Six airlines singled out in latest NRDC survey as leaders in development of sustainably-sourced aviation biofuels
Fri 1 July 2016 – US environmental NGO Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has released its third annual Aviation Biofuel Sustainability Scorecard, which surveyed and ranked 29 airlines on sourcing sustainably produced biofuels. Just 19 of those airlines responded to NRDC’s questionnaire, although this was an improvement of two over the previous year. For the 2016 Scorecard, NRDC grouped airlines into four categories – Leading, Advancing, Basic and Nonresponsive – that were based on commitments to sustainable fuel supply chain development, sustainable fuel use, and monitoring and disclosure. If airlines are going to meet carbon emissions targets, new low-carbon fuel sourcing is essential, says NRDC, but these fuels must demonstrate reduced emissions across their entire life-cycles and address other sustainability concerns.
Airlines are largely taking these concerns seriously, acknowledges the author of the Scorecard report, Debbie Hammel, including the 28 members of the industry’s Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group, which has adopted a set of environmental, economic and social sustainability criteria. Airlines, she added, should make public commitments to source only aviation biofuels that have been certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB), and communicate this to fuel and feedstock producers. Certification standards, particularly those of the RSB, provide assurance of sustainable performance, said Hammel.
“Since the aviation industry is leading the development of advanced biofuels, airlines’ market signals can play a critical role in driving adoption of sustainable practices throughout the supply chain,” she said. “With 11% of global transportation fuel use and a 6% share of global oil consumption, aviation has market leverage that can drive development and adoption of comprehensively sustainable biofuels throughout the transportation sector.
“In turn, biofuel operators are making long-term design, employment and operational decisions to optimise production for their marketplace, and many are now focusing on aviation as a key market. Sending clear signals that production must comply with independently audited sustainability standards, such as the RSB, will incentivise producers to proactively include this in their planning and operations.”
In its previous survey in 2015, NRDC ranked airlines individually but this has been dropped in favour of categorisation after respondents expressed concerns that individual rankings could be unfair because of narrow gaps between the scores.
Six airlines were included in the ‘Leading’ category: Air France/KLM, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Scandinavian Airlines, South African Airways and United Airlines. Those in the ‘Advancing’ category were Air New Zealand, Alaska Airlines, Etihad, GOL, Japan Airlines, Qantas, Thomson, Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia. Among those airlines that did not respond were American, FedEx, Lufthansa and Southwest.
Airlines were asked for the first time about their public policy engagements and all bar one reported advocating for policies and supports for alternative fuels in their communications with government. The survey also found airlines were not in favour of the use of alternative fuels made from natural gas or coal, a commitment welcomed by NRDC. Airlines were also more optimistic about the future of biofuels production in their own home regions than across the globe.
As a result of the survey, NRDC makes eight recommendations in all. Those airlines that haven’t already made a public commitment to using RSB-certified biofuels should do so, it says, specifying volume, percentage and timeline. Airlines should also limit their use of forest-derived biomass feedstocks to those that demonstrably reduce carbon emissions in the near term compared with fossil fuels and do not threaten natural forest ecosystems. Any biofuel credits under ICAO’s proposed market-based measure scheme should be based on validated life-cycle carbon performance, with credits accounting for ILUC and include sustainability requirements consistent with the RSB standard.
“Airlines deserve credit for their efforts to develop more sustainable fuels,” said Hammel. “By fortifying sustainability measures throughout their supply chains, airlines can help ensure the aviation biofuel sector grows in the most sustainable way possible, and that GHG emissions decline as the airline and advanced aviation biofuel industries expand.”