Sustainability over profit: why KLM's bold new campaign gets my vote

The airline is inviting all industry stakeholders to take part in creating a more sustainable future

Outlook for next 12-18 months is stable for global airlines, Moody's says. Toby Melville / Reuters
Powered by automated translation

KLM has launched a bold new campaign encouraging all stakeholders in the aviation industry, including travellers, to work together to create a more sustainable future.

“Yes, we are an airline and we realise aviation is far from sustainable today, even if we have been – and are – working hard to improve every aspect of our business,” the Fly Responsibly campaign maintains.

The initiative, which was launched with an open letter from the airline’s chief executive, Pieter Elberson, is remarkable for a number of reasons. Firstly, it sees the airline openly acknowledging that the aviation industry has a responsibility to counter the damage it is currently doing to the environment (in 2018, aviation represented 2.4 per cent of all man-made CO2 emissions in the world and, given that passenger numbers are projected to double to 8.2 billion in 2037, this has the potential to grow exponentially).

But even more noteworthy is the fact that, as part of the campaign, KLM is asking travellers to question their own travelling habits – and whether, in some instance, it is necessary to travel at all. “Do you always have to meet face to face? Could you take the train instead?” is one of the questions it asks.

As the airline points out, train travel and other modes of transportation can sometimes be more sustainable (and convenient) than flying, especially when it comes to short distances, such as within Europe.

As the airline points out, train travel and other modes of transportation can sometimes be more sustainable (and convenient) than flying, especially when it comes to short distances, such as within Europe. Flying from Amsterdam to Brussels takes longer than going by train, the campaign points out. “KLM is a supporter of sustainable alternative models of transport for short distances instead of short-haul flights,” it adds.

In some cases, those trips aren’t necessary at all. “Consider making video calls instead of meeting face to face,” KLM suggests, while also recommending that we all pack light when we fly (which will result in less fuel consumption), favour eco-friendly accommodation options and become more informed about the sustainability credentials of the airlines that we do use.

When was the last time you heard a company actively encouraging customers to use products and services other than its own, in the name of the greater good? KLM is putting sustainability over profits and for that, it could become my go-to airline. It is reminding us all not to take air travel for granted and to recognise that our own decisions have a part to play in building a more sustainable future. And for that, it must be lauded.

Exactly a century after it was founded as the first commercial airline in the world, KLM is once again a pioneer. “A hundred years of aviation comes with great responsibility,” the airline acknowledges in video on “Because you want our children to get to know this this beautiful world, too, right?”

In addition to highlighting what travellers can do to fly more responsibly, the campaign offers insight into how KLM is trying to clean up its act. It’s most impactful solution is the use of sustainable fuel, which reduces CO2 emissions from each flight by up to 85 per cent.

The airline started developing sustainable fuel in 2009 and completed its first commercial flight on biofuel in 2011. It currently uses 57 per cent more sustainable fuel than it did in 2011.

However, it acknowledges that the production of sustainable fuel is still far below what is need – and so will soon be launching the first sustainable fuel plant in the The Netherlands, in partnership with SkyNRG. The plant will run on regional, organic waste streams such as cooking oil and residue from other industries.

Meanwhile, its CO2ZERO service allows travellers to travel in a carbon-neutral way – and has, since 2017, seen KLM invest in growing 500 hectares of tropical forest based on contributions from passengers. As part of the Fly Responsibly campaign, KLM is urging other airlines to adopt similar strategies.

“We, the first commercial airline in the world, today kindly invite you – all travellers and the aviation industry – to join forces. To join us in making the world aware of our shared responsibility. We all have to fly every now and then but, next time, think about flying responsibly.”