Lufthansa Cargo: We’ve a responsibility to reduce our environmental impact

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Dorothea von Boxberg

Air cargo is a vital sector of the industry, connecting all corners of the world. But, with this connectivity comes responsibility to reduce the environmental impact of flying said Dorothea von Boxberg, chief executive officer Lufthansa Cargo as she spoke to ACW.

ACW: Lufthansa Cargo are leading the way in terms of airfreight sustainability with the launching of the CO2 neutral flight. What else is the company doing to control the negative environmental impacts of flying cargo?

Dorothea von Boxberg: “Climate Action” is one of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Lufthansa Cargo is committed to supporting these goals and has long been working to keep its own carbon footprint as small as possible. Our first initiative is targeted at using as little kerosene as possible per airfreight tonne and kilometer.

Investment in modern fleet is decisive for that. By the end of the year we will have a pure B777 fleet. That is the most fuel-efficient cargo fleet you can have with the best environmental balance. We also have a long history of working on ways to save fuel in operations e.g. with landing approach procedures that reduce fuel burn. For the fuel we then still need to burn, Lufthansa Cargo is committed to researching and using alternative, sustainable fuels.

We were able to add the first regular CO2-neutral cargo flight to our flight schedule in April 2021. Lufthansa Cargo is currently also working at full speed for an offer of CO2-neutralality for individual shipments. In addition, Lufthansa Cargo established a global, company-wide environmental management system as early as 2008, which bundles all environment-related topics and processes. This was re-certified again in 2020 according to the internationally recognised ISO standard. Within the framework of this environmental management system, numerous measures have been successfully implemented in recent years that also contributed to improving the company’s own carbon footprint, such as the introduction of lightweight containers in flight operations.

ACW: How does Lufthansa Cargo offset the carbon used in manufacturing and transportation?

von Boxberg: The CO2 formed during the combustion of SAF corresponds exactly to the amount of CO2 that was removed from the atmosphere by the plant during its growth and therefore does not generate any new CO2.

However, additional greenhouse gases are released to provide Sustainable Aviation Fuels, for example during the cultivation of biomass, processing and transportation. That is why the usage of SAF accounts for about 80% CO2 reduction compared to fossil fuels.

The greenhouse gases that are produced and thus “remaining” as a result of manufacturing and transport are offset by additional compensation. As Lufthansa Cargo, we currently offer our clients a reforestation project in Nicaragua as offsetting option via our partner myclimate. The flight is therefore considered 100% greenhouse gas neutral.

ACW: In your opinion, what is the most important thing other players in the industry can do to become more sustainable?

von Boxberg: The paths to sustainable entrepreneurship can of course look very different. I would say that the first step should be a thorough analysis: where do you generate greenhouse gases, waste, etc.? Where can you reduce your carbon footprint? Which small measures can be implemented particularly quickly, which ones require more effort?

The next step would be to define goals or a strategy against which you, as a company, will be measured in the future. I think making milestones and successes visible is important for employees as well as for customers and other players in your industry. I also think it’s very helpful and important to team up with experts or other companies on certain topics to develop more clout.

Involving your own customers can also be very helpful and, in turn, have a positive impact on their efforts in the area of sustainable business management. Above all, however, it is important to support the topic of sustainability with appropriate human and financial resources and to really think long-term.

ACW: In terms of air cargo sustainability, what are your hopes for the next 10-15 years? 

von Boxberg: Air transport connects people, countries and cultures around the world. Its economic importance is enormous, it drives employment and it ensures the fast and reliable flow of goods. At the same time, it has undesirable effects on climate and the environment. For Lufthansa Cargo, this goes hand in hand with the responsibility to reduce the environmental impact of our business activities to the unavoidable minimum – in the air and on the ground.

The Lufthansa Group has defined demanding CO2 reduction targets that we as Lufthansa Cargo fully support: the carbon footprint should be reduced by half by 2030 compared with 2019 – we are working to achieve this milestone even earlier. Carbon neutrality is our shared objective for 2050. One key to this lies in vigorously advancing key technologies for the production of SAF.

The focus is on kerosene based on waste materials, ligneous biomass and renewable electrical energy (Power-to-Liquid – PtL). Currently, sustainable fuel is three to six times more expensive than conventional kerosene. This keeps demand low as long as production costs are so high. The industry needs more efficient production and thus lower prices in the long term. We are pursuing various measures on a technological, operational and infrastructural level, always with our goal in mind: to make air cargo 100% carbon neutral.

Apart from our efforts I strongly believe that this can only be achieved when we join forces with our customers and partners. We see a lot of interest and also the first movers to act. For me that is a very good sign that our industry is increasing its commitments to a more environment-friendly future.