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  • AutorenbildHans Lauterbach

Think-Stay ahead

Sustainability as a competitive factor.

An insight from the perspective of the aviation industry.

Let´s be honest: Which company, when asked whether it is committed to sustainability, is going to answer in the negative? Sustainability, in other words a responsible and resource-conserving approach which ideally replenishes all resources consumed within one cycle and promotes a conscientious coexistence with others, has been the " done thing to do" in our society for several decades.

In reality, however, sustainability is not just a value construct, but rather a fundamental factor for success and competitiveness to which there is simply no alternative. This was already the case long before climate change and "Fridays for Future" movement grabbed the attention of the general public and thus heightened the awareness of the need for sustainable action.

When Hans Carl von Carlowitz wrote his reference work on forestry in 1713 as mining administrator of the German Ore Mountains, he had no idea that he would become the spiritual father of the sustainability concept centuries later. One of his key principles may sound trivial, yet it is of fundamental importance: you must not cut down more trees than you replant. Or to put it in another way: In order to preserve the viability of a system, you must not extract or use more resources than are subsequently fed back or which regenerate themselves naturally.

What may sound self-explanatory and obvious, however, was never an issue for the most part of human history since for millennia, the earth had always been too lush and powerful for mankind to able to transform or disturb the natural system. Starting with the industrial revolution, not only our worldview changed but also the entire system itself: Humans began to leave increasingly deep "global footprints" - a phenomenon which is on the rise.

It was science that first issued warnings in view of this development with the founding of the Club of Rome in the middle of last century. The report "The Limits to Growth" published 1972 radically challenges what had been the basic pattern of the industrialized world until then: infinite growth.

This suddenly brought into the limelight what Hans Carl von Carlowitz had already addressed some 250 years earlier: the sustainable cycle of resources as the basis of all life.

Although the oil crisis of 1973 clearly demonstrated the finiteness of our resources and the fragility of the economic system, the 1970s were marked by a spirit of optimism. Societal and technological change continued to transform the world and gave the promise of more: more prosperity, more freedom, more space, more comfort, more information, better health.

Nevertheless, the topic of sustainability had been on the table since then - and it had come to stay. In the past decades, sustainability was often limited to individual sub-aspects. Sustainability, however, has two essential dimensions: universality and durability. If one of these two aspects is missing, sustainability measures lose all their force. And this is where the economy comes into play.

Sustainability consists of ecological, economic and social sustainability, coupled with social responsibility. Much of this was and still is incorporated in entrepreneurial measures, but has been or is not assessed in terms of sustainability. Many elements constitute an indispensable basis for economic success, such as the conversation of resources as a basis for ecological sustainability, solid and healthy company finances as a basis for social sustainability and actively fulfilling the role of a proactive and responsible neighbor in the region as a basis for social responsibility.

The aviation industry began at an early stage to consider sustainability from this perspective to align itself accordingly. Why? Because the industry has been subject to strong innovation and efficiency pressure from the very beginning. The contribution of the aviation industry and the innovations of the last 40 years are substantial. Today, modern aircraft consume on average 80 percent less fuel per seat kilometer compared to the end of the 1960s. At the same time, CO2 content has been cut half, soot emissions have been reduced by 90 percent while noise emissions have fallen by 75 percent. Flight mobility today accounts for about 2,7 percent of annual CO2 emissions - and every single hundredth percent saving counts.

In the light of growing air traffic, a key focus of the industry is on increasing efficiency - from aircraft through to upstream process steps development, production and logistics. The accompanied processes and systems are also continuously geared towards increasing efficiency and further improvement. In Europe, for instance, there are no more fixed "flight routes" but so-called open skies. Aircraft take the most direct and fastest route - with a defined entry and exit point in the respective airspace.

After more than 100 years of aviation, the industry remains innovative strong and never stands still. 80 percent of the world´s population has never traveled by plane - this number is set to rapidly fall over the next 30 years due to increasing prosperity. Modern aviation can and will support this trend, thus helping to connect people and cultures on a global scale.

Pictures from Gerd Altmann at Pixabay.

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