Sustainability In The Air

Are you already dreaming about your next flight to that magical travel destination? Unfortunately, we will have to temper your enthusiasm. Air travel is in fact one of the most non-eco-friendly activities you can undertake. Globally, the aviation industry is responsible for about 2% of carbon dioxide emissions. This percent is rising quickly as more people travel (and fly) more often.

Research shows that about 20.000 planes are in use around the world, serving three billion passengers annually. By 2040, this will mean that 50.000 planes will be in service, and people are expected to fly more often. So if you’re flying, you are indirect adding a significant amount of gases (which are warming up the planet) to the atmosphere. Luckily, there are yet some ways to make your airplane travel a little bit greener.

First, fly less! It sounds stupid, but it’s true that the most effective way to reduce your carbon footprint is to fly less often. If everyone took fewer flights, airline companies and their airplanes wouldn’t burn as much jet fuel. You could think that the emission per passenger per kilometre per flight can be comparable to driving, but in generally people fly a lot further than they are willing to drive – particularly with international flights.

Second, whenever flying is necessary, you can also choose the most eco-friendly airlines. Environmentally conscious travellers should undoubtedly pick one of the following airlines.

  • Alaska Airlines is very transparant about her CO2 emissions and is seriously trying to improve her impact on the environment. For example, Alaska Airlines decided to go strawless and to compost grounds from coffee served in flights. The airline also formed a partnership with Boeing and the Port of Seattle in order to fly with sustainable biofuel.
  • Delta Airlines developed a proprietary flight weather app to allow pilots to better predict where they can burn less fuel. They are also focusing on removing all single-use plastic items (stir sticks, wrappers and untensis) from their flights. By doing this, they will remove over 350.000 euro each year.

Third, and last (but not least), not all the environmental impact of air travel comes from the flying. Maybe you don’t realize, but airports themselves have high carbon footprints as well. All the surrounding infrastructure (terminals, ground transportation, maintenance facilities and shopping centres) uses significant amounts of land, water, energy and other resources. Helsinki Airport is a leader in making airports greener  by going carbon-neutral, but definitely something all airports should be aiming for through an international carbon accreditation scheme. We can’t do this alone! Aircraft manufacturers, suppliers, contractors, airports, regulators, employees, passengers, and those who live and work near airports can be involved in making aviation more sustainable. READY FOR TAKE OFF?

By Anouk Verniers and Rin Verstraeten (


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