Julie Baxter

Action on aviation sustainability is gaining momentum among both airlines and suppliers. Julie Baxter asks some key players for their latest commitments and collaborative strategies

Measure it to manage it

Matt Crane, md at Monty’s Bakehouse, hosted the first Airline Sustainability Forum (ASF) last year bringing together airlines, suppliers, caterers and waste management teams. The Forum has now made significant connections and commitments to progress the issue of cabin waste.

Crane says: “The ASF has taken a new step towards worldwide progress in the area of airline cabin waste by joining the Advisory Committee for the Global Tourism Plastics Initiative – a programme led by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and World Tourism Organisation in collaboration with the Ellen Macarthur Foundation.

The ASF, launched in October last year, will now act as the engine for change in cabin waste as part of the Global Tourism Plastic Initiative (GTPI).

The GTPI aims to tackle plastic pollution and ensure those materials which are used are safely reused, recycled or composted, keeping materials circulating in the economy and out of the environment. Signatory/participating organisations will, in time, agree commitments that support the elimination of problematic and unnecessary plastic packaging, moving from single-use to reusable models and towards 100% of plastic packaging being reusable, recyclable and compostable by 2025.

Setting standards

The ASF brings together airlines, F&B and amenity suppliers, caterers and airport waste management providers and is now tasked with putting forward a global standard for cabin waste packaging. The standard will seek to unite all airlines, governments, caterers and suppliers in the use of the same cabin packaging substrates, segregate off loaded waste to the same standards, and facilitate recycling and regeneration systems at all major airports.

Finding the right solutions

The ASF brings together airlines, F&B and amenity suppliers, caterers and airport waste management providers and is now tasked with putting forward a global standard for cabin waste packaging. The standard will seek to unite all airlines, governments, caterers and suppliers in the use of the same cabin packaging substrates, segregate off loaded waste to the same standards, and facilitate recycling and regeneration systems at all major airports.

Everyone knows there is a problem but no one has looked to exactly quantify it end to end and see which are really the correct solutions to make. As an industry we are struggling to know what is the right long-term solution to a growing problem and some of the short-term changes in packaging are not necessarily sensible and could end up causing greater harm than good. We need concrete facts and proper guidance for both airlines and suppliers. Working with the GTPI brings our sector into a well-established framework of environmental expertise from the World Tourism Organisation, the UN Environmental Programme and the respected Ellen Macarthur Foundation.

The ASF has appointed Naomi Cohen, Imperial College Environmental Technology MSc, lawyer and sustainability and resource management specialist, to lead a full supply chain mapping programme, identifying the packaging substrates being used onboard commercial aircraft, where they come from, how they are used, where they go and how sustainable each option truly is.

If we truly understand what we are using as an industry and look carefully at how we can recapture and segregate it to regenerate it, we can all be empowered to pick the right substrates, lobby governments and airports for proper recycling systems for those substrates or find composting or regeneration options.

Once the research is complete, in the next nine months, the ASF is committed to sharing its findings openly with the whole industry.”

Pulling together

FABIO GAMBA, md of the Airline Caterers Association (ACA) & director general of Airport Services Association (ASA) hosted the inaugural two-day Airline Catering Workshop in Brussels in February, posing the question: “How can the airline catering industry streamline the ‘farm to fork’ value chain to ensure uniform standards for food safety and sustainability.”

Gamba says: “The ACA brought 17 inflight catering businesses together to discuss priorities for progress and the workshop clearly highlighted the need for a collaborative and uniform industry approach.

Participants agreed that more work is required in five key areas (see page 72) including the development of stronger recommendations on improving the sector’s environmental footprint. Cabin waste is a big issue and we all agree we need to find ways to reduce our environmental impact or trade-off our emissions through carbon offsetting.

Adding sustainable value

The inflight sector has to add value on this issue in production, use more local products, be more seasonal and work to change expectations. We have to act where we can to make the whole value chain more sustainable. Currently there is a big effort going on around plastics. This is a vast and important issue, but it is not one caterers can tackle alone. We have to work with airlines and with passengers. Increasingly caterers are becoming more visible to travellers and they that we are taking responsibility to look for new solution and push forward for change. This includes “reduce, reuse, recycle” and working with others such as IATA.

