Virgin Atlantic Environment Policy 2007
A message from Virgin Atlantic’s CEO, Steve Ridgway:
Virgin Atlantic is embedding sustainability at the core of our business. We recognise
the growing impact air travel has on the environment, and are seeking to address this
as best as we can. There are many projects in place across the business to make this a
reality, both in the air and on the ground.
Our recent commitment to invest up to $8bn in the most efficient aircraft available
for our routes, is a move that will help us to achieve an improvement in our fuel
efficiency by 30% by 2020. We have also forged a dynamic partnership with Boeing to
help explore sustainability opportunities and, in 2008, this partnership will allow us to
commit to the first ever biofuels demonstration in a commercial aircraft.
This is all supported by Sir Richard Branson's commitment to invest his profits and
proceeds from the Virgin transport companies, including Virgin Atlantic, in biofuels
research and development and projects to tackle global warming.
We want our customers to feel sure we are making every effort to become the most
sustainable airline in the world and reduce the impacts of aviation on our environment.
The aim of this policy is to communicate our key environmental policies and targets.
We will provide twice yearly updates on our progress against these targets and they
will be verified by third parties. We believe that a sustainable business is one which
can continue to satisfy the needs of its shareholders and customers while acting
responsibly toward the environment and the communities in which it operates.
While this policy deals solely with the environmental impacts of our business, our
journey to becoming a more sustainable company is also closely linked with our social
and ethical responsibilities. These will be detailed in a separate policy that is currently
Climate change and aviation
Aviation is a relatively small but growing contributor to man-made greenhouse gas
emissions. The Stern Review, published by the UK Government in 2006, predicts that
aviation’s contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions will rise from 1.6% to 2.5%
by 2050. These emissions are produced by burning fossil fuels, which power our
aircraft jet engines. There are also suggestions that because the majority of these
emissions are released at a high altitude during a flight, they may have a bigger impact
than if they’d been released on the ground. Climate change scientists are still being
debating this issue. As an airline, we take the environmental impact of our operations
very seriously. Given there is widespread scientific consensus that carbon dioxide
emissions are a key contributor to climate change, we have chosen to address this as
a key priority in this policy.
The fuel burnt by our aircraft is the main contributor to our emissions, so this is the
area where we are currently focussing most of our efforts. As a growing airline, we
won’t be able to achieve an absolute reduction in our overall emissions in the near
future, but we are committed to growing our fleet in the most sustainable way
possible by investing in the least polluting aircraft available and flying them as
efficiently as we can.
We already have a young and fuel efficient fleet and operate these to best practice
standards, which means we’re already starting from a strong position in terms of our
fuel efficiency. We have set 2007 as our baseline so that we don’t take advantage of
incremental improvements over the past decade that would have happened anyway.
This gives us an even more ambitious goal within a tight timescale.
We have worked with an independent emissions verification specialist to audit the
carbon footprint of our aircraft operations and will be publishing this and a report on
progress against our emissions efficiency targets twice yearly, on our website.
Target: To achieve a 30% improvement in fuel efficiency per revenue tonne kilometre
between 2007 and 2020
Revenue tonne kilometre (or RTK) is a standard aviation industry measure of
efficiency. In other words, we want to achieve a 30% reduction in the amount of fuel
needed - and therefore emissions generated - to carry each tonne of passengers and
cargo one kilometre. This will be made possible through:
1. A fleet renewal programme. We are investing in fuel efficient aircraft best
suited to our operational model. We recently ordered 15 Boeing 787-9
Dreamliners, which burn around 27% less fuel per flight than the A340-300s
they will replace. http://www.boeing.com/commercial/787family/
2. Focussing on fuel efficiency, our internal Fuel Panel has a target of saving 7000
tonnes of fuel (that’s more than 21,000 tonnes of CO2) in 2007/2008. This is
equivalent to the emissions produced by 7119 cars in the UK each year. The Fuel
Panel, which meets monthly, is made up of pilots, engineers and other technical
experts from our Flight Operations team. They will achieve their goal through
initiatives such as engine compressor washing (which allows the aircraft engines to
operate more efficiently), and educating pilots on more fuel efficient procedures
for take off and landing.
