How SAS is facing the sustainability challenge

While few would deny that the kind of meeting of people and minds in events such as SXSW is useful for society as a whole, the issue of the cost to the environment of getting there cannot be ignored. SAS' Chief Information Officer Mattias Forsberg is aware of the role airlines have to adapt to meet the challenge and how far SAS has come already.

The ambitious emissions targets set by Norway poses a specific challenge to SAS and the rest of the airline industry. Speaking at SXSW, SAS CIO Mattias Forsberg underlined the progress the company has made so far and how it can improve things further in future.

“People have always traveled because it’s important to get new ideas and understand what’s happening in other parts of the world. Travel is a way of connecting people and here at SXSW we’re showing that if you mix different kinds of people and cover different topics, new things emerge that can make the world a better place. Travel and aviation are an important part of that process, because they connect people countries and continents.”

The issue then, is how it can be done more sustainably.

“It’s important that as an airline we can use technology to make our operations more efficient – how we take off, how we land and how we manage our flights. For example, changing the cabin interior to make it lighter and so reducing the weight of the aircraft is one way, another is by dry-washing the aircraft instead of using a lot of chemicals. We have also invested heavily in the most modern aircraft type, reducing emissions by around 20% compared to today’s planes.”

Naturally, fuel is the big question and one that brings with it a much wider issue. Finding efficient alternatives is an ongoing area of research according to Forsberg.

“Biofuel is, of course, the best option, but there is a challenge and one that, as an airline, we can’t solve on our own – the shortage of availability. We use as much biofuel as we can get our hands on, but it’s still not enough and it’s very costly. As a society we need to invest in making more biofuel and making it more affordable. To put it in context, if we could use 50% biofuel, it would reduce our emissions by around 40%, which is huge.”

SAS are looking into several areas such as electric planes, and other fuel sources and products. Forsberg admits that even though electric aircraft are being developed and will be used widely in the not too distant future, for long-distance journeys they are still far away.

“Fuel in general is something we all need to work on – as an airline, as governments, all parts of society, for us to be able to continue to travel, connect people and share ideas. Ultimately, the question isn’t whether we should travel or not, it’s more about how we should do it. At SAS we are in a position to take a leading role, and it is one we are doing, but there is still a long way to go.”

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