Climate fight with aviation about to ratchet up

There’s about to be a massive ratchet up in the climate wars when it comes to aviation.

The term “greenwashing” is about to be one you’ll hear far more regularly and it’s about to get a lot more divisive.

First off what is “greenwashing”?

It’s the habit that business and industry have gotten into on a huge scale and it’s been quite effective.

This is for example when an airline – lets take KLM as an example says “we’ve cancelled all flights to Brussels and we’d like you take the train”. They actually did this recently. It made headlines for an airline saying they’d rather you take the train, and how forward thinking of them!

However; what most people don’t know is that Amsterdam Schipol is at 100% capacity and it’s in the airlines interest to cut flights to low profit destinations like Brussels, and use its landing slots on more profitable routes, which is what KLM did.

So greenwashing is making it look like you’ve done something pro-environment and Co2 reducing, when in fact it’s in your best interest to do it, you haven’t actually had much choice and you’re exploiting it to make yourself look good while actually doing nothing Co2 reducing at all.

It’s like airlines saying they’re using more biofuels. They say it, but the amount they use is minuscule and will stay that way for years. Quite simply the airport to refinery fuel distribution systems simply can’t cope with different fuel types. Any biofuel has to shipped in on diesel trucks for specific flights, undermining the whole point of it.

Airlines that say they have cut plastic cutlery, and that’s good, but then provide half the aircrafts customers with heavy china plates and metal cutlery – reusable but far heavier, and weight means fuel burn.

Another one that hit the headlines this weekend is that BA – along with many other airlines – over-fuel aircraft as much as possible to save buying more expensive fuel at the destination airport. Carrying unnecessary fuel, known as tanking, costs Co2 and burns more fuel to fly it about.

So the airlines are getting fed up with being the high visibility victims of the environmental campaigners and climate activists.

Alexander de Juniac, whose most famous moment was having AirFrance strikers rip the shirt off his back, and now runs IATA, is about to launch a major PR campaign on behalf of the airlines.

This campaign is going to be a feast of things airlines are doing to reduce their Co2, and one of those things will be highlighting the billions spent on new aircraft and reducing Co2 output.

And that will be true. But what they won’t say is that for every 10% reduction in Co2 per aircraft, the number of aircraft and flights is rising at a staggering level, and Co2 overall is rising way beyond what new engines and aircraft are saving.

And even that is greenwashing- because they want more efficient aircraft, not because it reduces Co2, but because it uses less fuel and saves money! And as a by product it reduces per-aircraft Co2 output.

And this is what airlines and their allies have to be most worried by. Greenwashing is far easier to see and quickly revealed – and all it does is look disingenuous and make airlines look even worse when it comes out.

The danger in the end is the same one that affects every industry. They appear and usually are, to be putting profits first. Until they learn to accept their responsibility and seriously engage with the issue through heavyweight investment, not just PR stunts and minor alterations, the public just won’t believe them. And that applies to industry everywhere.

So look forward to more noise from both sides. It isn’t going to go away.