3. Reducing unnecessary weight from our aircraft. We have a cross-company
group of experts who meet monthly to identify where we can make weight savings
across the business. They have a target to reduce one tonne per aircraft for
2007/2008, and this will be achieved by removing unnecessary items, using lighter-
weight alternatives and new materials for onboard products. Each tonne of weight
removed from just one of our aircraft saves over 420 tonnes of carbon dioxide
emissions per year. Key to this challenge is working with the aircraft interior
manufacturers to deliver lightweight high quality products that have a good
maintenance life cycle on all our new aircraft.
4. Encouraging and engaging with all relevant stakeholders (national governments,
air traffic management service providers, international organisations) to take
forward opportunities for air traffic management efficiency gains - e.g. Single
Localised environmental impacts
As well as the climate change impacts of aviation, we also have a responsibility to
communities living around our airports to operate as quietly as possible and to
improve local air quality.
In recent years, there have been major advances to make aircraft quieter and through
the Sustainable Aviation Strategy, the industry has committed to a further 50%
reduction in total noise energy for aircraft entering into service in 2020, compared
with 2000 equivalents.
Nationally, the number of people adversely affected by aircraft noise has fallen by
60,000 since 2000. Virgin Atlantic’s own fleet substantially improves on international
noise certification standards. In fact our current fleet of 37 aircraft produces less
energy in a full year’s operation than it did in 2001/2002, when there were 10% fewer
The landing and take-off cycle (LTO) has the most immediate impact on communities
who live near airports. This is the stage where most fuel is consumed proportionate to
the distance travelled.
Since 2001/02, Virgin Atlantic has seen a downward trend in CO2 emissions and
Unburned Hydrocarbons (UHCs) in the LTO cycle, a trend that is expected to continue
through 2007 and 2008. This is largely the result of our pilots operating to industry
best practice, including continuous descent approaches, minimising fuel used and the
strain on the engine.
Unfortunately, as we introduce more modern aircraft, we have seen a reduction in CO2
emissions at the expense of NOx. Current technology does not allow CO2 emissions to
be reduced without increasing NOx and the immediate objective of the industry has
been to concentrate on reducing CO2. We are confident that with the Sustainable
Aviation Strategy commitment of improving NOx efficiency in new aircraft by 80%
between 2000 and 2020, this issue will be fully addressed.
One of the ways we improve fuel efficiency is by regularly washing our aircraft. This
has a real impact on their weight and aerodynamics. Pollutants and contaminants
removed from the aircraft during washing are not simply flushed into the local water
table. With the BAA we have established a water treatment plant at our Heathrow
Hangar, into which the water used for cleaning aircraft is drained and the
contaminants removed. During 2008 we’ll be looking at facilities we used at other
airports to make sure any adverse impact on local ground water quality is minimised.
Although most of Virgin Atlantic’s impact on the environment is caused by aircraft
operations, we’re not forgetting what happens on the ground. Therefore, in
partnership with the Carbon Trust, we are undertaking an energy review to establish
the carbon footprint of the day-to-day activities in our offices, aircraft maintenance
facilities and airports, and to help us identify opportunities to reduce it. These results
will be published on our website.
Target: By 2020, we will generate all the electricity required for our main UK sites. By
2012, we will reduce our consumption by 10% and by 2020 we will reduce it by 20% at
all Virgin Atlantic-controlled sites around the world.
At all of our main UK sites, we currently source electricity through renewable sources,
but we are committed to further reduce our usage by:
1. Staff education on energy saving initiatives
2. Investing in cost effective energy saving devices and appliances
3. Identifying opportunities for efficiency gains in key areas such as heating,
cooling, lighting and engineering processes
Target: To make a 10% reduction in our water use by 2012 at Virgin Atlantic-controlled
sites around the world.
