An Interview with United’s Chief Sustainability Officer Lauren Riley
Sustainable Aviation Buyers Alliance
Accelerating the transition to carbon-neutral aviation
Sustainable Aviation Buyers Alliance
As the end of the COVID-19 pandemic draws closer, the aviation industry is poised to reemerge as an essential contributor to our economies and our daily lives.
At the same time, the urgency of the climate crisis has never been clearer: we have less than a decade to halve global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in order to avoid the most devastating impacts of climate change.
Nearly 2.5 percent of today’s emissions are a result of global air travel—a figure that is projected to rise rapidly in coming years, especially as demand for jet fuel is expected to double as compared with pre-pandemic levels by 2050.
That’s why now—as investors, customers, and employees increasingly demand net-zero commitments and stakeholder capitalism—is the time for leadership and innovation from companies in the aviation sector and beyond.
Introducing the Sustainable Aviation Buyers Alliance (SABA)
Spearheaded by RMI and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), the Sustainable Aviation Buyers Alliance (SABA) will work to accelerate the path to carbon-neutral air transport by driving investment in sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), catalyzing SAF production and technological innovation, and supporting member engagement in policymaking efforts. SAF has the potential to reduce the carbon intensity of flying by more than 80 percent, but SAF currently represents less than 0.1 percent of global aviation fuel due to insufficient, disaggregated demand and cost barriers.
To address these issues, founding companies Bank of America, Boston Consulting Group, Boeing, Deloitte, JPMorgan Chase, McKinsey and Company, Microsoft, Netflix and Salesforce will work in collaboration with EDF and RMI to develop a rigorous, transparent SAF certificate system. The system will expand SAF investment opportunities to all businesses, organizations, and even individuals interested in reducing the climate impacts of air transport. It will accelerate the use and bring down the costs of SAF, to help drive aviation emissions reductions at the scale and pace that the science demands.
SABA is intentionally starting small but will engage a limited number of additional companies in the next few months and eventually open to all companies and organizations interested in reducing their aviation emissions.
SABA’s mission is to accelerate the path to carbon-neutral air transport by driving investment in sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), catalyzing new and additional SAF production and technological innovation, and supporting member engagement in policymaking.
Key aspects of SABA’s work:
- Education and policy support: SABA will help members navigate the technical aspects of SAF and the SAF market, aviation emissions accounting, and the SAF policy landscape.
- Technology innovation: SABA will assess emerging SAF technologies and work with like-minded organizations to help address barriers to scale and cost reduction.
- Investment opportunity: SABA will establish a rigorous, transparent SAF certificate system enabling air transport customers—not only aircraft operators—to invest in high-quality SAF to meet their ambitious climate goals.
About Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF)
SAF has the potential to reduce the carbon intensity of flying by more than 80 percent, but SAF represents less than 0.1 percent of global aviation fuel due to insufficient, disaggregated demand and cost barriers.
While the majority of SAF technologies don’t significantly reduce in-flight “combustion” emissions as compared with conventional jet fuel, SAF is responsible for significant emissions benefits over the life cycle of the fuel due to the lower carbon footprint associated with production. Conventional fuel use involves fossil fuel extraction and refinement, whereas SAF is produced from sustainable feedstocks including crops like switchgrass or poplar, or from reusable waste materials such as cooking oil, corn stalks and cobs, or municipal solid waste.
Additionally, new research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences details the potential benefits of a biorefining process to produce SAF. According to the US Department of Energy, this process is “compatible with existing jet engines and capable of supporting net-zero-carbon flight. In practice, that means that GHG emissions created from jet fuel combustion are zeroed out by life-cycle GHG emissions removed or diverted from the atmosphere when producing the fuel.”