The aviation industry is being urged to do its due diligence when it comes to carbon offsetting programs.
Programs are increasingly getting called out for how cheap they are and questioned on their efficacy - or, in some cases, existence. There's also a debate around the pretense that offsets are a substitute for emission reductions.
Andreas Slettvoll, CEO of climate technology specialist Chooose, which provides carbon programs to the travel industry, said the company steers clear of 70% of offset programs.
He said his concerns are not only for the reputation of his company, but also the companies it works with.
At a recent Amadeus event, Slettvoll told airlines that offsets were not the solution.
“It's one of many solutions; it's not one size fits all; it's many sizes that fit many different types of companies and they all have specific needs.”
Amadeus Ventures recently announced an investment in Chooose with the aim of enabling travelers and travel agents to explore and purchase various options to reduce the impact of travel on the environment.
Slettvoll also noted a lack of transparency around many offset programs.
“Historically offsets have been priced ridiculously low, one tonne of carbon for 50 cents or $1, which doesn’t represent the cost of one tonne emitted. Historically these markets, carbon markets and I’m specifically talking about offsets, have been very immature. There’s a feeling of the wild west and a complete lack of transparency. It’s impossible for us as individuals or even as a corporate buyer to understand the real underlying cost and that’s a big problem.
“What we actively discourage is to chase any type of offsets based on price alone. We’ve seen many cases of companies claiming they are net neutral or carbon neutral based on 15-year-old cheap offsets from a project that might not even be operative any more.”
Slettvoll was speaking as part of a sustainability panel at the Amadeus Altitude 22 airline executive event.
Questioned on the sustainability challenges for airlines, carriers on the panel, which included Air Canada, Air Caraibes and Braathens Regional Airlines, highlighted the lack of a single standard when it comes to carbon emissions and how they’re calculated.
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Laila Nouasri, director, supplier relationship management and strategic procurement, IT, at Air Canada, said there are also challenges with sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).
“The best thing we can do with the biggest impact on greenhouse gas is SAF, but that comes with a whole host of its own challenges specifically the lack of availability worldwide. In Canada there is no supply, so if we want SAF we have to truck it up all the way from California, which kind of defeats the purpose.”
Alongside other recent initiatives to address its carbon footprint, including investment in electric aircraft manufacturer Heart Aerospace, Air Canada recently selected Chooose as its carbon offset partner.
The partnership enables Air Canada passengers to purchase verified carbon offsets on the carrier’s websites.
The announcement is one of a spate of recent moves from carriers regarding sustainability initiatives: JetBlue has announced its intention to purchase 25 million gallons of SAF over five years.
Meanwhile, easyJet has signaled a move away from offsetting and has set a target of a 35% reduction in emissions by 2035.
But, the wider discussion around sustainable travel is not only about individual moves from carriers; it’s also about the entire ecosystem.
During the Altitude event, Amadeus asked airlines what their expectations are of the distribution giant when it comes to sustainability.
Noella Abitbol, CIO of Air Caraibe, said she wants to see a jointly developed green loyalty scheme. Monika Wiederhold, executive vice president global ecosystem initiatives and senior group executive, Germany, at Amadeus, revealed that the company is already “incubating a green loyalty program.”
Abitbol said she also wants to see more green efforts in IT and asked Amadeus to share how sustainable it is, for example, in its partnership with Microsoft.
Meanwhile, Michael Quist, CIO of Braathens, said he wants to help with selling its green fare families, as well as more coordinated work on a standardized way of calculating emissions.
Air Canada’s Nouasri agreed that stakeholders need to come together and align on goals and solutions. She also said the airline is working on its Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions and asked Amadeus to find ways to reduce its Scope 2 emissions.
“Amadeus’ Scope 2 ends up being our Scope 3, and by reducing Scope 2 emissions you have a direct impact on all of the airlines that work with you.”
The Scopes are the basis for reporting greenhouse gas emissions. Scope 1 covers a company’s direct emissions, Scope 2 its indirect emissions and Scope 3 emissions across a company’s value chain.
Despite the challenges, initiatives around sustainable travel are increasing and attitudes are changing.
Slettvoll says there's an increasing demand for solutions and less price sensitivity around them now than there was four years ago.
“There’s a willingness to pay from end consumers because corporate buyers and consumers understand this much more now than just two or three years ago, so the willingness to pay for high-quality offsets and high-quality removal programs is different now.”
* Reporter's attendance at the event was supported by Amadeus.