Jo Austin

In an increasingly eco-aware world, the aviation sector is making a change struggling to generate good PR. Jo Austin went in search of those airlines that are at least trying to make a change

The aviation industry contributes between 2% and 4% of the world’s greenhouse gases depending on your source and calculations, and creates 6.1 million tonnes of cabin waste each year (source IATA), a figure set to double in the decade. Beyond the extraordinary tales of biofuels and reducing fuel consumption, there is other good news from airlines making it their priority to change and reduce their carbon footprint.

Air New Zealand

PLEDGE: Committed to sustainable sourcing that mutually benefits the airline, its suppliers and its customers. Based on the United Nations Global Compact principles, ANZ has achieved positive assurance from suppliers representing over 93% of its spend that they meet this code, and is aiming

ACTION: Removing nearly 55 million singleuse plastic items this year while rolling out coffee cups of plant-based material across its network. The first airline to serve the plant-based ‘Impossible burger’. Has converted 52% of its New Zealand ground equipment to electric and aiming at 92% by December 2020.

British Airways

PLEDGE: Parent company, IAG, has committed to achieving net zero CO2 emissions by 2050. BA’s £6.5bn investment programme includes new aircraft, new technology, sustainable fuels and operational change to support the environment. From January 2020, BA it will offset carbon emissions on all its domestic flights. It is reducing single-use plastics onboard, sourcing sustainable alternatives and introducing initiatives to reduce waste and increase recycling.

ACTION: BA’s new First duvet is made from recycled plastic bottles and its World Traveller Plus amenity kit is made from recycled plastic. Plastic wrapping for Club World amenity kits has been reduced by 6.5 tonnes annually. Retail customers get a discount on tea or coffee if they bring their own cups, and reusable water bottles are encouraged. Bamboo swizzle sticks have cut 25 tonnes of single use plastic annually and World Traveller earbuds are now offered in the Flying Start donations envelope – a change which cut 11.5 tonnes of plastic a year from onboard service.


PLEDGE: Has a sustainability strategy driven by route analysis designed to better match loading to demand. This has resulted in significant reductions in waste and emissions.

ACTION: 12 million plastic stirrers and 170 million plastic straws are being replaced with bamboo and birchwood. Removal of plastic wrap from international Main cabin cutlery will eliminate more than 300,000 pounds of plastic waste annually – the weight of two Boeing 757 aircraft. The airline is also removing plastic wrapping from Delta One amenity kits, and reducing styrofoam in HQ cafeterias in favour of compostable and/or reusable alternatives, and sourcing noncompostable plates, utensils, bowls and buffet dishware for its 51 airport lounges.

Cathay Pacific

PLEDGE: Committed to ‘using resources responsibly, increasing efficiency, and purposefully reducing the waste’.

ACTION: Has run Fly Greener initiatives tripling carbon offsetting of passengers, and and claims a world first through use of OmniPork, a plant-based, climate-friendly pork alternative, the most consumed meat in the world, accounting for nearly 40% of global meat production. Has also been serving Beyond Meat, a beef alternative and has added sustainable luxury skincare and lifestyle brand, Bamford, to its premium bedding, amenities, and washroom products.


PLEDGE: In an on going commitment to the environment, the airline will reduce its single-use plastic usage by 80% by the end of 2022, across the entire organisation. It was the first and so far only airline in the Middle East to commit to United Nations’ sustainable development goals (STGs).

ACTION: Inaugurated a locally-sourced biofuel flight and the longest single-use plastic free flight in 2019. Linda Celestina, vp guest services and delivery, says: The consumer is looking for responsible airlines, we are resource heavy, we produce a lot of nasties, and the key to change is partnerships with suppliers that can help. The aviation sector is very challenging because of fuel burn but we can help empower the guest to ‘choose well’ and if we know what they choose we can cut cabin waste. The amount of waste is mortifying!”