The inflight catering industry is eager to keep up the momentum and find more effective solutions and we believe we must consolidate our voice and influence ‘farm to fork’ policy if we are to do our best to improve industry quality and sustainability. ACA members are all impacted differently by the issues of our times but there are many ways to look at these issues which don’t infringe the usual competition, and that is why ACA was founded.

Collaboration and dialogue

In the end we have to remember caterers are only a part of the jigsaw in finding solutions for aviation but the workshop was a real eye-opener, highlighted key concerns and now we can move forward to do the real work, attract more caterers to the challenge and initiate a virtuous circle. We discussed the importance of keeping in open dialogue and meeting regularly through the workshop format and also through task forces which will now direct programmes on each of the issues identified and report by the end of the year on practical steps forward.

There are no easy fixes but we have to look to the long term. People will measure success by delivery and it is in our interest to deliver as quickly as possible. Working together, that really should be perfectly possible.”

Carbon-offset solutions

David Young is the Senior Advisor for the Qantas Future Planet & Sustainability heading a team focused on driving the Qantas Group Sustainability Strategy. In the last year he has become an expert on this topic. With a career that has touched aviation finance, catering, amenities and operations, he is uniquely placed to see the problem from many angles. Here he offers a beginners guide to carbon offsetting.

Young says: “Sustainability is an easy buzz word to throw around and is increasingly quoted in almost any engagement between airlines and suppliers. There is no single solution but rather a mix of strategies will inevitably provide the answer: efficient aircraft, less weight, carbon offsets, sustainable aviation fuel and hybrid and electric technology. Carbon offsetting is just one element but it does have role in meeting an airline’s emissions reductions targets.

Compensating actions

Those considering it need to be clear what offsetting is. Put simply, it is an action taken by a company or an individual to compensate for their own emissions by enabling a reduction in emissions elsewhere. A carbon offset is created by either removing one tonne of emissions from the atmosphere or preventing one tonne of emissions from reaching the atmosphere.

Carbon markets, carbon projects (and offsets), pricing, supply and risk are still in their infancy and complex. The complexity is exacerbated by a plethora of offset types, and the difference in schemes in different countries and varied approaches to implementation.

Some things are similar. Offsets are measured in tonnes. One offset equals one tonne of emissions saved. The price of an offset tonne currently ranges from between $1 and $100 depending on the type of offset and the location and costs of the geography in which the offset is generated. The cost is not generally a reflection of the quality of the offset.

Credibility checks

In order to ensure that the offsets are robust, credible and precise, projects must demonstrate that the emissions reductions meet a specific set of measurable and verifiable criteria and must be ‘additional’ to existing projects.

Management of carbon offsets sourcing, audit, purchase, and extinguishment on use is known as the “Retirement “ process. Projects are also monitored on an ongoing basis with independent verification of results. Once carbon offsets are purchased, they are then retired on a public registry, thereby ensuring that they cannot be used or sold again.

The price of an offset varies tremendously. It is determined by a number of factors including the geographic location in which an offset is generated; the technology under which the offset is generated (ie wind, solar, hydro, bio energy, regeneration); the quality of the offset (ie Gold Standard, Australian Carbon Credit, Voluntary Carbon Standard) and its regulatory compliance; and the availability of offsets (ie supply restrictions and availability).

The CORSIA imperative

Airlines globally account for 2-3 % of the world’s carbon emissions. This is a similar percentage to the shipping industry. In 2013 The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO agreed on a goal of limiting international aviation’s net emissions growth to 2020 levels via a mix of efficiency measures, offsets biofuel use, technology and operational improvements.

Along with airline operational changes and aircraft technology improvements, offsetting is likely to compensate for the gap between what the other measures eg sustainable aviation fuels and fuel efficiency are supposed to accomplish and the reality of exponentially growing emissions from the sector as a whole.

In 2016 the Carbon Offset and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) was established to set a global market measure for aviation emissions. It is effectively aviation’s commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement.

CORSIA is being phased in by airlines from 2021 with full implementation by 2027. This will inevitably place great pressure on the supply of carbon offsets and their price which is one of the major challenges and opportunities airlines and businesses faces as sustainability factors continue to build momentum with stakeholders.

