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  February 21st, 2021 | Written by


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  • “The COVID crisis has added a new dimension to sustainability which our industry has rapidly adapted to–resiliency.”
  • "AI deployment will result in more efficient planning and reduced fuel consumption.”
  • “We are on the cusp of evolution in the air cargo industry; the key is embracing the change..."

On Dec. 10, the final day of its Digital Air Cargo Forum, The International Air Cargo Association (TIACA) presented the 2020 Air Cargo Sustainability Award to Pelican BioThermal. 

The Plymouth, Minnesota-based temperature-controlled packaging company was singled out for its work to improve sustainability through the manufacturing and use of Crēdo, a durable and reusable temperature-controlled shipping container, and similar packaging.

“Our efforts to improve sustainability in manufacturing and our products are far-reaching—helping us and the companies we work with to achieve sustainability goals,” says Pelican BioThermal President David Williams. “We are honored that an independent panel of judges recognized the work we are doing to protect our natural resources and the environment, as well as advance sustainability within air cargo.”

Runners-up to Pelican BioThermal in the corporate category were skypooling and VRR, which also presented solutions in the area of sustainable shipping containers.

Nepal Flying Labs won in the Start-up category for its Drone Optimized Therapy System, which flies humanitarian and medical cargo drones to remote and hard-to-reach locations in Nepal. 

A total of 23 companies applied to receive Air Cargo Sustainability Awards, which recognize those making positive change by supporting social welfare, economic development and environmental protection through innovation and partnerships, according to TIACA. 

Judges who evaluated all the entries are: Chris McDermott, CEO, CHAMP Cargosystems, one of the leading industry IT solutions providers and a partner with TIACA in the Digital Air Cargo Forum; Deniz Kargaci, manager of Corporate Sustainability Management, Turkish Airlines; Eng Naif Al-Abri, CEO of TRANSOM; Steven Polmans, director of Cargo and Logistics, Brussels Airport; and Susy Schoneberg, head of Flexport. They looked at business solutions in carbon and waste reduction, drones, humanitarian aid, packaging, ULDs, process efficiencies, people focus and COVID-19 relief.

“Sustainability4Cargo” was among the topics of discussion during the first week of the forum, where it was concluded that sustainability does matter to the air cargo industry, having become a real strategic priority for cargo companies, many of which have concrete actions in place.

“Our industry remains committed to reducing its environmental footprint and many companies have implemented digital transformation, operational improvements and addressed reliability and quality of service issues putting us on track to being more sustainable,” states a TIACA follow-up report on Sustainability4Cargo. “The COVID crisis has added a new dimension to sustainability which our industry has rapidly adapted to–resiliency.”

Carriers Get in on the Sustainability Action

Among the Digital Air Cargo Forum sponsors was Polar Air Cargo Worldwide, which aims to be the world’s most sustainable cargo airline, according to Abilash Kurien, the company’s vice president of Marketing, Revenue Management & Network Planning.

“To achieve this goal, we are focused on digitizing our operations, fostering a culture of learning that makes our team best prepared for the future, and driving toward environmentally sustainable practices,” Kurien says. “These activities are critical for long-term success, not just for Polar but for the air cargo industry as a whole.”

Digitization will be key in achieving Polar’s sustainability ambitions, he adds. “Digitization will help drive sustainability by eliminating unnecessary steps and decreasing time, effort and materials used. E-air waybills, for example, will reduce paper. AI deployment will result in more efficient planning and reduced fuel consumption.”

Polar also encourages and incentivizes its employees “to raise ideas for more sustainable business practices so that we can minimize our impact on the world around us, and ultimately contribute to repairing environmental damage,” Kurien says.

“We are on the cusp of evolution in the air cargo industry; the key is embracing the change, and working with and listening to the employees who keep the business moving and deliver service for our customers that exceeds expectations. Industry participants that focus on digitization, culture and training, and environmental sustainability will be at the forefront of the future state of air cargo. With the right vision, and an openness to new ideas, the possibilities are limitless.”

The vision thing is also at play at United Airlines, which in December made a commitment to reduce its greenhouse emissions by 100 percent by 2050. How? Partly by continuing some of its existing initiatives—such as buying carbon offsets; using more Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) than any airline globally; and investing in the development of SAF and other decarbonization technology—and partly by funding revolutionary “carbon-capture” technology that is expected to capture and store millions of metric tonnes of CO2 per year.

Chicago-based United is the world’s first airline to commit to investing in Direct Air Capture technology. Specifically, the carrier helping 1PointFive build the first industrial-sized Direct Air Capture plant in the country. A single plant is expected to capture and permanently remove 1 million tons of CO2 each year–the equivalent of the work of 40 million trees, but covering a land area about 3,000 times smaller.

“As the leader of one of the world’s largest airlines, I recognize our responsibility in contributing to fight climate change, as well as our responsibility to solve it,” says Scott Kirby, United’s CEO. “These game-changing technologies will significantly reduce our emissions, and measurably reduce the speed of climate change–because buying carbon offsets alone is just not enough.

“Perhaps most importantly, we’re not just doing it to meet our own sustainability goal; we’re doing it to drive the positive change our entire industry requires so that every airline can eventually join us and do the same.”

“We welcome United’s positive announcement to support the reduction of greenhouse gases,” says Patrick R. Gruber, CEO of Gevo, an Englewood, Colorado-based SAF company. “We wholeheartedly agree SAF is the fastest and most effective way United can reduce its emissions.”