By Julie Baxter

Momentum is gathering towards greener choices. Julie Baxter checks out ideas and initiatives from onboard suppliers upping their eco credentials

Researchers in Australia recently calculated that global international tourism accounts for eight percent of all carbon emissions. That’s several times more than previously estimated and the biggest ‘culprit’ in these stats is international air travel.

The revised figures comes at a time when there is growing concern about the environmental impact of plastics too. David Attenborough’s underwater documentary series Blue Planet II for the BBC was the most-watched TV show of 2017 with the first episode alone attracting more than 14 million viewers.

Consumer pressures

Sometimes the scale and complexity of environmental issues seems overwhelming but for onboard buyers and suppliers it is no longer something that can be parked in the ‘too difficult’ tray. Millennials are said to be 50% happier to purchase a product if they feel it is ethical and eco-friendly, and growing numbers of eco-savvy consumers are making choices based on their concerns and their conscience. Add in the growing need for companies big and small to commit to significant Corporate Social Responsibility (CRS) strategies, and the need to make a change becomes compelling.

If conversations at WTCE and entries into this year’s Onboard Hospitality Awards are anything to go by, it is not carbon taxes or high profile media campaigns that will solve the problem, but creative thinking and product innovation, and these are increasingly top-of-mind for procurement teams and suppliers alike.

Brand actions

Big brands such as Thomas Cook and Ryanair have already announced ambitious new sustainability strategies, with Ryanair’s sights set on becoming the world’s greenest airline. Hurtigruten, the world’s biggest expedition cruise operator, has announced a ban on all unnecessary single-use plastic by July covering everything from plastic straws, drink mixers, plastic glasses, coffee lids and plastic bags. The goal is to become the world’s first plastic-free cruise company. And it won’t be long, according to some commentators, before airports, catering operations and onboard hospitality suppliers across the board are judged by their commitment to the environment and sustainable best practice.

Paul Sheffield, coo of Haven Power, one of the UK’s largest business electricity suppliers, is banging the drum for renewable energy within the aviation and hospitality sector and says: “Social and environmental awareness is not just ‘on-trend’ but is fast becoming a cornerstone of mass tourism. In fact a recent study revealed 54% of holidaymakers are more likely to book with operators with a social conscience.”

He argues that introducing solar, biomass, wind or hydropower renewal energy into a business is good in terms of CSR, but also benefits businesses in terms of reducing operational costs, improving energy efficiency and PR.

He says: “The travel industry is already seeing a shift in how consumers choose their operators, and this impacts businesses big and small. Now is the time for savvy businesses to get ahead of the charge and look at becoming more sustainable.”

DHL, with Gatwick Airport and British Airways at Heathrow, has won plaudits for leading the way with waste management plants that turn waste into energy, and its new GoGreen programme is designed to make it the world’s leading ‘green’ logisitics company. Chris Jackson, vp product development DHL Supply Chain, says: “Our environmental protection programme GoGreen is our way of ensuring a sustainable future for our planet. By the year 2050, we want to reduce our logistics-related emissions to zero.”

Eco credentials

Airport operators are increasingly presenting an eco face with green spaces and nature trails within Changi International; a honeybee apiary at Toronto’s Pearson Airport; energy and eco initiatives at San Francisco among the examples. Indira Gandhi Airport in Delhi has been recognised for its use of battery powered vehicles; electric catering trucks are being trailed in some locations and wind turbines are finding a home on airport land too.

But while macro level operational change is important, so too is attention to the many million smaller items being put onboard.

Onboard Hospitality was pleased to award Future-scoping Business of the Year awards to two companies already working to make a difference in this regard, Galileo Watermark and Matrix.
Both have the many million plastic bottles used by airlines globally in their sights, and launched solutions designed to tackle the problem of plastics.

Harry Zalk, commercial director at Matrix, says: “None of us can save the planet single handedly but we can all do something, and our goal is to give airlines some options. As a business we know we are producing millions of plastic tubes and bottles and we feel we need to do what we can to have less of an environmental impact, minimalise our footprint.”

Having reviewed many options, Matrix launched a new plastic products brand, Bio Form, through an airline exclusive deal with plastics additive business Breakdown Plastics. Breakdown Plastics specialises in plastic products that are 99% the same as standard plastics – with all the same features and quality – but one percent comprised of a patented additive proven to breakdown plastics faster. A plastic that might take up to 500 years to degrade in landfill, takes just five years to breakdown when made this way.

Zalk adds: “Globally across many sectors there is a huge drive towards reducing packaging and reducing the impact of plastics. Big grocery and coffee chains are already using this type of plastic and when you think of the amount of plastic used across the onboard hospitality sector we believe bringing it to airlines can really make a significant impact.”

Bio Form can be used in any context: wrapping, polyester blankets, tubes, bottles and rotables, and while it adds marginally to the costs Zalk believes buyers will recognise that the single digit percentage increase in cost brings value in terms of an airline’s CSR and environmental credentials. At WTCE his team showcased what it believes is the world’s first sustainable amenity kit formed of all recyclable and sustainable materials (below) with Bio Form tubes, hair brush and toothbrush; eyemask from bamboo, recycled tissues, and organic cotton bag and socks.

