April 15, 2022: Commercial aviation is going through another existential moment, this time about environmental concerns, with sustainability the overarching goal. What lies ahead and what controversial culture changes need to be made? Aviation Week talks with Accenture aerospace leaders, who unveil a new industrywide gameplan on how commercial aviation will get there.
If asked to name sustainable industries, aerospace and defense might not be the first to come to mind. However, the industry is evolving and embracing a sustainability agenda that goes far beyond reducing aircraft emissions and extends to reducing environmental impact across the entire value chain.
Aerospace and defense executives recognize the need to transform how their products are designed, manufactured, and serviced. Still, even those who have started to deploy digital technologies to reduce environmental footprints often struggle to measure and message these gains.
By focusing on specific, strategic steps, aerospace and defense companies can accelerate—and evangelize—their efforts across enormously complex value chains.
Hyperspeed: Accelerate the transformation
Profit and purpose are not mutually exclusive, and the aerospace and defense companies that transform how they source, design, manufacture, distribute and recycle their products will have an advantage.
of executives anticipate up to 1/3 of their revenues coming from more sustainable products or services in the next 5 years, driven by efficient designs and new sources of fuel and advanced materials.
Turning anticipation into action—at speed—will require adopting fundamentally different strategies:
1. Sustainability, by design
There is vast potential for innovation in design and engineering. Gains can be achieved at this stage by pursuing a more sustainable product and by making the design process itself more resource and energy efficient.
Airbus created a lighter, stronger "bionic" partition to separate the passenger compartment from the galley in the A320 aircraft. Installing these bionic partitions across the entire cabins of A320s could reduce up to 500 kg of weight, resulting in CO2 emissions reductions of up to 166 metric tons per aircraft per year.
2. Sustainability, made to order
Adopting a connected factory model can significantly improve resource and energy management at the manufacturing stage. For example, IoT-enabled smart meters have the potential to reduce energy consumption in aircraft production by 20%. In addition, utilizing renewable energy at manufacturing facilities helps in lowering the environmental impact of production operations.
Boeing runs its factories in Renton, Washington and Charleston, South Carolina through solar, wind and hydropower, and its renewable energy procurements reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 10% in 2020.
3. Sustainability, every step of the way
Technologies such as digital twins—virtual representations of objects or systems—allow for preventative maintenance, minimizing aircraft downtime and substantially increasing environmental performance. Reducing “reactive maintenance” in this way also lowers costs and reduces the energy and materials required for repairs.
Rolls Royce has created digital twins of their engines, where the company collects real-time data to assess engine performance, ultimately saving 22 million tons of carbon.
All together now: Harness the ecosystem
Ecosystem plays offer the opportunity for faster and further scaling of sustainability-based business models, as well as deeper impact. For example, 98% of aerospace and defense executives agree that it will be essential to engage with and scale sustainability ecosystem partnerships over the next two years.
The following strategies can help companies harness the ecosystem to unlock value:
1. Sustainability, from the source
Aerospace and defense companies must evaluate sourcing and procurement to ensure that sustainable methods and processes are employed to extract and transport materials.
of aerospace and defense executives say that the unsustainable extraction of commodities and materials is one of the impacts of industrialization their company is actively addressing.
2. Sustainability, a supply chain reaction
Sustainability touches nearly all aspects of the supply chain, and digitization of the supply chain remains the key priority for aerospace and defense companies in order to extract greater efficiencies, reduce risk, enhance visibility and integrate business processes. Most of these gains not only translate into higher profits but also reduce waste during production.
3. Sustainability, start to finish
Aircraft manufacturers estimate that more than
of the global fleet will reach end of life in the next two decades. Therefore, dismantling products to maximize reuse and recycling is vital to ensuring sustainable end-of-life aircraft management.
Airbus and Tarmac Aerosave have established a proven method for decommissioning, dismantling, and recycling the aircraft in an environmentally sustainable way, with up to 90% of aircraft eligible for reuse or recycling.
Messaging matters: Evangelize the progress
A sustainability agenda isn’t sustainable unless everyone is on board, and communicating results to the workforce, investors, communities and other stakeholders is critical.
of aerospace and defense executives believe that it will be imperative for their company to measure, incentivize and communicate sustainability performance 3 years from now, compared to just 22% today.
Building a framework of sustainability KPIs to measure environmental gains across the value chain—alongside efficiency and revenue gains—is crucial to gain momentum and support to drive further progress.
Sustainability, sharing the story
Aerospace and defense executives expect a dramatic near-term shift on what is measured and communicated for sustainability, adding sustainability alongside the usual financial and customer performance elements. Sustainability-related goals as part of the organization's strategy and monitoring the progress on those objectives is expected to be a crucial criterion for compensation of C-level executives.
Safran introduced key performance indicators such as percent of R&D investment focused on environmental efficiency and has already made progress by completing 20% of the emission reduction actions required to achieve the 2025 targets for these metrics.
Technology and sustainability: Twin engines powering aerospace
Tomorrow’s strongest-performing businesses will be powered by the twin engines of technology and sustainability, working hand-in-hand. And aerospace and defense companies must integrate a thoughtful sustainability strategy into everyday decision-making for both operations and products.