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Uniting the aerospace industry en route to a sustainable future

I must confess that I love air travel, and I’m not alone. Travel for business is an essential part of modern life and a leading indicator of economic health, pleasure travel brings the cultures of the world closer together and aerospace products serve mission-critical roles in defense and humanitarian support.

However, ask any sustainability professional around the world and we’ll tell you that air travel is one of our sources of "carbon guilt." This guilt is not without cause. One of many organizations dedicated to improving the environmental performance of the aerospace industry is the International Aerospace Environmental Group (IAEG).

I’ve had the privilege of working with the IAEG. Organized in 2011 as a not-for-profit U.S. corporation by major global aerospace companies, IAEG is a relatively new trade association. Member companies, which in total constitute more than 50 percent of the industry, include original equipment manufacturers of both commercial and defense aircraft; constructors of critical systems, such as engines and interiors; and suppliers of key components, including parts and software.

Meeting the ambitious sustainable growth goals of aviation — such as IATA’s aspirational goal on the commercial side of carbon neutral growth from 2020 — require systemic thinking throughout the industry.

By bringing together representatives of most of the aerospace value chain, IAEG ensures that the right stakeholders are present to create voluntary consensus standards that drive consistency and efficiency across the entire industry. IAEG is focused on global laws and regulations affecting health and the environment, and engages in discussions to address the complexities of meeting these requirements and advancing innovative environmental solutions.

These discussions focus on key issues that we can tackle to advance environmental management programs, such as hazardous substance reporting and elimination, greenhouse gas (GHG) reporting, REACH Process Authorization and supply chain sustainability.

For example, in 2015 the IAEG released the industry’s first Aerospace & Defense Declarable Substances List (AD-DSL), an initial, common list of declarable chemicals and substances used within the aerospace and defense supply chain that will allow suppliers to efficiently exchange information and supply data surrounding chemicals and substances of concern. The AD-DSL is a first step toward the transparency and traceability required to address substances of concern throughout the industry.

Another major achievement was the release of the first aerospace sector guidance to the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Protocol (PDF), which earned the "Built on GHG Protocol" logo from the World Resources Institute (WRI). Released by IAEG’s GHG Reporting working group in 2014, this is a voluntary standard designed to supplement the WRI/WBCSD GHG Protocol, and represents a consensus interpretation of the GHG Protocol developed by IAEG member companies with significant experience in emissions reporting.

Such WRI-approved industry guidance documents help advance and accelerate reporting practices in an industry; aerospace companies that are just beginning the journey of environmental reporting (and, ultimately, emissions reduction) can model the good practices described in the IAEG sector guidance.

I have been involved in IAEG’s GHG Reporting Working Group since 2013, and I’ve found that it presents a very interesting and effective example of industry collaboration on environmental issues.

In order to tackle key environmental challenges in our industry, it was first necessary to build trust and mutual understanding among the workgroup participants. Our twice-annual face-to-face meetings involve some serious and intense work, such as reviewing global standards and drafting internal consensus language.

They also involve getting to know each other professionally and personally — building, over time, a strong sense of shared responsibility and dedication to our environmental mission. After working together so intensely over these weeks, we recognize that each of us can have differing perspectives depending on the company badges we wear — but ultimately, that we all want to help our industry thrive in an environmentally responsible manner.

In the GHG Reporting Working Group, we began our work by finding points of commonality among our companies, such as IAEG member companies’ generally universal adherence to the GHG Protocol. Our current published Guidance interprets the GHG Protocol for all aerospace companies — from part suppliers to engine and systems builders to aircraft manufacturers — and addresses reporting on direct emissions (Scope 1), indirect emissions (Scope 2) and business travel (Scope 3, Category 6).

By building a coherent collective understanding of the GHG Protocol and its application to aerospace, we were able to build momentum toward our objectives of encouraging more aerospace companies and suppliers to report and manage their GHG emissions.

Since 2014, we have begun deep discussions on how to expand the scope of our initial Guidance to a larger portion of the aerospace value chain; namely, those emissions covered by some of the other Scope 3 categories. Meeting the ambitious sustainable growth goals of aviation — such as IATA’s aspirational goal on the commercial side of carbon neutral growth from 2020 — require systemic thinking throughout the industry.

In these discussions, we’ve had to balance addressing areas of our value chain that we know represent significant emissions with our ability to gather actionable data and drive meaningful progress on these areas in the near-term. We often get asked about addressing use-phase emissions, for instance, but many of our member companies and related organizations already were focused on this when IAEG was launched. While we acknowledged that this is an issue that needs further work, we focused instead on creating consistent reporting and progress on areas we can strongly influence.

For example, we assessed typical aerospace client/customer relationship scenarios when considering our reporting recommendations for Upstream Transportation and Distribution Emissions (Scope 3, Category 4) and Downstream Transportation and Distribution Emissions (Scope 3, Category 9).

The GHG Protocol calls for a financial boundary on assessing emissions in these categories. As a simple example, suppose you order an item from an online store; because you pay for the shipping, the online store should account for these transportation emissions in its Downstream (Category 9) emissions. But in the more complex aerospace scenarios, where the manufacturer often covers shipping costs as an implicit part of a contract, these delivery emissions must be counterintuitively accounted for in that company’s Upstream (Category 4) emissions.

Another interesting scenario occurs in particular on the defense side of the industry: In some cases, the customer shows up at the factory and flies away with the final product. In this case, the emissions are no longer considered part of the reporting company’s supply-chain activities, and instead become part of the Use of Sold Product (Category 11) for the customer, often a government.

I’ve learned a tremendous amount about how to consistently apply the letter and spirit of the GHG Protocol to the aerospace value chain by analyzing these intricate scenarios with my extremely knowledgeable and passionate aerospace sustainability colleagues.

While IAEG shares environmental expertise and experience among member companies, we are always open to learning more from our stakeholders and counterparts — non-aerospace companies, other trade associations, sustainability professionals. The revised GHG Reporting Guidance I’ve described above recently has been released by WRI into a public comment period.

Through March 11, any interested party can read this draft guidance and provide comments to WRI and IAEG through this survey. We invite the knowledgeable and passionate GreenBiz community to participate in our journey towards an even more environmentally responsible aerospace sector, a critically important part of our global society and way of life.

As Raytheon Global Substances Program Manager and IAEG Board Chair Sally Gestautas said, "IAEG members work together to create processes and solutions for today’s challenges, for a better tomorrow." We invite everyone to be a part of that better tomorrow.

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