How the air cargo and logistics industry is going sustainable in 2021

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As airlines and logistics companies come off one of the most challenging years in recent times, they have a firm resolve not only for the future of their business but also for a cleaner future. While they are rethinking their investments, sustainability is their top priority and not as a short term goal but as a long term one in which, they do their bit for the environment.

The Covid-19 pandemic made people stay indoors but it also gave rise to the e-commerce boom. The need for deliveries within a day because of urgent household items has also led to added pressure on the air cargo and logistics industry, both of which had to quickly adapt to the situation, while looking for the best way to optimise their operations. One of the major themes through all of this has been the need for sustainability. Even though the air cargo community has been indoors, it has been a busy year as the focus has shifted towards the environment not on a short-term but instead on a long-term basis. It is to not only create goals but also to start implementing them in the next decade - from sustainable aviation fuel to reduce CO2 emissions to using electric vehicles and encouraging others to take sustainability seriously, the industry is continuously preparing itself for a cleaner future and is raring to go. In an earlier interview with STAT Trade Times, Steven Polmans, chairman of the The International Air Cargo Association (TIACA), said sustainability for them is simply 3+2, which is people, planet and prosperity + partnerships and innovation. It is about reducing carbon footprints, attracting, retaining and developing the younger generation of air cargo employees, improving processes and efficiencies. The association also has the TIACA  Sustainability Program, which was started in 2019 and supports this vision.

Fuel for thought

An increasing number of airlines and airports are looking at using sustainable measures and while it has been in the pipeline, the most recent trend has been the successful adoption of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF). The fuel is a sustainable, synthetic kerosene, which is produced from biomass. Last November saw a flurry of activity through many proactive initiatives, Lufthansa Cargo and DB Schenker partnered to carry out the first CO2-neutral freight flights using SAF. The cargo carrier’s first cargo-neutral Boeing 777F took flight on November 29 from Frankfurt to Shanghai, and helped transport goods for Siemens Healthineers AG, among others. It thus set the tone for a sustainable future, especially in a pandemic-ridden world. In a statement released by the cargo carrier, Peter Gerber, CEO, Lufthansa Cargo explained, "With this flight we are committed to the increased research and use of SAF so that sufficient quantities of the alternative fuel will be available in the future. In addition to investments in a modern freighter fleet, our commitment to this CO2-neutral flight also contributes to the United Nations' Climate Action sustainability goal. Because Lufthansa Cargo takes its corporate responsibility very seriously and is actively taking measures to meet this responsibility and relieve the environment." Climate Action is just one of the five UN sustainability goals, the cargo carrier has aligned with and intends to achieve them by 2030. The other four are No Poverty, Good Health and Wellbeing, Decent Work and Economic Growth, Industries, Innovation and Infrastructure. To symbolise their commitment to the sustainability goals, Lufthansa Cargo even erected The Global Gate on its premises at the Frankfurt Airport.

Taking it a step further, the cargo carrier also launched eBooking, an online booking portal, which can help its customers learn about the CO2 emissions of their shipment’s transport during the booking process. The process, developed in collaboration with Compensaid, the central compensation platform of the airline, is also part of the cargo carrier’s summer schedule; It will help them offset it in the future either by using SAF or through a reforestation project.

Lufthansa Cargo and DB Schenker start the first CO2-neutral freight flight in 2020. Photo Credit: Oliver Rösler

A week later, Air France KLM Martinair (AFKLMP) Cargo launched the world’s first SAF programme for the airfreight industry and in doing that laid the emphasis on sustainable fuel.  “One of the biggest sustainability challenges we currently face is the dependence on fossil fuel and the lack of sufficient alternatives,” says Frederik van de Ven, sustainability lead, AFKLMP Cargo, which led to creating the SAF programme. The aim is to simply enable more freight forwarders and shippers to reduce their CO2 emissions and work towards a cleaner future. By starting the programme, they are not only looking to help their own business but also prove to be a catalyst by encouraging their customers to scale up the SAF market. He explains, “Our Cargo SAF Programme enables shippers and forwarders to power a percentage of their flights with SAF. Customers determine their own level of engagement and we ensure that their entire investment is used for sourcing SAF.”

