Boeing is partnering across the industry to ensure aerospace is safe and sustainable for current and future generations
In any discussion about sustainability, aviation is often a major topic. And rightfully so as flying people and goods around the globe is responsible for 2% of carbon emissions. With such an impact, many wonder how aviation can contribute to a sustainable future.
The aviation ecosystem is responsible for 4.5 billion passenger flights each year, carrying $7 trillion worth of goods and provides 88 million jobs globally. Looking to the future, some projections put the number of passenger journeys as high as 10 billion per year by 2050.
“Our purpose is to connect, protect and explore the world and beyond,” said Chris Raymond, Boeing Chief Sustainability Officer. “We help humanity take flight. And as the world flies more and more, the aviation sector will grow, but we must do that in a safe, sustainable way.”
Boeing has embraced this responsibility for over 105 years and put more emphasis on it last year, formalizing its sustainability organization and boldly committing itself to a greener future.
“Sustainability is rooted in our values and our stakeholders’ expectations. It includes our focus on environmental stewardship, social progress and inclusion, and values-based and transparent governance,” said Raymond. “When we first started our sustainability organization, we mapped all our existing activities to the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals and focused on which goals mattered most to our customers, communities and employees as well as where we could make the greatest impact.”
Reducing emissions is front and center for Boeing and its many stakeholders. Aviation has a set of challenges that make the ‘how’ more complex. Sheila Remes, Boeing Vice President of Environmental Sustainability plays a key role in figuring out how to turn the decarbonization goal into a reality across four pillars.
“The first pillar is fleet renewal through which our customers can reduce emissions by anywhere from 15 to 25 percent. The next pillar is operational efficiency - that’s another 10 percent that a customer can achieve. Next is renewable energy and the renewable energy transition,” said Remes. “That includes sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) and green hydrogen as well as renewable electricity, and then that gets turned into our fourth pillar: new technology and the implementation and integration to a new aircraft type.”
Boeing has identified SAF as offering the most immediate and largest potential to reduce carbon emissions over the next 20 to 30 years. Building on over a decade of work with SAF, including the world’s first commercial airplane flight using 100% sustainable fuels in 2018, in collaboration with FedEx Express, Boeing has also committed that all of its commercial airplanes will be certified to safely fly on 100% SAF by 2030.
“With a long history of innovation in sustainable aviation fuels, certifying our family of airplanes to fly on 100% sustainable fuels significantly advances Boeing’s deep commitment to work with our industry to decarbonize aviation,” said Stan Deal, Boeing Commercial Airplanes President & CEO.
Since one single company cannot decarbonize aviation on its own, partnerships are essential. Boeing’s award-winning ecoDemonstrator program is based on partnerships, including the one this year with Alaska Airlines. The ecoDemonstrator program, which accelerates innovation by taking promising technologies out of the lab and tests them in flight, has tested 200 technologies on eight airplanes. The company is also working with SkyNRG and SkyNRG Americas to scale the availability and use of SAF globally.
But what about beyond the immediate future and SAF? Brian Yutko, Boeing Chief Engineer of Sustainability and Future Mobility, says that while Boeing’s near-term emphasis will remain on SAF, the company will continue to build on its experience with hydrogen and electric.
“We’ve flown five hydrogen powered aircraft along with powering many of our spacecraft with hydrogen propulsion systems. And we have flown a number of electric aircraft over the years,” said Yutko.
Sir Michael Arthur, Boeing International President, notes that sustainability is a ‘team sport’ and that Boeing must partner not only with industry, but with governments and customers across the globe. In addition, he emphasizes Boeing’s role in engaging the next generation.
“Engaging the next generation of innovators with STEM education is crucial to the future of this industry,” said Sir Michael. “Through investments such as the Newton Rooms in the UK and other global programs, we harness the natural curiosity of young people today to help them as they prepare to create a better tomorrow.”
Ultimately, Raymond says that aviation is an essential part of life and that sustainability must be achieved.
“The responsibility with Boeing is really to help aerospace grow sustainably. We want to continue to see the societal benefits of this industry within commercial flight and with national security, humanitarian and peacekeeping operations on the government side. We want to see that continue but we have to see it grow more sustainably.”