This target will be achieved through:,
1. Identifying and implementing cost effective ‘quick wins’ including retrofitting water
saving devices to taps and toilet cisterns, and staff education programmes to help
2. Investigating the possibility of reusing grey water within our existing building
portfolio and making this a key factor in future construction or major refurbishment
Target: 25% reduction in paper consumption for each full time member of staff by
We already use recycled paper throughout our offices and so our focus is on
reduction. We aim to do this through:
1. Staff education
2. Duplex printing as standard
3. Reusing waste paper, etc
4. In the long term, working towards being a paperless office
5. Reviewing our marketing materials to ensure we are using the most
environmentally friendly materials and moving toward more electronic means
Our main priority is to reduce the amount of waste we generate in the first place.
This is being addressed through a series of internal campaigns and initiatives to
secure staff buy-in. We’re also addressing this issue by taking a closer look at the
materials we use. By sourcing products which use fewer materials, or which can be
reused or recycled and by choosing materials that are recyclable, biodegradable or
renewable, we will have a significant impact on the amount and type of waste we
Target : 50% of waste generated by the end of a flight will either be recycled or
reused by 2012
Target : 50% of waste from our ground operations will be recycled or reused by 2012
We’re working very closely with airport operators around the world to make sure we
can recycle as much waste as possible from our aircraft. We already have in place a
comprehensive recycling scheme at all our main UK office and maintenance sites, and
this will be reviewed during 2007 to ensure we’re constantly cutting down on the
amount of waste we send to landfill.
Our business travel
Like most large companies (and as an airline in particular) our staff spend a lot of time
travelling around the world on business. As part of our carbon footprinting exercise,
we are measuring carbon emissions generated by travel (surface and air) on company
business. We’ll also be identifying opportunities to reduce these emissions through
communication technologies, cleaner vehicles, alternative means of transport and
agreeing a company-wide policy on the least polluting transport for all business travel.
In 2007, some of our Heathrow staff trialed the G-Wiz electric car and we’ll be looking
at other opportunities to use renewable fuels for vehicles on the ground, particularly
at our airports where improving local air quality is a priority.
How we get to work
Virgin Atlantic already has in place a travel-to-work plan, which provides discounted
alternatives to driving. We are keen to improve on this initiative and to set robust
targets for reducing single car occupancy journeys to work. Opportunities such as
piloting a remote working initiative, car-sharing schemes, further discounts on public
transport and other incentives are currently under review.
Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS)
Virgin Atlantic support the overall objectives of ETS. These are to use a market-based
mechanism to achieve cost effective carbon emission reductions and encourage
businesses to invest in newer, cleaner technologies. Therefore, we will continue to
push for an international emissions trading scheme, based on the EU ETS model
proposed by the Commission with a robust cap on emissions; prepare the airline for
participation in emissions trading; and build the external cost of carbon into future
business decisions. Unlike environmental taxes and revenues generated through
auctioning carbon permits, this market-based solution will achieve guaranteed
As part of our preparations for emissions trading we have carried out a carbon
baseline verification pilot with independent specialists CICS and we make sure the
potential price of carbon emissions under ETS is taken into account in all future
Air passenger duty
We believe our passengers have the right to know how their additional air passenger
duty charge is being spent and we urge the government to release details of the
environmental projects supported by this duty. This is particularly in light of the
recently announced consultation on changing the way that this duty is levied and
linking it more closely to the environmental performance of airlines.
Catalyst for industry innovation
Our aim is to challenge key suppliers and other industry stakeholders to develop
innovative solutions to address aviation’s impact on climate change and other aspects
of our environmental footprint. In 2008, in partnership with Boeing, Virgin Fuels and
engine maker GE Aviation we will be carrying out a bio-jetfuel demonstration. This will
be a worldwide first for a commercial airline.
We’re also working closely with industry and Virgin Fuels to understand how biofuels
can become an environmentally sound and truly sustainable long-term option for
We will maintain pressure on the UK government as well as other countries around the
world to play their part by improving air traffic management systems, which have an
effect on fuel efficiency. A good example of how successful this could be is through
the potential efficiency gains achievable through the Single European Sky initiative,
which could result in a 12% fuel efficiency improvement for the industry.
