NRDC Airline Scorecard: First-ever ranking of Airline Biofuel Use

Certification critical to ensuring aviation biofuels deliver on promise of long-term sustainability

SAN FRANCISCO (February 3, 2015) – Air travel emits more than 650 million metric tons of carbon pollution annually –  equivalent to the pollution from 136 million cars– making the increased use of sustainable biofuels a critical  to reducing the industry’s carbon footprint. According to a first-of-its-kind scorecard released today by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the industry is making strides in adopting sustainable biofuels, with some airlines doing better than others as they incorporate these new fuels into their fleets. Air France/KLM is by far the leader of the pack.

“It’s great to see certain airlines becoming leaders in the use of sustainable biofuels,” said Debbie Hammel, Senior Resource Specialist with NRDC’s Land & Wildlife Program and author of the scorecard. “As the world rises to the challenge of curbing climate change and cutting carbon pollution, addressing air travel pollution has to be part of the mix.  The aviation sector has been pretty proactive about this issue, and an industry-wide increase in the use of sustainably produced biofuels is definitely on the horizon.”

NRDC’s Aviation Biofuel Sustainability Scorecards evaluated airlines’ adoption of biofuels, focusing on the use of leading sustainability certification standards, participation in industry initiatives to promote sustainability certification, public commitments to sustainability certification in sourcing, and the monitoring and disclosure of important sustainability metrics. The top-scoring carrier was Air France-KLM, followed by British Airways, United Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, Cathay Pacific, and Alaska Airlines.

The industry has made significant strides in embracing biofuels in recent years.  In the past five years, more than 40 commercial airlines around the world have flown as estimated 600,000 miles powered at least in part by biofuels. Lufthansa completed a study of the long-term effect of aviation biofuels on engines, noting no adverse impacts. KLM conducted 26 long-haul flights demonstrating it is possible to organize and coordinate a complex supply chain and fly regularly scheduled flights on aviation biofuel blends.

Low-carbon fuels will play a key role in the industry’s efforts to hold its carbon emissions steady after 2020 and cut net carbon emissions to half of the 2005 level by 2050. To meet these goals, a new market has emerged to provide biofuels for the aviation sector. But the adoption of credible, third-party sustainability certification systems are necessary to ensure that the emerging aviation biofuels market is providing fuels that are sourced sustainably, and are not competing with food production, causing severe damage to land, water, air quality, wildlife, and local communities or generating more climate pollutions than their petroleum counterparts.

The scorecard and issue brief encourages airlines to send clear market signals notifying suppliers of the importance of sustainability certification – ideally using the certification framework created by the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB) – and make a public commitment to source 100 percent certified-sustainable biofuels.

“How airlines move forward is still up in the air,” Hammel says. “While some in the industry have made real progress in implementing sustainability commitments this past year, there’s more to do. The industry must commit to robust standards for sourcing these fuels to ensure that they’re truly sustainable in the long-term.”




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