Sustainable Aviation Solutions for Greener Skies According to Leading Experts

Here are 3 key takeaways from The Regenerative Travel Summit on sustainable solutions in aviation.

From the funding of sustainable aviation fuel to carbon offsetting, Regenerative Travel looks at sustainable aviation solutions for a greener future.

Sustainable Aviation Solutions

1. No Silver Bullet for Sustainable Aviation Solutions

A silver lining of COVID-19 was the sudden drop in global emissions from flying, which typically accounts for 2.5%. The pandemic presents the aviation community with an opportunity to realize minimizing emissions are possible and have tangible effects. By implementing a multitude of efforts, including carbon offsetting and sustainable jet fuel, aviation can pave the way for change.

Adam Klauber, a Sustainability Expert at the Rocky Mountain Institute explained, “If we’re putting money in offsets because sustainable aviation fuel is not cost-effective, we’re delaying what we need to do in mobilizing resources in the future. That’s one of the challenges for the industry. If someone buys offsets, go ahead. In fact, my beliefs are that it’s both, rather than either. To absorb emissions, we need to draw down atmospheric concentrations of CO2, and eliminate future emissions. Both are necessary.”

Robert Silk, Travel Weekly’s senior editor for aviation reconfirmed, stating, “The solutions that will save us from global warming are not a silver bullet, there’s no one thing.” If the aviation industry is serious about overhauling its carbon emissions, this panel made it evident a variety of means are needed to make this trajectory possible. 

2. Intervention from Major Players to Cut Costs

There is a need for research and development to cut the cost of sustainable jet fuel and, ultimately, lower carbon emission levels. Lauren Riley, Managing Director of Environmental Affairs at United Airlines shares that airlines are having to learn to delicately balance between the commitments they made towards carbon offsetting and the devastating financial impacts COVID has inflicted: “This is really about a market that’s still somewhat in its incubation phase. We’re only about 10 years into standing up this alternative clean fuel. So today there’s not enough supply and the supply that’s available is extremely expensive. In particular, this year with the financial impacts of COVID-19, that’s just not a tenable approach for an airline to really invest their dollars. I’m looking at the loss of employment. We do need policy intervention, we need support that does enable long term commercialization to replace the petroleum based jet fuel that we use today with the low carbon alternative.”

Steve Csonka, the Executive Director at Commercial Alternative Aviation Fuels Initiative states that while petroleum-based jet fuel is currently cheaper, the aviation industry was the first industrial sector in the world to ban together and make a commitment to lower carbon levels. Csonka explained what would push this industry over the finish line though, was “Some level of support from governments, with respect to research and development, commercialization, activities, supporting policy, etc. What we’re talking about is policy elements that can help close this price gap. Things like renewable fuel standards, low carbon fuel standards, tax treatment, investment tax treatment. So, there’s a whole range of things that have been looked at from a policy perspective.” With several untapped components positioned as part of the solution, the tone was optimistic for aviation’s low emission future. 

Sustainable Aviation Fuel

3. Flight Shaming Is Not The Answer

While it is easy to reference the positive impact COVID has had on the decreased carbon emissions from flying, the answer isn’t to cease boarding planes. The answer doesn’t rest in shifting from an airplane to an automobile to get to your destination. Travel has the potential to establish empathy and understanding, or as Klauber described, “Bridging the gap between cultures, building understanding, and reaching agreements that’s really critical right now in our polarized world.” Travel often fulfills an aspiration to see, feel, touch, smell, and taste a place.

The concept of flight shaming produced a push towards train travel in Europe and a sudden consciousness surrounding the amount of damage hopping on a plane produces. Christina Beckman, founder of Tomorrow’s Air, the world’s first collective of passionate travelers who clean up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to ensure our air for future generations described how she is often asked if being a sustainable traveler is feasible and her response was, “My answer is yes. And the solution should not be again this very binary ‘yes/no I’m never going to take another flight.’ There are so many benefits to travel. Flight shaming is not where we should focus at all. We should be looking at a positive future. I was listening to another speaker who was like, ‘don’t talk about the nightmare, talk about the dream’. Let’s all look at how we can work together to transform how travel is delivered.”


Missed the summit? Rewatch the Land & Conservation Management panel during The Regenerative Travel Summit here.

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