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Sports & Leisure

Sustainability in Aviation: Growth, Change & Opportunity

This article was originally published on sodexo.com.


Even as customer needs and industry focus shifted to sanitation and safety during the reopening phase of COVID-19, sustainability remained top of mind. In fact, public sentiment in support of sustainability initiatives not only remains strong but has grown. In an April 2020 Air Travel Sustainability survey from Publicis Sapient, 58% of respondents reported that they are thinking more about the environment and sustainability than pre-COVID-19, with only 2% saying they think about it less. In relation to air travel, the survey showed that 66% would be more likely to travel with an airline that increased its sustainability efforts, and 73% report they are paying attention to brands making a positive impact during the pandemic. 

A report from McKinsey predicts that “in the longer term, aviation is likely to undergo structural changes with regard to demand and the degree of industry consolidation, along with unprecedented government support. That transition provides an opportunity to rebuild the industry for a low-carbon future, something that airlines have been grappling with for some time.” 

Airlines have struggled to implement sustainable business practices, given their reliance on fossil fuels and the high cost of upgrading their fleet for fuel efficiency. However, in 2020, before the pandemic hit, the industry set a course toward reduced carbon emissions. In February, Delta Airlines announced a commitment to spend $1BN over 10 years to become the first carbon-neutral airline globally
More recently, in direct response to the COVID-19 shutdown, Air France-KLM won European Union approval for a 7 billion-euro ($7.7 billion) French aid package. In return, the airline agreed to permanently cancel flights between locations where train service moves travelers in under 2.5 hours

In flight operations, the focus remains on reducing emissions through fuel efficiency. That includes upgrading to newer vehicles, reducing onboard weight and increasing the use of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) made from waste and residue raw materials. Producer Neste is now delivering its SAF, which reduced greenhouse gas emissions by up to 80% over conventional jet fuels, to San Francisco International Airport via pipeline, signaling “a climate quantum leap” forward for the industry. 

In addition to reducing the carbon footprint of flights, reports indicate an accelerating turn toward managing the local impact of airport operations, including air quality, noise pollution, waste generation and potential damage to wildlife habitats and water courses. On the ground and in the cabin, airlines are reducing their reliance on single-use plastics, even as safety measures require more individual packaging of food. Companies have replaced water bottles with cups made from plants or recyclable plastics and introduced fully compostable meal containers and cutlery. 

Climate change represents a fundamental threat to the global aviation industry just as pressing as the pandemic. McKinsey predicts: “The coronavirus will transform aviation, giving airlines their best chance yet to address climate change.”  With sustainability a pillar of our corporate responsibility mission, Sodexo can help clients accelerate the pace of change by bringing sustainable practices into the airline lounge for today’s guests.

Learn more about how Sodexo can help you create an unforgettable lounge experience.

September 23, 2020

Interested in how we can help you build traveler loyalty?

Lynn Knight, Global Head of Business Development Airline Lounges


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