Ocean friendly

Galileo Watermark has come at the problem from a slightly different angle. It has focused on the vast quantities of plastics that end up in our oceans and developed a solution using reclaimed plastic waste.

Kenny Harmel, head of aviation at Galileo Watermark, says: “Clearly there is a problem and either we run and hide from it or we tackle it and use it as an opportunity to move into a new chapter. Plastic is so cheap and so durable. It’s built to last forever and we just keep making more of it.

OCN is an industry first supply chain, collecting plastic from beaches and oceans around the world and repurposing it into cosmestic packaging. We manage the end-to-end process, we are aware it is a vast problem and that it will take more than us to solve it but what we really want to do is raise awareness of this global problem and challenge those in our industry to think differently and look at ways into a more sustainable future. It is not sufficient just to do things better, we have a responsibility to do better things.”

Buzz has been among eco pioneers making a difference onboard with regards to blankets. Its Economy blanket for Emirates went onboard last year made from 100% recycled plastic bottles. The blankets are made using ecoTHREAD™ a patented technology which turns 28 recycled plastic bottles into a blanket. The bottles are recycled into plastic chips before being turned into yarn, creating a polar fleece material.The fine thread is then woven into blankets. By the end of 2019, Emirates ecoTHREAD™ blankets will have rescued 88 million plastic bottles from landfills– equivalent to the weight of 44 A380 aircraft. This makes it the largest sustainable blanket programme onboard. In addition, the manufacturing process of using recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) reduces energy emissions by 70%.

Future fabrics

Linstol and Clip are also working in this area. Linstol has an ECO-PET Plus blanket positioned as softer than modacrylic or wool, and made of recycled plastic bottles and certified by GRS. Every million blankets made rescues 21,000,000 bottles (3,000 tons of recycled plastics). Added benefits are the fact that the product is antistatic, hypoallergenic and naturally flame retardant. It can be customised to any specification.

Clip works with Kuan’s Living to promote a unique seawool blanket and lightweight duvet made from a new and recycled material. Seawool is a material made using oyster shells and PET bottles to create a fibre which generates a functional insulation to hold body heat while allowing moisture to escape. The product looks and feels soft, the duvet is thin and lightweight, and in addition to being antistatic, it has quick drying statistics said to beat all other products in the market when laundered.

Bayart Innovations also has a recycled PET collection which comprises amenity kits, blankets and socks. Its Pacifique range comes with items made from bamboo and cork, and it also offers combs and toothbrushes in materials such as cornstarch and wheat straw which are biogradeable, compostable and non-allergenic.

Turning tables

Tableware suppliers are innovating to boost green credentials too. SPIRIANT’s team has been working on the sustainability issues and claims being eco-efficient is now at the heart of everything it does. Daniel Knies director design & products, says: “Less is more. We use sustainable materials and reduce waste and costs through recycling or re-using inflight products wherever we can. We always offer clients the option of a greener materials solution when possible and only work with suppliers that follow eco-friendly practices and meet our own environmental goals.”

Dester has hired someone to work solely on its eco material options and Filip Fransen, design director, says: “We are looking at the life-cycle of materials. It’s a complicated story and one solution does not necessarily work in all situations. For example, some airports force airlines to burn waste.

Dester has tried to simplify options with three ranges: one using recycled materials, one using biodegradable bagasse and one bio-based range made from PP plus bio materials which take less energy to produce. The company is phasing out stryrene plastics.

WK Thomas is trying to bring eco-conscious products forward into premium cabins with its matt black bagasse tray made from lightweight, 100% biodegradable sugar cane and evolved to look stylish, modern and sturdy. Calculated to be 300% lighter than plastic atlas trays, it has edges that ensure it can slide easily onto cabin trolley rollers. It won this year’s Onboard Hospitality Best for Onboard Sustainability Award.

Des Thurgood, sales director, says: “We are trying to offer airlines alternatives to single use plastics.”

The company has also developed a spreader made from a sustainable cornstarch based bio-polymer. It is 100% biodegradable and available in vibrant colours to lift presentation in the service of scones/pastries/rolls. It weighs 3g and is 68% carbon neutral.

Interestingly, Thurgood sees the debate around plastic rotables as evolving too. “Rotable went out of fashion for a while but if you assess your eco-credentials based on weight and longevity, they
are the way to go.”

Likewise with glassware. RMT Global Partners won One to Watch recognition in the Onboard Hospitality Awards for its polycarbonate glasses. They may be plastic, but they are far more sustainable than regular glasses, ensure no breakages, last longer in operations so create less waste, and are ultimately fully recyclable. The company has also added a range of bamboo products to its portfolio – light and biodegradable, they have a cool eco-friendly and perform like melamine.

Arguements around the best way to achieve the best eco-credentials will no doubt rage on but it is exciting to see the onboard hospitality industry is creatively producing some serious solutions and has at the very least begun joining the debate. •