For many businesses, it’s go green or go home. Sustainability is a big deal, and unfortunately, the environmental impact of tourism and aviation is huge. So when it comes to sustainability in air travel, it’s “go green or stay home”.
People aren’t going to stay home, though. More and more people are flying, and IATA estimates that air travel growth will double to 8 billion passengers by 2035. The airline industry has come up with a lot of initiatives to manage its impact on the environment, such as powering flights with fuel alternatives, introducing carbon offsetting programs for customers and improving aircraft design.
But which airlines are making the most positive impact when it comes to going green?
IATA, Climate Change, and What it Means for Airlines
In 2009, IATA adopted a set of targets to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from air transport.
- An average improvement in fuel efficiency of 1.5% per year from 2009 to 2020.
- A cap on net aviation CO2 emissions from 2020 (carbon-neutral growth).
- A reduction in net aviation CO2 emissions of 50% by 2050, relative to 2005 levels.
IATA has called for a commitment from all stakeholders to achieve these targets through “the four-pillar strategy”:
- Improved technology (including the deployment of sustainable low-carbon fuels).
- More efficient aircraft operations.
- Infrastructure improvements (including more modern air traffic management systems).
- A single global market-based measure (GMBM) to fill the remaining emissions gap.
Data shared by IATA tells us that flights produce 2% of all CO2 emissions caused by humans. The good news is that airlines can cut back on these emissions.
Each new generation of aircraft is more fuel efficient than the last. It’s estimated that airlines will invest US$1.3 trillion in new planes over the next 10 years. For each tonne of CO2 an airline avoids, it also reduces fuel costs by around US$225.
Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI) for Airlines
The Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI) was first introduced in 1999 and is longest-running global sustainability benchmark worldwide.
Every year, investment specialist RobecoSAM evaluates the sustainability efforts of thousands of publicly listed companies across 60 industries. It involves a questionnaire about economic, environmental and social factors, as well as a media and stakeholder analysis. A company’s overall final score determines its inclusion in the DJSI.
The airline industry is included in this assessment. Airlines are evaluated against the following highlighted criteria:
- Fleet Management
- Risk & Crisis Management
- Climate Strategy
- Environmental Policy & Management
- Operational Eco-Efficiency
- Labor Practice Indicators
- Passenger Safety
- Talent Attraction & Retention
The DJSI Top Airlines for Sustainability
In its report about airlines, RobecoSAM states that airlines have benefited from stabilizing economic conditions, consolidation and low fuel costs, but a big priority now is to understand their customers better and adapt their offerings.
“Airlines need to remain future-oriented in order to capitalize on emerging trends.”
The report also states that on the environmental front, operational eco-efficiency drives profitability, and the newest generation of aircraft allow companies to differentiate themselves in this area.
This year, RobecoSAM assessed 20 airlines. Which ones came out on top?
ANA Holdings Inc — Gold Class
All Nippon Airway’s corporate philosophy is to contribute to a brighter future, and it’s doing a good job — this Japanese airline has held the title of the world’s most sustainable airline for 2 years in a row. Naoto Takada, Executive Vice President of ANA Holdings gave the following statement:
“ANA is honored to join this list of the world’s leading companies and reinforces our goal of being a truly global, socially responsible corporate citizen.”
ANA was praised for its environmental practices, customer care, flight safety and risk management practices, which are outlined on the airline’s corporate social responsibility page.
Some of ANA’s green initiatives include becoming the first company in the global airline business sector to issue Green Bonds, which raise funds for green projects both domestic and overseas. ANA is also on its way to introducing biofuel on its flights by supporting Euglena Co Ltd, a biofuel maker which is working to commercialize jet fuel made from green algae output.
Air France-KLM — Silver Class
Air France-KLM spent an impressive 12 consecutive years in the number one position as the world’s most sustainable airline until 2017, when ANA took over the top spot. This year it achieved RobecoSAM Silver Class. KLM President & CEO Pieter Elbers shared that KLM is working to reduce its environmental footprint even further, by:
“…utilizing sustainable biofuel, fleet renewal and more efficient flight operations.”
The Air France-KLM Corporate Social Responsibility Report outlines key figures about how it takes care through its operations, in the air, on board, on the ground and in the world.
To promote sustainable biofuel flights, Air France has signed a Green Deal commitment in France and KLM has a corporate biofuel program. It has also reduced CO2 emissions by reducing the weight carried on its planes, by various actions like creating a digital reading app to reduce waste paper (by 360,000 kilos per year!) and introducing lightweight trolleys and other equipment.
China Airlines Ltd & LATAM Airlines Group SA
China Airlines (CAL) and LATAM were the two other sustainability leaders in the airline industry, reaching Sustainability Yearbook Member status with the DJSI. This means that they’re within the top 15% of their industry and achieved a score within 30% of their industry’s top performing company.
China Airlines has a lot of initiatives to foster a sustainable environment, such as green flights, aircraft maintenance, environmentally friendly offices and educational training programs. CAL established a fuel usage management task force in 2017 and its headquarters was awarded the “Diamond-rated” green building label.
Since 2012 in Peru and 2014 in Colombia, LATAM has neutralized the emissions from its terrestrial operations through local reforestation programs. LATAM Airlines Chile signed a contract with sustainable infrastructure company Acciona to use 100% renewable energy in its Santiago operations from November 2018.
Sustainability in aviation is incredibly important for the environment, our quality of life and earth’s future. With only four airlines making the 2018 DJSI, there’s still a lot of work to be done.
A big thank you to ANA, Air France-KLM, CAL and LATAM for your amazing work in sustainability.