Sustainability efforts are on the rise. From global environmental rallies to households reducing their daily waste, it’s clear many people are motivated to put the planet first. The travel and tourism industries are no exception.
As one of the most significant contributors to global carbon emissions, airlines are reviewing their sustainability programs and striving to reduce the release of greenhouse gases from their aircraft. Hotels, too, are continually looking for innovative ways to reduce their carbon footprint and bring sustainability into the heart of the hotel.
Their sustainability efforts stretch across all areas of their business, with the reduction of single-use plastics being top of the list.
Sizing up the problem
With eight million of us flying around the world every day - and that number predicted to increase in coming years - is there a sustainable solution for the future for air travel? Well, it seems airlines and aircraft manufacturers are sitting up, taking note and responding to calls from activists and the government to de-carbonize aviation.
Early planes were made from light materials like wood and fabric. Today, lighter and stronger materials are available, such as plastics reinforced with carbon fiber, which are suitable for use in commercial planes. For example, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner was the first model to be built mostly using composite materials.
Airline flying behavior is also a factor. Some airlines have managed to cut fuel bills by 10% just by ensuring planes fly at the optimum height for as long as possible. Simple changes can make a big difference, too. Lighter dinner trolleys and serving trays can cut 36kg from a plane’s weight. It might not sound like much, but every kilogram saved means 80 metric tons less CO² pumped out by that plane each year.
It’s not just about materials and behavior though. Over the past few decades aircraft manufacturers like Boeing and Airbus have invested heavily in designing and creating jet planes that run on carbon-free alternatives like biofuels, electric, solar power and hydrogen fuel.
While fuel efficiency of aircraft engines has improved each year by 1%, unfortunately, there’s a limit to what can be achieved by these means alone.
The way forward
The good news is that many tourism industry players are already actively incorporating viable solutions into their businesses.
One of the world’s leading hotel companies, InterContinental Hotel Group (IHG®), is phasing out all single-use miniature plastic bathroom amenities from all its hotels by 2021. They will replace the miniatures with bulk-sized solutions. With 5,700+ hotels across the Group globally, this action will see on average 200 million miniature plastic bottles removed every year. Bathroom amenities are not the first waste single-use plastic item to be addressed by IHG. It follows on from a ban on all plastic straws by the end of 2019.
Airlines, however, have a more challenging road to becoming plastic-free.
While hotels have more storage capacity, sanitation facilities on-premise and less (or no) weight limitations on the products they purchase, airlines are not as lucky. Each flight is carefully planned, looking at supply and demand, weight considerations and logistics, to accommodate passengers in a safe and comfortable environment.
Airlines have also introduced onboard recycling facilities to sort aluminum, plastic, glass and paper products before landing. According to a 2010 report by the Natural Resources Defense Council, nearly 75% of products used onboard are recyclable, so these enhancements to facilitate the process of successfully getting items to the recycling plant can only help.
Qantas: Setting high targets
In February 2019, Qantas announced an ambitious plan to become the world’s first airline to reuse, recycle and compost at least 75% of its general waste by the end of 2021. Perhaps more impressively, Qantas achieved its 2020 waste-to-landfill reduction target of 30% in 2019.
Never wanting to become complacent, Qantas has replaced this target with the 75% target going forward. As ambitious as their plans are, Qantas is realistic about the fact that there are some products which don't currently have a practical alternative. In these areas, they are looking to innovation for solutions.
Image Source: Qantas
Travelers are part of the solution
It’s evident that airlines and hotels are playing their part in trying to reduce their dependence on single-use plastics, but how can business travelers join the cause?
To start, select your airlines and hotels with care. Several are investing significant resources into improving their sustainability programs which, by association, reduces your impact on the environment. By choosing to support businesses that actively reduce their negative impact on the planet, business travelers can send a message out to others that they need to follow suit.