Climate action - a summary of our initiatives

We’re acutely aware of the climate crisis and the need for all sectors to act, especially those that are carbon intensive like ours. Flying is a part of modern life which brings huge social and economic benefits. We believe it’s about doing things better and driving the significant carbon reductions. Our priority focus areas are new fleet, carbon offsetting (CORSIA) and new sustainable aviation fuels.

Airline carbon reductions

  • Our priority areas for reducing our carbon emissions are:
    • Fleet - investing in new, more efficient aircraft (around 30% less carbon per trip)
    • CORSIA - actively supporting the new global UN-Led Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) and other industry wide collaborative efforts.
    • Fuels - innovating on ground-breaking new sustainable aviation fuels
  • Our results so far:
    • Our carbon efficiency improved by 18% (reducing CO2 per RTK, a measure based on weight passengers and cargo carried) since 2007
    • Our total emissions reduced by 21% since 2007 and our carbon per passenger kilometre by 19% during that same period
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Three steps to tackle our footprint

You can find more detail about our plans in our one page carbon summary and our latest blog on Ruby: a blog by Virgin Atlantic.

Here's some of the other things we're doing

Ground operations

  • We’ve moved into our sustainably designed new headquarters and are improving other buildings
  • Since 2008, we’ve reduced our ground energy use by 47% and our CO2e emissions by 64%
  • We’re shifting our car fleet to fully electric and hybrid vehicles, which is now 59% complete.

Supply chain

  • We expect our suppliers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and ensure ecosystems are maintained (see our Responsible Supplier Policy), for example:
    • We’ve reduced weight of onboard products (8% in last 3 years) also reduces our fuel use, saving 4,260 tonnes of carbon per year across the fleet
    • Our onboard food supports biodiversity and does not contribute towards deforestation (currently 88% is meeting our anti-deforestation criteria)
    • We encourage hotels to gain a sustainability certification and manage their carbon footprint (currently 25% of our hotel volume is certified and we’re aiming for 75% by 2021).

Non profit partnerships

  • Through WE charity we’ve installed solar power in schools, health clinics, greenhouses and family homes as well as supporting economic development in poor communities 
  • We’re training operators on the World Cetacean Alliance responsible whale watching guidelines, which include requirements protecting marine environment and reducing carbon
  • We’re developing a beaches, oceans and climate change program, focusing on climate mitigation and resilience in our destinations, funded by the commitment to set aside £1 for every adult and £0.50 for every child booking a Virgin Holiday.

Carbon offsetting

  • Customers can offset their flight using the ClimateCare carbon calculator
  • We’re offsetting Virgin Holidays’ ground operations footprint, and through the projects that this supports we’re supporting communities fighting climate change. 

Recognition of our leadership

In 2018, our combined efforts were recognised by independent bodies: 

Industry action and partnerships

Global aviation supports economic development, trade and tourism. With these come responsibilities, to people and communities, to the environment, and to animal welfare. As a global aviation community, we work together through international organisations, trade bodies and partnerships to tackle these areas.

Carbon targets for aviation

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) represents airlines at a global level. In 2009, IATA agreed to the world’s first set of sector specific climate change targets, focusing on aviation CO2 emissions.

Improvements in aviation technology, operations and infrastructure are going a long way to meet the first of these targets. But our industry also recognised early on that we need some form of global market-based measure (MBM) to help us progress in the medium term. After a huge amount of effort and negotiation, October 2016 saw a crucial climate agreement reached for global aviation by UN body International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and participating nations. The measure, known as the Carbon Offset and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), will establish the world’s first carbon offsetting scheme for any industry. CORSIA addresses the second of the IATA targets: carbon neutral growth.

CORSIA

CORSIA is the Carbon Offset and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation – the historic carbon global sectoral deal for commercial aviation, agreed by UN body International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and participating nations in October 2016, after many years of negotiations. First a bit of context.  A key UN principle dictates that all airlines must be treated equally in international regulations, to avoid competitive distortion. This ensures airlines from different countries, operating on the same routes, face the same financial landscape.  As such, our sector has its own climate negotiations regulated by ICAO and currently sits outside the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 2015 Paris Agreement.

A global climate deal for our sector has long been supported by our industry, as the means to avoid competitive distortion while achieving the second of our industry agreed targets: carbon neutral growth from 2020.  In 2008, Virgin Atlantic Airways was one of the airline founders of a small industry group called Aviation Global Deal, which campaigned for a global carbon measure such as this. A globally-agreed sectoral approach like CORSIA is more environmentally effective than taxation, as taxes are paid to national governments and not necessarily assigned to environmental projects. Through CORSIA, airlines will collectively input billions to robust carbon reduction projects around the world, which could include renewable energy and mangrove restoration. So when the deal was struck in October 2016, our industry body IATA and many of the world’s airlines, like our own, were delighted.

CORSIA is the first global scheme covering an entire industrial sector. Starting in 2020, all airlines from 80 participating states, representing ~77% of international aviation activity*, will purchase carbon credits from robust carbon offsetting projects, to account for their share of international aviation growth. After the first voluntary phase of the scheme (2020-2026) it will become mandatory, and all nation states  will participate (apart from a few exemptions for airlines from small and least developed states).  The scheme is set to raise huge amounts of funds (likely billions) for credible carbon removal and reduction projects around the world, including much needed conservation and renewable energy projects.

For more details on how CORSIA will work, visit the ICAO website.

*as of May 2019.

Working together

We work in a truly international environment, relying on lots of organisations working together to get our aircraft from A to B. We also work with industry partners to look to the future for aviation.

Airframe and engine manufacturers

Airbus, Boeing, Rolls Royce and GE, our airframe and engine manufacturers, are fundamental to helping us deliver on our objectives. Over many years, they’ve been innovating improvements to offer the significantly more efficient, quieter aircraft that are part of our fleet today and will increasingly play a bigger part in our future.

Airports

We rely on the airports we work with to do their bit for the sustainability of our operations. Like us, they run a number of initiatives around things like more efficient buildings, water saving technologies, recycling and low carbon transport solutions. Our home airports, London Heathrow, London Gatwick, Manchester, Glasgow and Belfast, all have their own visions around (and commitments to) managing their impact on the environment and local communities.

Air traffic management

Aircraft fuel use accounts for over 99% of our direct carbon footprint. The routes we take and the altitudes we fly at directly affect this. That’s why air traffic management is so important to us.

Air Navigation Service Providers are working on better use of airspace design to help ensure aircraft fly the most efficient route through take off, cruise and landing.

Sustainable Aviation

In 2005, Virgin Atlantic Airways was a founding member of UK industry group Sustainable Aviation. It’s a long term programme bringing together key players in the UK aviation sector, including airlines, airports, manufacturers and the air traffic management provider. We work collectively to ensure a sustainable future for our industry.

In 2016, Sustainable Aviation launched an update of its CO2 RoadMap, which sets out how the UK aviation sector can grow while also reducing CO2.  

SAFUG- Sustainable Aviation Fuels User Group

A key priority of our Change is in the Air programme is the development of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF).  As well as partnering with cleantech company LanzaTech to develop SAF from industrial waste gases, we are also members of SAFUG, so we can work together with industry colleagues and experts to move this important field forwards.

We are signatories to the SAFUG Sustainable Pledge, and believe that a key driver to a carbon neutral industry is advancing and adopting sustainable aviation biofuels. You can read the full pledge here http://www.safug.org/safug-pledge/