Emirates promotes its sustainable operations through three core environmental initiatives:
- Reducing fuel emissions
- Conducting responsible operations
- Protecting Biodiversity
Emirates used to publish its Environmental Reports, but from 2018-19 the whole Emirates Group combined its annual environmental reporting with its financial reporting and so it is now included in its Annual Financial Reports. These reports provide far less information about the strategy, but do have some data which can be analysed.
1. Reducing fuel emissions
Typically for an airline this means having a modern and efficient fleet, and Emirates has this, with an average age of fleet in 2020-21 of 7.3 years,
It also has a fuel efficiency programme that helps reduce unnecessary fuel burn through the use of a fuel monitoring system, flexible route planning with air navigation partners, air traffic management to develop efficient routes and aircraft weight management to reduce aircraft weight (and thereby fuel burn).
Some of the programme’s initiatives include:
- The operation of “flex tracks”, or flexible routings- where the airline partners with air navigation service providers to create the most efficient flight plan for each flight, taking advantage of natural tailwinds, while avoiding headwinds and weather systems. These efforts have been ongoing since 2003, and the airline has also been working with IATA to extend this routing system across the world as a standard operating procedure where possible.
- Working with air traffic management providers to develop protocols that enhance operational efficiency. For instance, reducing the number of flights placed into holding patterns, increasing the availability of Free Route Airspace, and developing more efficient routings.
- Introducing a robust fuel monitoring system and advanced data analytics, which has resulted in reduction of discretionary fuel uplift from crews and dispatchers
- Introducing fuel-efficient practices while the aircraft is on the ground, such as: the use of ground power units instead of the aircraft Auxiliary Power Unit (APU), and switching one or two engines off while taxiing in after landing.
- The implementation of idle reverse thrust on landing, instead of switching the engines into reverse thrust.
- The improvement of loading efficiency to match the ideal trim line, resulting in a more aft Center of Gravity (CG) position and less fuel burn.
- Aircraft weight management– Emirates continuously reviews its inflight product and cabin environment to reduce aircraft weight (and thereby fuel burn) without compromising on customer experience. Recent initiatives include the use of data analytics and in the near future of machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) to better forecast potable water uplift in each flight.
- Moving its cockpit crew entirely to electronic flight bags which saves weight from the traditional flight bags, and also helps its pilots perform flight management tasks more easily and efficiently with less paper.
- Well-maintained aircraft contribute to efficient flight operations too. Emirates uses an innovative foam wash technique for cleaning aircraft engines that helps us saves about 200 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per year across our fleet. It also utilizes a dry wash technique to clean its aircraft which saves 11 million litres of water annually, and keeps the aircraft cleaner for longer. This reduces the aircraft’s fuel consumption because of less accumulation of dirt, and reduces the number of times the aircraft has to be washed to about three times a year. A video of this is available below.
- Emirates has also invested in solar power systems to generate clean electricity at two of the airline’s major facilities in the UAE – Emirates Engine Maintenance Centre and Emirates Flight Catering
- The Emirates Flight Catering solar rooftop power plant has 8,112 individual solar panels and is expected to generate 4,195 megawatt-hours of electricity annually, allowing the company to reduce traditional energy consumption by 15 per cent across its laundry, food manufacturing and staff accommodation facilities. Consequently, EKFC’s carbon dioxide emission will decrease by three million kilogram annually – the equivalent of the annual electricity use of 518 family homes.
- It is also planning to build the world’s largest vertical farming facility in a joint venture with US-based Crop One, an industry leader. The 130,000 square foot controlled environment facility will produce 2,700 kilogram of high quality, herbicide- and pesticide-free leafy greens daily, using 99 percent less water than outdoor fields. Its location will enable quick delivery of fresh products within hours of harvest, maintaining the food’s nutritional value and reducing carbon emissions associated with transportation.
- These two installations are expected to produce savings of up to 3.8 million kilogrammes of carbon dioxide emissions annually.
- On carbon emissions, the airline says that as well as the above efficiency measures, it supports the development and introduction of the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) through the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
- It will also encourage the development of a commercially-viable supply chain for sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and conduct trials of, and purchasing, electric and hybrid ground equipment and vehicles to replace diesel-fuelled equipment.
- As yet, the airline has not released details of this, saying only “The airline continues to explore partnership opportunities in the few destinations on its network where SAF is being made available, and is reviewing longer-term prospects for technologies such as power-to-liquid fuels.”
The latest annual report makes clear the scale of the challenge. In the year reported on, Emirates used 3,494,233 tonnes of fuel, of which 77 tonnes was SAF
Its emissions were 11,106,670 tonnes of carbon.
2. Conducting responsible operations
The airline says it is also “committed to responsible consumption by making careful decisions about what items we purchase, how we source them, how we manage disposal of waste and how we consume water and power”.
The scale of the airline’s operations means that “even a small change can make a big positive impact with low carbon footprint”.
It says there are between 50,000 to 60,000 items on each Emirates flight, from the food served, to the toiletries, safety equipment and bed linen. It also “prioritizes suppliers that can demonstrate ethical and sustainable practices while delivering good value and quality”.
Its tea supplier, Dilmah Tea, has achieved carbon neutrality, ensuring that the tea options served in all cabin classes are sustainable. The airline has also had economy class blankets made from recycled plastic bottles since 2017. This has so far saved 95 million bottles from landfill.
3. Protecting biodiversity
Emirates has actively supported fragile habitats since 1999, when it established the Al Maha Desert Resort and Spa in Dubai with a 27 square kilometres conservation reserve for the protection of desert fauna and flora.
In its first years, 70 Arabian Oryx were re-introduced and 6,000 indigenous trees and shrubs planted. This became the foundation for the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve (DDCR), which was created in 2003 and expanded the protected land area to 225 square kilometres. Representing about 5 per cent of Dubai’s total land area, this is the biggest piece of land which Dubai has dedicated to a single project. Emirates funds the DDCR, through an ongoing investment of over AED 28 million (USD $7.6million) and sits on its management board.
More than 125,000 visitors made their way to the DDCR in 2021, and plans are underway for a Visitor’s Centre at the reserve to enhance the visitor experience and will also be used as a platform to develop educational programmes for schools and higher educational institutions.
In 2009 Emirates opened the Emirates One & Only Wolgan Valley, a conservation-based resort which occupies one per cent of a 2,800 hectare nature reserve in the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area.
Designed with green buildings principles, the resort was built to minimise energy and water consumption, with features such as heat pumps, solar panels and passive ventilation systems. On opening, Emirates One & Only Wolgan Valley was the first carboNZero certified hotel in the world, and the first carbon neutral resort to be certified through an internationally accredited greenhouse gas programme.
Emirates invested over AU$ 125 million into this project to ensure the conservation of the unique bio-diversity of this valley and has since planted over 175,000 native trees and shrubs across the site.
Tackling the illegal wildlife trade
Emirates says that it has “zero tolerance on carrying banned species, hunting trophies or any products associated with illegal wildlife activities.” Its ground handling colleagues are trained in IATA’s Live Animal Regulations and its own internal policies on carrying wildlife, with frontline employees trained to recognise and report suspicious cargo. The airline is also actively involved in the fight against illegal wildlife trafficking and exploitation, and is a member of the United for Wildlife Transport Taskforce, and is also a partner of ROUTES (Reducing Opportunities for Unlawful Transport of Endangered Species). Its freight arm, Emirates SkyCargo, has adopted a zero tolerance policy on illegal wildlife trade which includes big cats, elephants, rhinos and pangolins, among other types of wildlife, and has implemented a complete ban on hunting trophies.