We will continue to work with our partners in air navigation services and other industry
stakeholders to take forward interim initiatives (e.g. collaborative decision making)
that will provide shorter-term air traffic management efficiency gains.
Target - To map the key supply chain of our major products and embed sustainable
procurement practices during 2008.
For all UK staff with a key responsibility for procurement, we will be providing
extensive training on sustainable procurement practices and will be including
sustainability criteria into our internal briefing and prioritisation documents and tools.
We will also be communicating our environment policies and sustainable procurement
practises with our supply chain, and plan to audit our key suppliers on these principles.
This will help us to ensure all of our new onboard products are more sustainable than
those they replace.
For example, we will be requesting that where possible our suppliers:
- use re-usable, recyclable, or biodegradable materials and products
- minimise their use of natural resources and where they do use them ensure
they are from sustainable or renewable sources
- use materials and products which use minimal energy to produce, and have
minimal impact on the environment on their extraction
- provide us with products which are durable and long lasting, so they will not
need to be replaced as often
- minimise the transportation of our products to us
- reduce the amount of packaging on our products
- ensure the people who make our products have good working conditions, are
fairly treated and are paid a living wage
Virgin Atlantic currently serve fair trade tea and coffee onboard all flights and in our
Clubhouses, and we hope to extend this to other fair trade products in the future.
Target: 100% of our marketing materials will be printed on recycled paper or paper
from sustainable sources by 2008
We already use recycled and/or sustainably sourced paper for most of our marketing
materials, and we have also been experimenting with biodegradable laminates and
other innovative products. Our target is to ensure we can achieve this standard in all
of our offices globally and of course keep reducing our use of paper where possible.
One example of this is our switch to eticketing, which we now use for about 99% of
our passengers who book directly with us.
Target: Our aim is to inspire and empower our customers on the issue of climate
We will do this by providing information, offering the most sustainable service
possible, and supporting customers to reduce their own environmental impact.
One way we are doing this is through our carbon-offset scheme. While we do not
believe offsetting alone is the key to solving climate change, we see it as a valuable
educational tool for customers and staff to help them understand how certain
activities impact the environment.
We also believe that the projects we have chosen are the most effective and robust
available. Our scheme will ensure the majority of our customer’s financial contribution
will reach the projects themselves, and that these will deliver the most effective
emissions reduction, with added long-term social and environmental benefits for local
communities. This scheme will be simple and accessible and will be launched in
Another way we engage our customers is through our website, where we aim to
provide the latest information on climate change and what we are doing to reduce our
footprint. In the future, we’ll also be adding tips for customers on how they can
reduce their own carbon footprints, and have fun at the same time.
At Virgin Atlantic we’re always keen to involve our staff and we recognise they are
pivotal in achieving our environmental targets. So to engage and inspire them about all
things environmental, we’ve been undertaking a number of key initiatives.
We currently produce regular staff communications on the activities outlined in this
policy and on key environmental issues. We also provide employees with lots of
information about how they can actively reduce their own footprint both at home and
in the office. Plus, we’re in the process of recruiting sustainability champions from
each business area to help us get staff interested and excited and achieve our
targets on the ground.
We’ve also been asking people for their ideas on how they think we can best reduce
our footprint in their area of the business…some have been slightly off the wall, many
have been great, but all of them have been very insightful!
With a little help from our friends
We are delighted that our approach to environmental issues is being supported across
the whole range of Virgin Atlantic services. Not only does Richard Branson agree with
the focus and pace of our environmental initiatives, but our programme of change is
supported by our Chief Executive, Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operating Officer.
This policy and our targets have been agreed between Senior Managers and Directors,
and it is now the responsibility of all business areas to take up the challenge and play
their part in improving Virgin Atlantic’s environmental performance.
With the support of passengers and staff, we’re confident that the ambitious targets
we’ve set can be met, and that Virgin Atlantic will become the most sustainable airline
in the world.