Finnair has launched Push for Change – a service for passengers (and soon cargo customers) to offset carbon dioxide flight emissions by paying for clean energy projects or buying biofuel. Director of Corporate Sustainability, Kati Ihamäki tells us why this project is so unique and important.
What is so unique about the Push for Change service?
First of all, this service is something that our customers have been pushing for, so it is no surprise that the response has been overwhelmingly positive, even beyond expectations.
We think it’s in the best interests of everyone to work together to solve the climate crisis inclusively and positively. At Finnair, we’ve been working hard for decades to optimise and reduce the impact of our operations. But we still wanted to go beyond that and give our customers a chance to take part.
The service is unique among the airlines in its combined options of emissions offsets or biofuel. Unlike many other services, you can buy the service before, after or during your flight. You don’t even have to have a flight with us. You can purchase offsets just for the sake of it. You can even buy the service with Finnair Plus frequent flyer points.
The cost of one offset to support a clean cookstove programme in Mozambique is one euro for a return flight within Finland; two euros for a return flight inside Europe; and six euros for a return intercontinental flight. Alternatively, Finnair customers can invest in biofuel for 10, 20 or 65 euros, respectively, to reduce the emissions.
How can the offset service be so affordable?
At six euros per tonne of carbon dioxide, we’ve managed to get the low hanging fruit of emissions reductions. It could even have been managed more cheaply, but we wanted to make sure we had a high-quality programme. Our Mozambique cookstoves initiative is Gold Standard, implemented by our CO2-reduction project partner: the Nordic Environmental Finance Corporation.
For our customers, supporting the use of fuel-efficient cooking stoves reduces the use of wood charcoal, slowing down deforestation for Mozambique communities. It also lowers the risk of indoor smoke inhalation and frees up time for the women and girls who collect the wood and do the cooking. I’ve personally seen these projects in action around Maputo and have been pleased to note the enriching socio-economic elements of our programme, particularly around improving the quality of life, health, education and small business opportunities for women and girls.
Why doesn’t Finnair just add the cost to each ticket price?
It’s true that adding an extra six euros per ticket wouldn’t have much of an impact on price points. Still it would be contrary to our goal. For Finnair, this is not about making offsetting mandatory. It’s much more about creating an opportunity to engage with our customers on a big issue and work together towards solving it. It is mandatory for us as an airline to be in the EU Emission trading scheme, but we wanted to keep it optional for our passengers.
It seems like only the customers are doing the offsetting. How is Finnair contributing to the service?
Nothing could be further from the case. Finnair has its own offsetting targets. Last year alone, we paid 11.8 million euros in offsets into EU Emissions trading schemes. At the industry level Finnair is committed to the aviation’s common goals of reaching carbon neutral growth from 2020. Last year, Finland, along with 78 other countries, voluntarily signed up to an offsetting programme called CORSIA, the first industry-wide compensation mechanism for managing aviation emissions. We are also paying offsets for all Finnair’s own staff business travel.
What other green actions is Finnair taking?
We have a new modern fleet and we know how to fly smart. In 2009, Finnair invested in a fuel-efficient fleet, which uses 25 per cent less fuel. Backed by this efficiency and combined operational actions taken during the period from 2009- 2017, the airline achieved a 19.8 per cent reduction in emissions.
Finnair pilots have also been trained to find the right flight conditions. That can mean flying slower or faster, with favourable winds, avoiding storms, and optimising altitudes to match air temperature. Even simple things like making direct ascents or descents during take-off and landing, instead of a gradual approach can make flying more efficient. Advanced airports can play a role in this. Helsinki Airport has invested in three runways, making continuous landing possible even at peak times. It also helps cut down on runway taxiing time and planes flying holding patterns, waiting to land.
Weight also has a dramatic effect on fuel use. Most people don’t know that even our Marimekko dinnerware had been especially designed to weigh 15 per cent less than the regular collection. Seats, cargo nets, even our luggage in the hold may seem negligible but, overall, they add up to fuel efficiency.
What are the advantages of the biofuel option?
Because the biofuel costs more, this option is so far less subscribed. But biofuel is clearly the right way forward for Finnair and the industry. It has a reduction potential of 60-80 per cent compared with regular jet fuel but the price of biofuel is three to five times more costly in money terms. Finnair’s biofuel partner is SkyNRG, and our biofuel is produced from used cooking oil in California.
Our focus on biofuel has been evolving for a while now. For example, to mark the certification of biofuel for commercial use in 2011, Finnair flew a couple of test flights run entirely on biofuel. We followed these in 2014 with a high-profile biofuel flight to the UN Climate Summit in New York carrying several Nordic Heads of States.