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Environmental Management – A Practical Approach

Although climate change is a key focus of the industry’s environmental work, more down-to-earth issues remain

Many airlines have recognized the benefits of an environmental management system (EMS), but the traditional generic standards and frameworks for an EMS are challenging to implement in an airline context.

The airline business is complex and global, covering activities from flight operations, ground handling, and catering to maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) in all manner of climates and surroundings.

Even if an airline can measure particular aspects of its environmental performance, the reporting requirements add a further layer of confusion.

Many airlines already publish environment, sustainability or social responsibility reports that comply with the recognized international reporting standards or frameworks, such as the Global Reporting Initiative. In addition, however, airlines are subject to increasing pressure to publish further emissions information from their operations. In 2012, for example, the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) approached 44 IATA airlines, requesting them to publicly disclose information related to their direct and indirect carbon emissions.

This places a real burden on an airline as each channel has a different scope. An airline could be reporting a variety of annual figures in three or four different reports. This duplicates workloads, wastes resources, and creates a false impression of an opaque industry. A robust and systematic environmental management program would greatly increase the efficiency of environmental data collection and reporting. And it would ensure the transparency and global standards needed to explain the industry’s environmental performance to its stakeholders, including investors, passengers, and employees.

A flexible approach

The IATA Environmental Assessment (IEnvA) Program is a voluntary, sector-wide EMS developed using the quality systems and processes of IATA’s other programs. It is based on the fact that all airlines can share common solutions. As well as promoting shared best practices, IEnvA meets the rigors and objectives of other international environmental management systems.

One of the key aspects of IEnvA is the inherent flexibility of the program, allowing airlines to move through it without restrictions. Airlines have the ability to either apply IEnvA to their core operations or expand its scope to additional services that the airline may offer, such as ground operations, catering, maintenance, and MRO.

“Adopting standard IEnvA procedures allows an airline to focus resources on improving its environmental performance rather than designing an EMS from scratch,” says Jon Godson, IATA Assistant Director, Aviation Environment. “Airlines’ environmental policies, performance, and reporting are coming under increasing scrutiny from regulators, passengers, and investors. They need the means to respond in a clear and consistent manner

IEnvA has been developed in conjunction with airlines so that it addresses industry needs and specific concerns. As a result, it brings benefits such as simplified regulatory compliance, a clear demonstration of good governance, and financial savings from the better use of resources.
Although the IEnvA program provides support and guidance on the key aviation-related topics of air and noise emissions, other subjects such as cabin waste management, water scarcity, biodiversity, and sustainable procurement are also addressed.

“Ensuring compliance with regulations that cut across a number of airline departments is resource-intensive,” says Godson. “IEnvA will ensure all of these requirements are taken into account in one place, making the whole process of regulatory compliance far more coherent.”
Financial savings can be realized from following environmental best practice in all areas. “An airline that can demonstrate its environmental performance is more attractive to its consumers, its investors, and its staff,” believes Godson. “This is good for business. And it will go a long way to ensuring the long-term sustainability of the industry.”

How it works

IEnvA incorporates the knowledge and experience gained from other successful IATA programs, including the IATA Operational Safety Audit and the IATA Safety Audit for Ground Operations. There is an Environmental Standards Manual, guidance and support tools and an independent assessment by an accredited assessment organization. Registration follows the successful completion of an assessment.

The Environmental Standards Manual includes a thorough review of airline environmental reports and recognized requirements and is reviewed by a core group of airlines.
For those airlines that require them, a number of guidance and support tools are available. An Extranet allows airlines to access the standards, share ideas and solutions, and facilitates the sharing of other relevant information. A legal compliance tool and an airport environmental requirements database provide additional support.

How to get started

IEnvA is being introduced in two stages. This allows airlines to achieve notable milestones while recognizing that airlines are at different levels in terms of skills and resources.

Stage 1: This is a planning phase that gets all airlines to a common baseline with the implementation of the program standards, including having an environmental policy and procedures to demonstrate legal compliance.

Stage 2: At this point, airlines will need to demonstrate a functioning EMS. It will involve a more detailed and thorough assessment of the implementation of the EMS within the airline.
The flexibility of IEnvA is furthered by breaking down elements of the scope into a modular approach. These modules fall under two categories; CORE and CORE+. CORE modules include flight operations and corporate activities that all airlines undertake, while CORE+ features the ancillary aspects of an airline’s business, such as ground operations.

The assessments are conducted by independent environmental assessment organizations (EAOs). Two EAOs are currently involved, and are also accredited audit organizations for the IOSA program.

The EAOs will assess against mandatory requirements and recommended practices. Non-conformity with mandatory requirements results in a “Finding”. Unlike airline safety management standards, there are relatively few mandatory requirements for IEnvA. The assessment organization then files a Corrective Action Report to which the airline must respond with a Corrective Action Plan to demonstrate conformity.

Recommended practices involve certain procedures or types of equipment that are considered desirable but not obligatory. Non-conformity with a recommended practice would result in an “Observation” by the EAO, but not a Finding.

Once an airline has established compliance, IEnvA promotes enhanced environmental performance through an iterative process of identifying, assessing, mitigating and monitoring environmental issues.

“South African Airways has found the IEnvA programme to be an excellent method with which to plan an environmental strategy that is relevant, informative, and will affect real change in terms of environmental obligations,” says Ian Cruickshank, Group Environmental Affairs, South African Airways. “IEnvA is an important tool that an airline can utilise to minimise environmental impacts and SAA intends pursuing IEnvA and IEnvA Core+ accreditation as a cornerstone of its environmental policy.”

The next steps

The governance of IEnvA is provided by an action group comprising 16 airlines. A first meeting was held in March 2012 and a second annual general meeting took place in late February 2013 in Hong Kong, complemented by regular conference calls. The action group will become a formal Working Group by the end of 2013.

As of the end April 2013, 10 airlines had agreed to join the IEnvA program, with seven having completed a Stage 1 Assessment in December 2012.

The types of airlines that have joined the IEnvA program reflect the diverse nature of IATA membership, ranging from airlines with a long-track record in sustainability through to those just starting on the environmental management path.

“The inclusive and flexible nature of the IEnvA program means that any airline, regardless of size, experience, and resources, can participate and demonstrably improve their environmental performance,” says Godson.

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