Home » Arabian Travel Market 2023 Opportunity to Champion Real Progress in Inclusive Sustainability, Not Fear Sustainable Aviation Fuel Challenge and Potential Green Washing Label

Arabian Travel Market 2023 Opportunity to Champion Real Progress in Inclusive Sustainability, Not Fear Sustainable Aviation Fuel Challenge and Potential Green Washing Label

by Mohammad Ghazal

With Arabian Travel Market 2023 in Dubai this week under the theme of ‘Working Towards Net Zero’, this is an opportune time to spotlight both the significant progress made and major challenges the global aviation sector faces in its drive for innovation and impactful solutions in sustainable aviation.

An affordable and abundant supply of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is clearly the greatest challenge on the aviation sector’s agenda today on its road to net zero. With aviation fuel accounting for an estimated 12% of all transportation-related carbon emissions worldwide, we expect to see tremendous attention given to this issue at the region’s leading international travel and tourism event.

At the same time, we need to use this 30th anniversary of ATM to recognize real, measurable progress in the wide range of inclusive sustainability initiatives making highly impactful contributions to the overall sustainable performance of the aviation industry. This includes innovation and achievements in environmental and social sustainability initiatives tied to areas such as renewable energy in building management, ground services efficiency, AI and data usage, air quality and noise reduction measures, DEI programs, waste reduction, wildlife protection, conservation, among others.

Unfortunately, with no SAF solution on the immediate horizon, major airlines, airport operators and other industry leaders are fearful of promoting their genuine commitment to advancing sustainability initiatives. They are afraid of being accused of ‘Green Washing’ despite widespread industry recognition of their innovation and leadership. This is a challenge Etihad Airways is now facing with a recent ban in the UK of two airline’s sustainability focused Facebook ads.

UAE leaders have advocated for and acted upon the values of inclusive sustainability from the country’s earliest days. And the UAE’s national airline has a proven track record of embracing and following the UAE lead in inclusive sustainability. This has resulted in a wide range of sustainability-related initiatives that helped the airline cut verified carbon emissions by 56 percent between 2018 and 2021. Among the company’s sustainability initiatives include completing the world’s most intensive sustainable flight-testing program, pioneering the Greenliner program with Boeing and GE, going plastic-free, paperless and waste-free, optimizing airspace management, cutting contrails, extensive use of electric ground vehicles, promoting eco-friendly take-offs, wildlife protection, food waste reduction and more.

These advances in sustainability led to the company being named ‘Environmental Airline of the Year 2022’ in the annual Airline Ratings awards, earning ‘Environmental Sustainability Innovation of the Year’ recognition at CAPA’s annual Environmental Sustainability Awards for Excellence as well as ‘Best Airline for Sustainability 2022’ by Business Traveler USA.

Despite these achievements, the UK Advertising Standards Authority said that the use of the term ‘sustainable aviation’ is what resulted in the ban of the two Facebook ads. The advertising ban, though, seems to be linked to what the aviation industry has yet to achieve with a scalable and economically viable solution to SAF, something Etihad Airways openly addresses in its sustainability report as well as on its website.  

This is not for a lack of trying across the industry. Top corporate, government and scientific minds from around the world have invested significant time and money tackling this issue. That includes a consortium in the UAE led by Masdar, TotalEnergies, Siemens Energy and Marubeni exploring the potential to use green hydrogen to produce sustainable aviation fuel.

Real progress is being made to realize the industry’s net zero 2050 commitments. Yet the reality is that today the global aviation industry does not have a solution at a cost and sustainable production volume needed to support the global demand for the safe and carbon-neutral transport of people and cargo around the world.

Thankfully, that has not stopped Etihad Airways and other global aviation industry leaders – including Emirates Airline, Dubai Airports and Abu Dhabi Airports — from responsibly and actively investing in a wide range of innovative and highly impactful sustainability programs. If it had, we would have missed out on some incredibly meaningful, impactful and important advancements toward sustainable aviation.

ATM 2023 Dubai will follow the UAE established commitment in the run up to COP 28 of working to drive tangible, measurable progress in climate action on the road to net zero. That will include significant discussion around SAF as a critical aspect of the global drive toward sustainable aviation.

At the same time, it’s important our aviation industry leaders are not afraid to serve as vocal role models and advocates for innovation in and commitment to inclusive sustainability while continuing to champion a solution to SAF and net zero sustainable aviation.

That’s not Green Washing. It’s spurring industry innovation while embracing and acting on the inclusive sustainability principles that are central to the core values of the leadership of the UAE.

By Jacob Drake, 360 Strategic Communications

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