PLEDGE: Operations will be as sustainable as possible through initiatives ranging from flying more fuel-efficient aircraft to using washable cups rather than disposables

ACTION: Through its LIFE Zero Waste Cabin programme Iberia is recovering 80% of waste product in aircraft cabins for recycling. Initiatives to reduce the use of plastic by 68.5 tonnes include: paper wrapping of blankets and duvets, removing plastic wrap from headphones and children’s long haul kits, switching to bamboo swizzle sticks and paper drinking straws.


PLEDGE: Launched a ‘Fly Responsibly’ campaign this year encouraging passengers to question how and why they fly and reduce their impact, as well as encouraging best practice operational innovations. It is concentrating on sustainable, fairtrade, welfare certified catering.

ACTION: All products are registered into roundtable organisations (RTRS=Roundtable Responsible Soy and RSPO=Roundtable Palm Oil). Says Matrix de Vries, food specialist outstations at KLM: “It’s like buying green energy. We pay extra so we receive certificates. The extra money goes to sustainable farms. Since it is logistically not possible to have a separate supply chain for sustainable soy or palm oil, in this way the volume of sustainably produced soy/palm oil will increase and hopefully one day all of these products will be sustainably produced.”

Other sustainable initiatives include: chocolates from CO2ZERO, replacement meat offerings, aluminum and PET recycling, strict animal friendly policies on fish and meat products. Collaborations with Marfo to source locally (max 50km) for around 70% of the ingredients.

Singapore Airlines

PLEDGE: Is committed to replacing single-use plastics with alternative sustainable materials for inflight items and is now plastic straw-free.

ACTION: Is using data collection, AI and machinelearning to better predict its customers’ consumption patterns and reduce cabin food waste. It is expanding its “From Farm toPlane” concept which promotes environmental sustainability and supports local farming communities. Through its catering partner SATS, SIA sources certain produce from local hydrophonic farms. Through an initiative with BUZZ, it has replaced polybags from children’s amenities with recyclable FSC-certified paper packaging, which have been sourced in an environmentally and socially responsible manner.

TUI Group

PLEDGE: TUI Airlines has pledged to reduce single-use plastics by 40 million pieces by 2020.

ACTION: Over 26 million single use plastics have been removed since 2018. Children’s activity kits are now presented in a paper envelope and feature eco-messaging, encouraging kids to think about reducing plastic waste whilst on holiday. A new sustainable amenity kit is encased in a re-usable bag made from recycled plastic PET bottles. 1 million pieces of single use plastic has been removed from the kits. Where packaging is still needed for hygiene reasons, this has been achieved using FSC certified paper.

United Airways

PLEDGE: Has an Eco Skies programme covering weight reduction, biofuels and partnerships.

ACTION: United says suppliers must do their homework and understand an airline’s sustainability priorities. They need to understand the service flow goals, processes and objectives and before they offer a new sustainable option, be sure about the waste stream, the way United will be disposing, receiving or segregating the product at the end of its life. All of this goes into the decision making process. The supply chain is key. The more suppliers understand the airline’s processes the more they are able to help find solutions.

Qatar Airways

PLEDGE: Committed to developing a holistic approach to sustainability across its operations.

ACTION: The development and roll out of the airline’s new Economy class product has been achieved with a tight focus on eco options and sustainable best practice.

Virgin Atlantic

PLEDGE: Committed to a sustainability programme which works to drive new ways to reduce carbon emissions, and promotes a responsible supply chain.

ACTION: Working on sustainable amenities programmes and using new eco tableware, cruites and napkin rings. New bedding, was designed to reduce wash loads. Loaded product weight onboard has reduced by 8% in the last three years – that’s an average of 275kg per aircraft and a total 6,408 tonnes reduction across the fleet. This is said to save 4,260 tonnes of carbon emissions. The airline believes it’s important not to jump to plastic alternatives that may have unintended consequences. Where plastic remains the best current option it looks to reduce as much as possible and use either biodegradable plastics or plastics with high recycled content.