all manmade CO2 emissions however, using sustainable biofuel in large quantities can result in an 80% reduction in those emissions.
Due to this, there is an obvious need in the industry for additional research and technological development in order to source more sustainable materials in an environment where production and consumption are limited.
KLM’s Corporate Biofuel Programme is a starting point, with the airline enabling businesses to ensure that sustainable biofuel is used for a portion of their air travel. Participants pay a surcharge that covers the difference in price between sustainable biofuel and regular kerosene meaning travellers get to enjoy less travel guilt.
If airlines work together to mandate the need for biofuel it may help to boost the availability of sustainable fuels on a larger scale, making it more economically competitive than fossil-based kerosene.
Where it isn’t possible to reduce CO2 emissions through the use of biofuel, airlines are already trying to encourage conscious travel through Carbon Offsetting schemes. Using this as an approach airlines, individuals and businesses, can work towards balancing the carbon load by helping to pay for emissions savings in other parts of the world. This approach is more about acting responsibly rather than fixing the underlying problems.
Sustainability starts at home
Fuel is only a portion of the sustainability story within aviation. Some might argue that sustainability begins behind the scenes – with the company culture.
To affect real change, carriers should start at the nerve centre by educating and embedding their ethos around sustainability into the core of their business – the people. Green bosses can implement sustainable work practices by encouraging staff to make the practical changes that we should all be implementing for the greater good. For example, requesting that staff help to reduce energy consumption and minimise waste, both onboard and at home by reusing and recycling, creates a habit of conscious consumption. Engaging employees in these practices will go a long way in transforming company culture in and outside the cabin.
And then there are some more obvious ways that airlines can enhance sustainability benefits such as recycling waste materials and using sustainable materials onboard.
Ensuring new and existing aircrafts are equipped with sustainable cabin designs are a key way for airlines to impact the environment. The man-made fibres or plastics found on the vast majority of airplane seats are far from good for the planet: they often contain harmful chemicals and are difficult to recycle. Airlines that want to attract ‘responsible travellers’ must also take responsibility by advocating for renewable world class materials that reflect the company’s approach to longevity
Doing even the smallest things can help make a difference when it comes to conscious travelling. Responsible travellers can look to utilise airlines with a conscience, to facilitate their sustainability goals. And by voting with their wallets, they can drive further sustainability across other operators.
A factor that has more impact than we realise, as travellers, is how much ‘stuff’ we pack. Many don’t appreciate the impact that something as simple as weight has on the environment with regards to air travel. But the heavier the aircraft, the greater the CO2 emissions so ‘packing light’ meets more than just a minimalism goal – it’s imperative for the greater good. That goes for the materials used in cabins too. While at it, passengers that aim to pack eco-friendly essentials such as refillable water bottles, reusable bags, lunch boxes, utensils and product packaging, will be doing that much extra for the environment.
Pushing the direction of travel
While there is no doubt that airlines and passengers can do impactful work with regards to promoting more sustainable travel, there has to be support from the aviation industry to really drive conversation, encourage and implement regulations and ultimately enforce accountability. We know that businesses are habitually against regulation as it usually impacts the bottom line. Nonetheless, in an industry that significantly affects the environment in such an adverse way, tough regulatory input is central to altering the trajectory.
The UK government is acting by promising £125m to the Future Flight Challenge fund to support greener initiatives in the aviation industry – an important step towards streamlining future travel. In fact, the UK is leading
the way in greener travel with coalitions like Sustainable Aviation which, is working to meet the UK’s climate commitments. Crucially though, this is a large-scale problem that requires a global response and formal regulations will be critical to change.
Aviation suppliers helping push the needle
For travel to become truly sustainable, aircrafts and airports must create more responsible environments. At ELeather, that’s exactly what we are helping them to do. Sustainability sits at the heart of our business by responsibly turning something that would otherwise be wasted into something impactful. We take unused leather destined for landfill sites and transform it into new, high-performance materials. These materials, manufactured with a reduced carbon footprint, deliver a high performing and sustainable alternative to leather, fabric and PVCs.
Over 200 airlines already use ELeather helping aircrafts make weight and financial savings all while helping the planet. This is just the beginning though. If we continue to band together, from the inside out, we can make tremendous strides towards a cleaner, greener and happier future for all of us.