Powering the future of sustainable aviation

Nicole Sautter
21 November, 22

In a world where travel powers progress, we believe that travel is not the issue. The problem we need to solve is the associated carbon emissions – and it must be tackled through determined leadership, innovation and industry collaboration.

Aviation is responsible for 2-3% of overall global carbon emissions. This may seem like a relatively small proportion but as other industries decarbonise and aviation continues to grow, air travel could account for a significantly greater proportion of global emissions by 2050.

To compound the issue is the fact that aviation is difficult to decarbonise – a so-called ‘hard-to-abate sector’ due to factors such as the long lifespan of aeroplanes and cost of carbon reduction solutions.

No matter the challenges, it’s imperative that the travel industry continues to take action to speed up its own decarbonization efforts.

Business travel: accelerating sustainable travel

Corporate travel has a distinct and important part to play in reducing aviation emissions. As the world-leading travel management company, American Express Global Business Travel (Amex GBT) is working to head the way in sustainable travel by galvanizing the industry.

Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) has an indispensable role here. SAF can reduce carbon emissions by up to 80% on a lifecycle basis compared to traditional fossil jet fuels. Moreover, SAF is currently the most viable solution for aviation to reach net zero: it is available, it doesn’t require aircraft modifications and it can be made from a variety of renewable resources. Other emission reduction technologies are years or decades away, but usable SAF already exists.

But as beneficial as SAF can be, the industry has been slow to adopt or invest in SAF. Currently SAF is two to eight times more expensive than jet fuel.

Landmark SAF pilot programme

Earlier this year, working with Shell Aviation, Amex GBT launched a landmark SAF pilot initiative for business travel, with one million gallons of SAF available from the outset. Our partnership will help unlock SAF production and usage by making it easier for businesses with corporate travellers to invest in SAF as part of their travel programmes. It enables them to validate these SAF investments to key stakeholders and to monitor and report on how SAF adoption is helping them achieve their climate action plans.

Our SAF partnership demonstrates the influential role of business travel in making aviation and travel more sustainable, and highlights the importance of collaboration across the industry in doing so. Business travellers make up just 15% of passengers, but 40% of airline revenues. By aggregating business travel demand for SAF and sending strong market signals, the corporate travel sector can help scale and accelerate SAF uptake, dispelling current supply chain hesitancy.

Book-&-claim – a proven solution

This SAF programme is built on a blockchain-based digital ‘book-&-claim’ system. What is book and claim? It’s a proven solution which decouples the environmental attributes or emission reductions of the fuel from the physical fuel resource. What this means is that SAF doesn’t need to be physically transported and put into the specific aircraft of a passenger who’s paid the SAF premium – instead, it goes into the fuel system at an airport close to the SAF production facility, so avoiding transport emissions. This SAF is tracked and verified, and those emissions reductions associated with that specific SAF investment are calculated, recorded and allocated to the person or company. The book and claim model is used in other sectors – for example, for consumers who want to buy green electricity via the grid.

Industry collaboration

The collaborative nature of our SAF programme is vital: it’s only by working collectively that we can remove the economic barriers preventing SAF production and uptake, powering scalable solutions for sustainable aviation. Helping driving growth in SAF supply and demand will lead to reduced SAF cost. This pilot programme aims to do exactly that. Airlines will gain access to a large new customer base willing to invest in the green premium for SAF, drawing from Amex GBT’s 19,000 customers around the world, which includes thousands of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and 40 of the top 100 companies by travel spend. In turn, corporates looking to reduce business travel emissions will have improved access to SAF.

Leading the route to greener travel

Amex GBT has set out to help drive net zero aviation by 2050. Our intention is to lead change in the industry, innovating, collaborating, and supporting companies towards greener travel.

The SAF pilot programme is one initiative – but organisations and people need to use every tool available. As the leading business travel platform, Amex GBT is uniquely positioned to drive sustainability throughout the industry. With our ‘green marketplace’ approach, we aggregate demand from valued clients and drive volume to preferred suppliers. With innovation and investment, Amex GBT is building a comprehensive suite of climate solutions. We are enabling the technology and tools needed to achieve net-zero, and driving the behaviour change at organisational and individual levels that is necessary to get there. We are addressing the challenge of making travel more sustainable and offering a new perspective on the future.

As a member of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC), we support the setting of an industry standard for green hotels. And we recently joined the World Economic Forum (WEF) Mobility Platform – which is designed to bring together the world’s key mobility companies, policymakers and stakeholders across all sectors to develop global mobility systems that are safe, sustainable and inclusive.

Travel is a force for good. The pandemic showed us what deep damage – to the global economy, to communities, to people’s wellbeing, to millions of jobs – is done when the world stops travelling. So more needs to be done to enable people to continue flying while emitting less carbon. SAF has proven that this is technically feasible – but it needs scale to become a mainstream climate solution. Jet zero travel is possible – but it will take innovation, determination, collaboration and leadership.

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