Can Aviation have a Positive Environmental Impact?

We all know air travel is a major driver of global pollution, but it is also a necessity for many industries. To fight this, most major airlines now offer “carbon offset” programs. Check a box, and you can pledge a certain amount of money to reduce the impact your flight has on the environment. What’s not always clear, however, is exactly what these carbon offsets are, or what kind of impact they have.

There are two main ways in which airlines use carbon offsets for sustainability: purchasing Sustainable Aviation Fuel, and supporting environmental programs.

Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) is a fuel made from sustainable, recycled, and renewable sources which can act as a substitute for fossil fuel. It is often made from waste products such as used cooking oil and industrial wood waste. While more environmentally friendly, it also costs on average five times as much as traditional jet fuel. Buying carbon offsets can allow airlines to purchase SAF, and as it can be safely mixed with fossil fuel, can increase the proportion of SAF used on a flight.

Some airlines plant trees with the credits. A single tree can capture 100kg of carbon in a year. These reforestation and biodiversity programs are an important part of reducing carbon impact. Other airlines partner with nonprofits like Cool Effect, which sponsors projects such as landfill gas reduction, installing clean-burning stoves in developing areas, and protecting native grasslands.


Other ways in which airlines are working to solve environmental problems are by using advanced navigation tools to reduce miles flown and flight times, reducing the amount of fuel used in taxiing at airports, and investing in newer, more energy-efficient planes. The ultimate goal is zero-impact aviation. While technology has yet to progress to where air travel itself is carbon-free, our current best strategy is to support these initiatives and create balance in our travel for a healthier planet.

Here at Living Abroad, our newest focus is on sustainability. We have articles covering sustainability in many of our destination reports, with many more to come!


Written by Kate Havas, Content Manager