November 17, 2021
Business Transportation

Building A Bridge To Accelerate The Transition To Sustainable Aviation

Last fall, I became the first US Leader for Sustainability & Climate Change at Deloitte. This new role offered the possibility to expand upon the work our team had been advancing to realize the great promise of the future of mobility where more people and goods could move faster, safer, cleaner, cheaper and with greater inclusivity, accessibility and equity. Decarbonization of the mobility system is a major focus and priority for our team.

In September, Deloitte globally pledged to reach net zero emissions by 2030 as part of our WorldClimate commitment. For professional services firms like ours, weekly travel—by our partners and professionals before the pandemic—accounted for the largest source of our emissions. And while shifting to renewable electricity in our offices or to electric and hybrid vehicles in our small fleet is straightforward, at least technologically, the emissions from our air travel are “harder-to-abate” with few low-carbon options available at scale. 

Like most climate change challenges, there is no silver bullet to address our aviation carbon footprint. So we’re taking a multi-pronged approach that builds on the lessons we’ve learned over the last year, while working with others to catalyze the creation of a more sustainable aviation industry.

As the rate of vaccinations increase, we envision a day soon when we will have the opportunity to again work side-by-side with our clients and with our teams. If you are an extrovert like me, who thrives on working with people to tackle the thorniest challenges and the bonding that comes from traversing the journey together, this day can’t happen soon enough. But the pandemic has shown us and our clients that we can often work together quite effectively—and more sustainably—by using video conference technologies and remote work. Some of the ways we used to operate will re-emerge, but so too will a new operating model. It will no longer be considered a prudent business practice – by consultants or their clients! – to fly across the country for a one-hour meeting. We also plan to enable our staff to work remotely a meaningful portion of the time, helping to create a more flexible balance between work and home life and cutting down on commuting and the emissions that come with it.

We are working with the major airlines to enable lower-emissions flights and to catalyze the nascent market for sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). SAF is a biofuel produced from a variety of feedstocks that can reduce lifecycle carbon emissions up to 80%. It is a “drop-in fuel” that can be used in existing aircraft to immediately reduce emissions. In February we announced agreements with Delta Air Lines and American Airlines to purchase SAF, among the first organizations to do so. This month we announced a similar agreement with United Airlines’ Eco-Skies Alliance.

Beyond the direct emissions reductions from these purchases, we believe they can also help accelerate the SAF market more broadly. Sustainable aviation fuel currently costs 2-4x more than conventional jet fuel and supply is extremely limited, making it uneconomic without additional investment. By stimulating demand we hope to instill greater confidence for suppliers to build additional production capacity, and we will work with other airlines, fuel service providers, and airports to increase SAF adoption. 

We are also collaborating with the World Economic Forum’s Clean Skies for Tomorrow Initiative, along with RMI (formerly the Rocky Mountain Institute) and the Environmental Defense Fund to pioneer a Sustainable Aviation Fuel certificate (SAFc) program. Creating a recognized SAFc will support the development of a marketplace to trade virtual carbon credits and help reduce the price premium that discourages SAF use today. We are a founding member of the just-launched Sustainable Aviation Buyers Alliance, whose mission is to accelerate the path to net zero aviation by driving investment in high quality SAF, and catalyze new and additional SAF production and technological innovation. We hope that other corporations will join us in these initiatives.

If we are to achieve the targets of the Paris Agreement and keep the planet’s temperature from rising above 1.50C, we all will need to take collective action wherever possible to rapidly help markets geared toward more sustainable and low-carbon solutions, and scale those solutions as quickly as possible.  The dramatic improvements in the cost and performance of renewable energy in the last fifteen years serves as a powerful example of what’s possible. We need to move even faster given the urgency of making measurable progress in reducing emissions this decade. This will require the formation of innovative ecosystems where buyers and sellers work together with a common purpose of accelerating decarbonization. That in turn will require those who have committed to leading the transition to a low carbon future to step up to catalyze market transformation.