Change in the air

OUR PLANET 10.1 - Tourism

Change in the air


says that airlines must constantly try to improve
their impact on the environment, and describes his
own company's efforts

planeAviation, I firmly believe, has a key part to play in the future protection of the environment. Such issues as climate change raise serious questions for all of us, but particularly for energy-intensive industries such as aviation, which makes a small but identifiable contribution to man's impact on the global climate.

Airlines, such as British Airways, must strive to meet ever-higher standards of environmental performance. The need to be a good citizen and neighbour within the communities we serve has always been important to us.

In 1989, recognizing the growing importance of this area, a small group, Environment Branch, was established within the company to bring a focus to the growing number and complexity of environmental issues facing the airline. In 1990 we published a statement of environmental policy and the findings of an external review of our facilities and operations. An environmental management system (EMS) was developed in advance of such standard systems as the International Organization for Standardization ISO14001. Elements of this include: an internal Environment Council to review policy and programmes on a regular basis; focal points in areas with the potential for environmental impact; working groups in key departments; and a network of environmental champions built up across the airline. A comprehensive training programme was introduced in 1994. This system has continued to develop, latterly using the ISO14001 system as a benchmark, and is still under ongoing review.

- Noise

- Emissions and fuel efficiency

- Waste of energy, water and material

- Congestion in the air and on the ground

- Tourism and conservation

These headings have proved to be robust and our environmental programmes have, accordingly, been deployed under them.

British Airways is currently committed to spending more than $5 billion on new, quieter aircraft. Our flight crew review their operational procedures on a regular basis in order to identify opportunities to reduce noise impact. Recently, for instance, we changed the departure procedures for 747-400 aircraft after a joint study with the British Airports Authority (BAA). Significant and stretching targets have been set for night flights and for keeping to the defined departure tracks. While government has the key role in proposing and implementing regulations, we have made several constructive suggestions for other ways in which noise impact might be reduced.

Fuel efficiency in the air has doubled over the last 20 years and this trend will continue. Through key suppliers in engine and airframe manufacturing, huge reductions in emissions of hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide have been achieved, and there are technological fixes which could reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides. On the ground, there is a clear record of continuous improvement in energy consumption and targets have been set for further improvement, including the use of renewable energy, which I am sure will play a more important role in the future.

I was asked last year by the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, to review the use of energy in business*. British Airways accepts the review's findings, including the possible role of economic instruments.


Waste management

We are all familiar with the problem of waste, and airlines are no exception. Tight procedures have been put in place for managing different types of waste. Regular surveys are carried out on all fuel storage facilities and ground is monitored to pick up any contamination. The majority of our waste at Heathrow and Gatwick is sent to an incineration plant with energy recovery, which certainly seems the best option, at least in the medium term. A wide range of recycling programmes has been so successful that last year we were able to donate some $80,000, all generated by recycling, to over 150 charities nominated by our staff.

Congestion in the air is a major problem. At Heathrow and Gatwick alone, British Airways burns some 50,000 tonnes of fuel each year - enough to keep 25,000 cars on the road - because of congestion delays. Better air traffic management and movement systems must be developed to alleviate it. There will also have to be investments made in new facilities such as Terminal 5 at Heathrow where the lack of availability of stands contributes to delays, particularly in the early morning.

It is no less essential to address congestion on the ground where jammed traffic delays passengers and employees alike. We therefore supported the new Heathrow Express mass transit rail service and feasibility studies on a number of other possible rail initiatives. More immediately, a Free Transport Zone has been established at Heathrow for employees and public, with buses linking together our main working locations and the wider public transport network.

Leisure travel is the fastest growing part of our business. Indeed, every airline passenger is a tourist within the accepted definition. Tourism clearly has the potential to damage the built, cultural and natural environments and it is incumbent on the industry to accept its part of the responsibility for conservation. As part of that industry we have developed two programmes. One, the British Airways Tourism for Tomorrow Awards, recognizes environmentally responsible tourism projects and developments around the world. Through the seven years that I have been associated with the Awards, our independent judges have noted a marked improvement in the quality of the entries. I believe this shows that industry efforts such as our Awards, the Green Globe programme of the World Travel & Tourism Council, the International Hotels Environmental Initiative (IHEI) and several others, have had a significant impact.


Our other outreach programme, British Airways Assisting Conservation, works through travel awards to those in the front line of conservation and environmental management, with specific partnerships with such leading organizations as the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, and the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, the Natural History Museum, the World Land Trust and the Royal Geographical Society in the United Kingdom. Started by one of our own engineers, Rod Hall, this programme has a history of wonderful stories in developing conservation alongside concern for local communities.

British Airways Holidays, our tour operator subsidiary, provides some 250,000 holidays each year, and has developed an environmental programme specifically aimed at customers. Ecoguides have been prepared for some 40 separate destinations. In the Caribbean, the Seychelles and Mauritius, detailed environmental audits of hotels have been carried out, with the best identified in the brochures. For five years a Traveller Donation scheme has operated which contributes some $170,000 a year to a range of conservation programmes such as 'Venice in Peril' and 'Manatees in Florida'. British Airways Holidays gives its own Tourism for Tomorrow Award. Next year, in cooperation with IHEI, it will go to the best siting and development of a hotel.

Customers are only one group of stakeholders in British Airways. Staff, shareholders, communities around airports and other groups have a legitimate interest in our activities. Realizing the importance of communication, we were one of the first companies in the United Kingdom to publish an open review of environmental performance. An Annual Environmental Report has been published each year since 1992. The airline takes a prominent role in discussions on environmental issues within consultative groups at our main operating centres, particularly Heathrow and Gatwick. British Airways representatives have also played a leading part in interfaces between the industry and government institutions at the national, European and global levels. The airline's environmental programmes have been recognized by a number of organizations including the United Kingdom's Environmental Report Award (Association of Chartered and Certified Accountants) on two occasions and in 1998 by the Environmental Stewardship Award from the Council of Economic Priorities as well as Distinction in the Green Globe Achievement Awards.

Bringing people together

While, clearly, an airline will find it difficult to satisfy everybody's vision of a sustainable organization, I believe that aviation has a vital part to play in sustainable development through its role as an essential part of the world's communication system. No other industry can match its ability to bring people together, whether it be for the essential eye-to-eye contact that is necessary for successful business deals, the face-to-face meetings between friends and family, or visits to different parts of the built, social and natural environment that are so high on the list of human aspirations.

We shall take an active part in the debate on sustainability; recognizing that it may be that travellers will have to pay more. After all, from which industry other than tourism can the funds be raised to support the communities concerned with conservation?

Lord Marshall of Knightsbridge is Chairman of British Airways.

* Economic instruments and the business use of energy, a report by Lord Marshall to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, November 1998.

Complementary articles in other issues:
Claude Fussler: Clean = competitive (Hazardous Waste) 1999
Mark Moody-Stuart: Picking up the gauntlet (Climate & Action) 1998
John Browne: A new partnership to make a difference (Climate Change) 1997

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