The Plan-Do-Check-Act Approach to Sustainability in Aviation

[fa icon="calendar"] Tue, Dec 08, 2015 / by Rachel Beavins Tracy


I drive a fuel-efficient vehicle, minimize trips, grow my own vegetables and take reusable shopping bags to the store. I buy local whenever possible, use energy efficient appliances, avoid buying excess stuff and recycle my trash.

And yet, I know without a doubt that despite all this, I still have a huge carbon footprint. Why? Because of my air travel.

Air travel is widely considered one of the most environmentally burdensome forms of transportation, and it’s come under the microscope in recent years as governments try to grapple with how to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has come out in strong opposition to the application of carbon taxes or emissions trading schemes to the aviation industry. Instead, ICAO is pressing for the industry to meet voluntary targets to reduce its environmental impact, which is why so many organizations have put sustainability initiatives front and center.

Let’s look at how companies can apply the Plan-Do-Check-Act method to create a continuous feedback loop that helps achieve organizational sustainability goals.

Plan: Identify Your Aspects

The first step in reducing your company’s impact is to identify which environmental Aspects to focus on. Things you might start with include:

  • Carbon management
  • Waste management
  • Water use and wastewater management
  • Recycling

Once you’ve identified these, you can then define your key objectives, quantify your targets and assess potential ways to reduce your impact. All of this is relatively simple with an integrated Safety Management System (SMS), since many of these software systems now come with sustainability software built in.

Do: Execute Your Plan

This is where you execute your sustainability plan, using the SMS to automatically track performance on each aspect and objective identified.

Of course, the environmental impact of the aviation industry is by no means limited to fuel use and carbon emissions during flight. A significant part of the industry’s impact comes from ancillary areas such as ground fuel vehicles, buildings, parking, airfield surfaces and more.

The key is to take a holistic view of all the areas where you can reduce your impact, because small steps really do add up to big reductions. In fact, the Airport Operators Association reports that UK airports have reduced carbon emissions by nearly 3% in the past two years, despite the fact that passengers have increased by more than 5% and air traffic has increased more than 2% over that period.

Check: Report on Your Progress

With all your sustainability data automatically fed into the SMS, Reporting on your performance is relatively simple. Key Reporting strategies include:

  • Creating custom templates for one-click reports on the fly
  • Using charts that show different environmental data side-by-side, as well as ones that drill down deeper into sources of impacts
  • Monitoring KPIs with dashboards that show live data
  • Setting alerts that notify you of any undesirable events in real time (like emissions releases or waste management incidents)

This step is one of the most important in the process, since it gives you the data that will ultimately allow you to make improvements in performance.

Act: Make Course Corrections

Once you have a top-level view of your sustainability performance data, you can then identify key areas for improvement. Again, an automated SMS streamlines this process using closed-loop Corrective Action and Change Management tools that track the details (action items, reviews and approvals, etc) for you.

What types of sustainable changes are we seeing in the aviation industry today?

  • Exploring the use of biofuels for aircraft
  • Implementing policies that minimize idle time
  • Using alternative fuels for ground support equipment and other fleet vehicles
  • Pursuing LEED certification for ground facilities
  • Installing permeable pavement or vegetation instead of impervious surfaces to reduce stormwater pollution

These are just a few of the ways the aviation industry can reduce its environmental impact (check out more ideas for airports here).

Many organizations are discovering that sustainability doesn’t have to be a financial burden. Adopting sustainable practices comes with many benefits that include reduced operating costs and increased customer satisfaction. While in the past people thought of environmental responsibility as a costly goal, it’s clear now that moving toward more sustainable operations actually makes financial sense.

Quick Guide to Integrated Aviation Management Systems

Learn about managing aviation compliance with an Integrated Aviation Management System (IAMS) and how an IAMS is able to integrate with regulations set by the International Air Transport Association.

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Topics: aviation sustainability

Rachel Beavins Tracy

Written by Rachel Beavins Tracy

Rachel Tracy is a writer for EtQ with expertise in environmental, healthcare and technology topics. She has a master’s degree from Vanderbilt University and has been writing for businesses since 2008.

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