With a clear vision of driving SAF for clean air transport in 2021 and the future, the cargo carrier is also in the process of constructing Europe’s first sustainable aviation fuel plant, which will be the first of its kind. “The construction of this facility, which is scheduled to open in 2023, is a concrete step towards fulfilling our sustainability ambitions. To achieve our targets, we have a dedicated Cargo Sustainability Team working every day to innovate and to bring concrete solutions into life in creating a more sustainable future for aviation,” van de Ven adds. Looking at the next 10 years, AFKLMP Cargo also intends to reduce their CO2 emissions by 50 per cent by 2030 than they did in 2005 and zero emissions through ground operations by the same time along with a 50 per cent reduction in non-recycled waste than they did in 2011. .

However, aviation fuel is not the only driver for sustainability in aviation. In the latter part of 2020, Qatar Airways started with their Carbon Offset Programme in collaboration with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and ClimateCare. Their passengers can now voluntarily offset their carbon emissions at the time of booking their flights. Their emissions are simply offset by ClimateCare through the Fatanpur Farm Project in India, making not only the airlines but also their passengers do their bit for the environment. Interestingly, while the Carbon Offset Programme has been successful, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) also launched the Aviation Carbon Exchange (ACE) to help airlines meet their climate commitments. The platform is the first centralised, real-time marketplace for the settlement of funds on trades in carbon offsets, and thus an important step in the commitment towards sustainability in the industry.

AFKLMP Cargo launches the world's first SAF Programme for the airfreight industry.

At the terminal

While cargo carriers have been actively involved in their attempt, airports are not far behind. In August 2020, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol partnered with the Circular Plastics Alliance, to help develop sustainable packaging solutions for flower importers. It was especially necessary because flowers accounted for more than 35 per cent of their imported cargo, and also because of the delicate nature of the cargo, which needs special care while transporting. However, this is just one of the many ways the airport has been involved in transitioning into a sustainable business, especially at the start of the new decade. Earlier, in 2018, it had also introduced electric buses to transport passengers to the aircraft.

As the years pass, sustainability is not only limited to the air cargo, logistics and aviation industry but is being thought about at the most basic engineering level. In a first, The Boeing Company appointed Chris Raymond as their first ever Chief Sustainability Officer. He will be responsible for further advancing Boeing's approach to sustainability that is focused on environmental, social and governance priorities, stakeholder-oriented reporting and company performance..Even European aerospace corporation Airbus conducted its second Quantum Computing Challenge, which Grazia Vittadini, chief technology officer, said is an attempt “to fully harness and apply quantum computing technology to solve complex optimisation challenges facing our industry.” The Italian team at Machine Learning Reply won the challenge for their solution to optimise aircraft loading. Interestingly, not only sustainability but also quantum computing appeared in the DHL Trends Radar in the coming years, and the combination of both can only lead to something better. The team will start working with Airbus experts as early as January 2021, to test and benchmark their solution involving complex calculations to enable maximised loading capabilities.

Kuehne + Nagel has rolled out 100% zero-emission electric vehicles (EV) for island-wide delivery in Singapore.

Logistics making it better

A year after Switzerland-based logistics company Kuehne+Nagel introduced their Net Zero Carbon Programme, the company has said the response to it has been excellent. Dominique Nadelhofer, spokesperson for Kuehne+Nagel said, “We have onboarded many customers since then, and at the same time have made our own operations CO2 neutral – by the end of this year (2020), we will be 100 per cent climate neutral for all emissions of Scope 1+2 of the Greenhouse Gas Protocol.”

With the company admitting that almost 7 per cent of global emissions occur due to logistics, they are trying to be as sustainable as possible. The company not only uses LED panels and lighting in its operations but has also adopted recyclable packing foils in its attempt to become sustainable. Realising the need for sustainability in their processes, Nadelhofer concludes, “By 2030, we will make all transport by suppliers such as airlines, shipping lines and haulage companies CO2 neutral (Scope 3). This also applies to air freight.”

While SAF is their priority in the near future, AFKLMP Cargo is leaving no stone unturned in their sustainable goals and their implementation. The cargo carrier already has a new lighting system for their warehouses, which has helped reduce over 250 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year. They have also managed to recycle 85 per cent of their waste and the Amsterdam warehouse. Their warehouse management also includes using 50 per cent lighter cargo nets than standard pallet nets. The airline has also managed to save 3.1 million A4-papers per year by adopting digitalisation and increasing e-freight. The Covid-19 pandemic may have dampened the spirits of the industry for a short while, and while they are still facing many challenges, their conviction to resolve is certainly leading towards a hopeful future for a cleaner environment.

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