Is sustainability just a buzzword? I recently attended the general assembly of the European Airline Association. During the conference, one of the speakers showed a slide with a picture of a supermarket aisle with a tent card above the goods on sale. The card read ‘Sustainable’ with no explanation or other context, making it utterly meaningless.
Graphics like this are often used in retail stores as a particularly cynical way of reinforcing the ‘values’ that the store owner wants to impress on its customers without them being aware that they are being marketed to. The question that the presentation at the ERA was raising was: Are we guilty of doing something similar in aviation?
For all the talk of sustainability, what is actually happening? Ignoring the issues around SAF for a moment, we as an industry are still trying to persuade passengers that even though tonnes of laundry are generated and mountains of food wasted on every flight, it’s somehow OK because the forks are made from bamboo. Worse, the airlines will send out press releases saying how environmentally friendly their cabin is because of it.
Branding and marketing certainly has its place (and we speak about it at length in this issue), but the industry has to be authentic in putting its words into action, or face being called out on it by consumer groups or environmental protesters. In the age of social media, such campaigns can very quickly spiral beyond what the original complaint was, causing the industry even more problems.
In order to move on from talking a lot but doing comparatively little, all major airlines need to work together to find a way that they can make substantive change.