Sustainability Takes Flight: Insights from APEX Greener Panel

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The 2023 APEX/IFSA EXPO saw the APEX/IFSA Board of Governors vote unanimously to advance the APEX Greener powered by SimpliFlying programme.  This offers airlines a complimentary platform to achieve unified certification of in-flight product sustainability, and for airline suppliers to be accredited.

To reinforce the industry’s commitment to sustainable aviation, a panel convened around the topic: The APEX Greener Approach: Connecting to Customers for Environmental ‎Action.

Chaired by SimpliFlying CEO and Founder Shashank Nigam, the panel featured Akira Mitsumasu, Advisor to the SAUDIA Director General, Andre Viljoen, Fiji Airways Managing Director & CEO and Dr. Fereshta Yazdani, Lufthansa Consultant and Data Scientist.

The Importance of Sustainability

As Shashank Nigam introduced the panel, he noted that the increasing importance of aviation sustainability could be seen in the fact that every CEO who spoke at APEX / IFSA EXPO addressed the subject, along with the vast majority of exhibitors.

Airline Initiatives for Sustainability

Andre Viljoen from Fiji Airways started the discussion by pointing out that the Fijian islands were very vulnerable to climate change and rising sea levels, which means that this is a topic that the airline takes very seriously.

To reduce its carbon footprint, the airline has first of all undergone a complete fleet renewal programme, resulting in Fiji Airways flying newer and more fuel efficient aircraft such as the A350.

Viljoen also talked about a programme where the airline plants mangroves.  Under the ‘Every Take Off…One Tree’ project, the airline now plants a tree for every international take-off on its network.  This year, the total number of mangroves planted will have reached 50,000.

Viljoen said that mangroves were chosen for two reasons: “Mangroves sequester four times the amount of carbon dioxide compared to normal trees…it also helps to mitigate (coastal) erosion.”

Previously the mangrove planting was done with the involvement of local school children, but Viljoen says that recently tourists to the island have been involved as well.  The programme has now matured to the extent that the airline sells carbon credits from it.

Reducing Food Waste and Innovations

Dr. Fereshta Yazdani shared insights into how Lufthansa was tackling food waste.  The airline analysed the amount of leftovers and which sections of the food tray were most likely to be untouched.

Yazdani says that from this, “we were able to use these outputs for our algorithm based artificial intelligence” on ways to reduce food waste and weight.  Working with catering company LSG Company, a proof of concept took place on Frankfurt to Munich flights, where AI could be used to tailor the food carried on board towards what was likely to be eaten.

Balancing Sustainability and Customer Experience

Akira Mitsumasu from SAUDIA discussed the importance of making the customer part of the sustainability journey, given that in-cabin sustainable items could be perceived to be of a lower quality, if for example a material like recycled cardboard packaging is introduced.

With customers paying a high price for their flight, especially in the premium cabins, Mitsumasu said that “to have people understand the value of that (sustainable items in the cabin) and inviting people to be part of that is, I think, crucial.”

Mistumasu said that key here was to encourage a mind-set shift, where passengers feel good about being presented with a more sustainable in-flight experience. “When we think of pleasures or luxury it is the pleasure of the senses, but it is also the pleasures of the mind. So… when I travel. It’s not just the hedonistic pleasures that I have, but it’s also the more purposeful pleasures that I derive from travel. I think that that message needs to really go out.”

Dr Yazdani echoed this by stressing the importance of giving customers the feeling that they have choices and “have the feeling that they can (affect) change in the area of sustainability and make an impact.”  One example of that is pre-ordering food, where customers only order what they want and need.

Engaging Stakeholders

The discussion expanded to the role of various stakeholders in driving sustainability, with panel chair Shashank Nigam asking who the most important stakeholders were – customers, staff or Governments.

Andre Viljoen said customers were the most important stakeholders as “most customers today are committed to play their part in sustainability”, and as part of that employees are there “to facilitate and be ready when customers want to take part.”

Dr Yazdani agreed, saying that customers were playing a leading role, reflecting the changing attitudes and perceptions in society at large towards climate change.  As a result, many initiatives were “coming from below” and the customer journey was having to “adjust to the demands, beliefs and expectations of the customer.”

Akira Mitsumasu meanwhile highlighted the importance of Governments in establishing the right framework for sustainability initiatives to take place, both in providing incentives and also in introducing regulations for companies to follow.

Mandates come into play as well, as  according to Mitsumasu, they “set the tone that you expect companies to be responsible, to hit that responsibility (targets), but also to encourage them to do so.”

The need for industry action

Shashank Nigam closed the discussion by pointing out that the growth of the aviation industry means it needs to act now.

Nigam talked about the fact that aviation’s share of global emissions could increase from just under 3% to 22% by 2050 on the current trajectory.  

However, he also said that what gave him hope was seeing competitors working together on the issue, and APEX Greener is one example of that.  This comes as sustainability is understood to be an industry wide problem. “I’m seeing sustainability becoming like safety was in the 70s and 80s, where the industry is coming together across silos, we are right off talking about it and then hopefully, acting upon it.”

To find out more about APEX Greener powered by SimpliFlying, click here