NRDC ranks airlines’ commitments to green power 

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Six airlines stand out when it comes to using sustainable biofuels to power flights, according to a scorecard released today by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Air France-KLM, British Airways, United Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, Cathay Pacific and Alaska Airlines ranked high in criteria that included commercial use of biofuels and commitment to ensuring that renewable fuels are sustainable.

The Natural Resources Defense Council sent questionnaires to 32 airlines that either are using or stated publicly that they would use biofuels. Seventeen airlines responded; NRDC used their answers to make up the scorecard.

“While the aviation sector has made some important progress to implement its sustainability commitments over the past year, our findings this year indicate that there is enormous opportunity to do more,” NRDC said.

NRDC pushed for all biofuels used in commercial planes to be certified to global sustainability standards, such as those issued by the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials.

In recent years, commercial airlines have turned toward plant-based biofuels as a means of reducing their carbon dioxide footprints and hedging against oil price volatility.

NRDC ranked sustainability based on the makeup of airlines’ biofuels, participation in industry biofuels sustainability initiatives, public commitments to sustainability, the disclosure of sustainability metrics and the incorporation of indirect land-use change emissions in biofuel calculations. NRDC also weighed use of biofuels and airline staff members dedicated to biofuels.

The scorecard found that biofuels activity has generally slowed in the commercial aviation sector now that many “firsts” have been accomplished, such as the first flight on 100 percent biofuels and the first trans-Atlantic biofuel-powered flight. Airlines have moved from testing to figuring out how to make biofuels profitable in the long run, the group said.

Only two of the airlines — KLM and Brazilian airline GOL — that responded to the environment group’s questionnaire reported actually using biofuels to power commercial flights in 2013. In a pilot program beginning that year, KLM flew a series of round-trip flights between New York City and Amsterdam partially on biofuels made from used cooking oil.

Several other airlines, though, including British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, United Airlines and Alaska Airlines, have signed deals with biofuel producers for biofuel to be incorporated in their fuel mixes.

NRDC identified financing and scaling up biofuel production, tight profits for airlines and an uncertain policy landscape as key challenges to increasing the market for commercial aviation biofuels.

This is NRDC’s second aviation biofuels status report. Last year, the group did not name individual airlines “because the aviation biofuels industry was so new.”

“This year we have decided to publish individual airline scores because some are reporting significant progress,” NRDC said, “and we believe there is value in highlighting these leading companies as potential models to support positive momentum across the sector.”