So what’s the deal with airplane fuel? As Colorado College students are generally environmentally conscientious, flying to and from school on holiday breaks can create a moral dilemma for many. But just how bad are airplanes for the environment? Is it better to drive? To address these questions and more, on Thursday, Feb. 1, the Career Center hosted a talk given by a CC alumna, Ellie Wood, on Boeing Commercial Airplanes’ fuel and sustainability initiatives.
Ellie Wood graduated from Colorado College in 2010 as an international political economics major and went on to receive her master’s in international environmental policy. She now works at Boeing Commercial Airlines as the director of environmental strategy and integration. Wood says she works at Boeing to make a “distinct, immediate difference.”
Wood started her talk by discussing where we are in terms of airplanes in 2018. Approximately 4 billion people fly on airplanes every year, with 10 million flying every day. One in five people have been on a plane and one-third of our global goods fly on planes. With numbers like this, the impact that airplanes have on our carbon footprint seems enormous. However, airplanes are responsible for only two percent of carbon dioxide emissions. This is because the airplane industry proactively monitors these emissions; they’ve already reduced their footprint 70 percent since the dawn of the jet age and they hope to keep improving that number.
Woods then moved into Boeing’s plans for carbon neutral net growth. Over the next 20 years, the airline manufacturer hopes to introduce over 40,000 new airplanes into their fleet without increasing their carbon footprint. A big point that Wood drove home throughout her entire presentation was that sustainability is in no way a hinderance to growth, and at Boeing, growing includes a decrease in carbon emissions.
The aviation industry was actually the first industry to instate a mandatory cap on their carbon emissions. The fuel they use needs to be 50 to 80 percent more sustainable, certified by a third party, than the fuel it replaces. This agreement is optional for now but will become mandatory in 2027 onwards. Luckily, a good majority of airlines have already chosen to opt into this agreement and are part of the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group.
As for Boeing specifically, they have made important steps to help make biofuel—made from carbon monoxide and municipal solid waste, blended directly with petroleum jet fuel—more readily accessible in countries all over the world. Wood described Boeing’s outreach programs in South Africa and China as an example.
A large part of South Africa’s industry has always been the growth and sale of tobacco, but in recent years, the number of smokers has decreased worldwide and their industry has suffered. Boeing workers had the idea to grow a nicotine-free tobacco plant and use this for biofuel in South Africa to bring back the livelihood of the tobacco industry while also reducing their carbon footprint.
In cities throughout China, there are street vendors selling freshly cooked food. In the past, this cooking oil would be illegally collected and resold for use by other chefs, termed “gutter oil.” Before long, the Chinese government saw this as a public health crisis and asked Boeing if there was anything they could do about the issue. In fact, Boeing was able to incorporate this used cooking oil into the production of biofuel for China’s airlines.
Boeing has been able to have an immense impact on other countries and their accessibility to biofuel and is committed to this for the long run. Wood touched on this commitment in the last section of her presentation: safeguarding the future.
By the year 2030, there will be over 350 million new families with middle class standing, which means more people will have the ability to fly. In order to continue this carbon neutral net growth with even more consumers, Boeing has five main goals driving their growth: solutions for developing countries (“we are currently producing the Rolls Royces of the sky; how do we make a Kia?iaw do Wood), low-stress travel, regional and urban mobility, connectivity and data, and sustainability. These goals will influence how Boeing makes environmentally-conscious decisions in the years ahead.
In a perfect world, flying would be fast, easy, and completely sustainable. As outdoor recreators and environmental activists, CC students can rest assured that flying is at least more sustainable than commonly thought. This awareness of and attention to sustainable corporations like Boeing help us make informed environmental decisions daily.