Implications for suppliers

Airlines will increasingly look to work with suppliers who share their carbon neutrality goals and targets. We will want to work on sourcing products and supply chains that minimise the carbon footprint and where relevant offset this footprint so the products and services we buy are ideally carbon neutral. This means more than just the product and where its manufactured and from what materials but how is it managed through the supply chain. Of increasing importance will be how suppliers can partner with those who manage the waste that is generated from the product or service to ensure it is reused or recycled in the most efficient and carbon reductive way. This means suppliers and airlines will collectively also need to better engage governments and regulatory authorities to find new solutions to get better standardisation in product material acceptance consistency and disposal. Whilst the products and services they sell are front of mind in the suppliers sustainability lens, they should also thinking about their own corporate office and the carbon footprint it drives. Suppliers who demonstrate a commitment to making their own businesses carbon efficient and ideally neutral will in the future I believe have a real strategic advantage.

Implications for suppliers

Different airlines will take different approaches but at Qantas we have developed the Qantas Future Planet initiative which manages the commercial sustainability activities of the Qantas Group. It has two core activities Fly Carbon Neutral which provides Qantas customers the opportunity to offset their flight and Qantas Future Planet a business to business team which works with over 35 partners such as DHL, Australia Post and GE. Qantas Future to solve the offsetting needs of your business. Qantas Future Planet will work with suppliers to understand their carbon foot print and supply a comprehensive portfolio of global offsets, thought leadership and networking and joint marketing and employee and customer engagement tools to them stay ahead in this increasingly complex space.”

Creating a road map

Airlines are countering eco criticism with clear commitments to change. Neil Robinson, Chair of Sustainable Aviation has helped co-ordinate commitments by UK aviation, for example, now committed to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Robinson says: “The coalition has established a clear road-map to decarbonisation for UK aviation and its members (90% of UK airlines, airports and ATC providers) have pledged to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The commitment follows a review of the opportunities to cut aviation emissions and forms a central pillar of a new “Decarbonisation Road-Map: A Path to Net Zero” by the coalition. The road-map sets out where reductions can come from, including through operations, aircraft and engine technology, modern airspace, sustainable fuels, and market-based policy measures.

With these actions the UK will be able to grow passenger numbers by 70% – in line with current projections – whilst also reducing net emissions from 30 million tonnes of CO2 per year today down to zero. It also forecasts that the UK could become a world leader in developing sustainable aviation fuels, which could meet 32% of the nation’s demand for aviation fuel by 2050.”

Bio-hazard dilemmas

Jon Godson, assistant director aviation environment – best practices at IATA, believes there’s an urgent need for harmonisation and regulation between countries and aviation stakeholders to help overcome the challenge of cabin waste.

Godson says: “The airline industry has been criticised for the lack of reuse and recycling of its cabin products and with continued global passenger growth, cabin waste volumes are set to increase significantly.

In the absence of initiatives based on the circular economy and smarter regulation, this waste volume could double in the next 10 years, based on current passenger growth rates. The regulations governing waste from international flights are based on animal (and not human) health concerns and IATA has commissioned a study from a veterinary consultancy to look into the risks. The study concluded that the risk of disease transfer from airline meals is minimal and that smuggled animal products concealed in passenger baggage represents a more significant risk. With over 70% of emerging infectious diseases in humans being linked to an animal source, IATA feels enforcement may be being targeted in the wrong area. In response, IATA has partnered with OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health) on a communication campaign to raise passenger awareness of the dangers of smuggling animal products.

Cabin waste is subject to strict regulatory requirements which minimises the potential that single use plastic (SUP) products from airlines can end up in the marine environment. Despite this, airlines stand ready with passengers to take on the challenge of replacing SUP with alternative inflight products that are more sustainable. SUP products offer a wide variety of benefits including being safe, hygienic and light-weight and are widely used in aviation. Although many SUP products can be removed or replaced easily (e.g. straws, stirrers, cutlery, etc.), others are more problematic and need to comply with aviation’s security, hygiene and safety restrictions.

For international airlines, the surge in SUP bans and restrictions presents an additional challenge, with over 127 countries regulating the consumption of plastic bags, and 27 more extending these bans to other SUP products. Airports and civil aviation authorities are adding to the confusion by applying their own SUP restrictions. We now face the challenge of asymmetric legislation with certain SUP products banned on the outbound and others on the return leg.

Whilst airlines are keen to comply, a lack of harmonisation between key stakeholders makes cooperation and compliance difficult. Moves to introduce more sustainable cabin products will be undermined if regulators do not adopt a risk-based approach to catering wastes and continue to insist that these products are bio-hazardous, requiring specialised treatment including incineration, making bio-treatment (composting) impossible.”