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Aviation and the events industry

Aviation is a core part of major events and tourism. It is estimated that 58% of all international tourists travel by air, making aviation and tourism dependent on each other for growth and development.


Often, we refer to the below chart, which showcases all the greenhouse gas emissions by sector. Usually, when talking about event sustainability, air travel and travel recommendations are flagged as vital to reducing the emissions created from delegate and crew travel. Also, many companies are now putting a cap on how much their employees can travel, limiting business events just to travelling to locations accessible by public transport.

So how is the aviation industry working towards a sustainable future? Let’s investigate.

In 2023, a lot of airlines talked the talk when it came to sustainable actions they were taken, to match the growing public awareness of the impacts of air travel on climate change. But they talked a bit too much and didn’t always back this up with evidence or data, to the point where three airline adverts were banned for misleading consumers about their environmental impacts: Air France, Lufthansa, and Etihad.


Air France's advert stated that they are "committed to protecting the environment", Lufthansa’s advert encouraged passengers to "fly more sustainably", and Etihad's advert used the words "environmental advocacy". The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said the ads did not show the impact airlines have on climate change. The ASA said that by claiming Air France enabled people to "travel better and sustainably", customers would think the airline offered a sustainable and environmentally friendly way to travel by air, which was not accurate.


In addition to these cases, KLM has gone to court to defend their advertisements, denying greenwashing accusations. But instead of these accusations coming from an advertising standards authority, they came from Fossil Free, a climate activism group. In an advert, KLM encouraged viewers to ‘fly responsibly’, Fossil Free argued that there is no such thing as flying responsibly and that KLM should be banned from making similar statements including references to becoming "more sustainable". KLM, the Dutch arm of Air France, argued that it does not deny that emissions are a problem, but it has a right to advertise about changes that it is making. "KLM is working super hard to become more sustainable," said lawyer Branda Katan, citing measures such as purchasing more efficient planes and plans to mix more biofuel into the kerosene that fuels its fleet.


We of course believe it is key to development to share hopes for progress, but do the greenwashing cases deter businesses from making considerable change when it comes to their sustainability? It doesn’t look like it, because Virgin Atlantic has flown the world’s first 100% Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) flight from London Heathrow to New York JFK. This milestone was made possible through dedicated collaboration between Virgin Atlantic, Boeing, Rolls Royce, Imperial College London, University of Sheffield, ICF and Rocky Mountain Institute.


Here’s what Virgin Atlantic shared about the pioneering flight:

“SAF has a significant role to play in the decarbonisation of long-haul aviation, and pathway to Net Zero 2050. The fuel, made from waste products, delivers CO2 lifecycle emissions savings of up to 70%, whilst performing like the traditional jet fuel it replaces.


While other technologies such as electric and hydrogen remain decades away, SAF can be used now. Today, SAF represents less than 0.1% of global jet fuel volumes and fuel standards allow for just a 50% SAF blend in commercial jet engines. Flight100 will prove that the challenge of scaling up production is one of policy and investment, and industry and government must move quickly to create a thriving UK SAF industry.


As well as proving the capabilities of SAF, Flight100 will assess how its use affects the flight’s non-carbon emissions with the support of consortium partners ICF, Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), Imperial College London and University of Sheffield. The research will improve scientific understanding of the effects of SAF on contrails and particulates and help to implement contrail forecasts in the flight planning process. Data and research will be shared with industry, and Virgin Atlantic will continue its involvement with contrail work through RMI’s Climate Impact Task Force, which is part-funded by Virgin Unite.”


You can watch the full video about this historic flight here:


It is completely natural for businesses to be making errors when reporting sustainability, this is still a relatively new area of business development, but it is incredible what happens when an industry collaborates across sectors to push for ground-breaking change.

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