Leaveless: Reviewing Air Canada’s Carbon Offset Program

By Jazmin Murphy | Updated on September 16, 2021

Airlines for America (A4A) isn’t just a U.S. based aviation organization, and with Leaveless, Air Canada’s carbon offset program, our neighbor to the North is blazing a trail for clean air travel.

The company has certainly lived up to A4A’s recent commitment to carbon neutrality, especially with their new program, “Leaveless.”

But what makes Air Canada’s “leaveless” program so special?

Air Canada plane on the runway during take off.

The program may be one of the most in-depth initiatives for aviation sustainability progress to date, addressing problems from flight practices to environmentally burdensome ground operations, all in order to achieve less carbon, energy, waste, and noise.

Air Canada’s carbon offset program could very well be one of the aviation industry’s strongest chances to modernize flight tech for maintaining environmental health.

This review outlines the basics of the program, and explores ways to go even farther when offsetting your flight carbon footprint.

What Is Leaveless Carbon Offset? 5 Keys To Eco-Friendly Flying

The central focus of Leaveless is crafted to “adopt market-based measures” (MBMs) to neutralize international flights’ carbon dioxide emissions. This complies with the recent endorsement for International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) to develop a global MBM, now called the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA).

At present, CORSIA is intended to complement the various measures member airlines are already taking to reduce CO2 emissions. It will be the first-ever global carbon offset system for an individual industry.

So, how does Leaveless factor in?

Reviewing Air Canada’s Commitment To Carbon Neutrality

Using five methodologies to direct activity, Air Canada’s multifaceted plan is purposely designed to make big reductions in CO2 emissions.

1. Less Carbon

This portion of Air Canada’s Leaveless program contains the net-zero CO2 emissions goal. As stated, this effort accounts for both air travel and ground operations in the planned carbon dioxide mitigation activities. Specific “reduction pillars” include:

  • Fleet and Operations: The airline plans to continue using its new and improved Airbus A220 and Boeing 737 MAX narrow-body fleets. These are reportedly more efficient than older aircraft and consume 20% less fuel per seat. Additionally, Air Canada claims that these models emit 50% less nitrogen oxides.
  • Innovation: Over the years, the airline plans to “evaluate” new electric, hydrogen, and hybrid technologies. Their engineers will also seek new opportunities to innovate climate-friendly alternatives in their general operations.
  • Sustainable Aviation Fuels and Clean Energy: Air Canada pledges $50 million into SAF and the development of other low-carbon aviation fuels (LCAFs). The airline will also evaluate the practicality of using renewable energy sources like “biogas” (gas made by bacteria breaking down organic materials without oxygen) and renewable electricity.1
  • Carbon Reductions and Removals: The airline pledges to investigate “direction emission reduction and removal strategies” in compliance with CORSIA. Additionally, in an agreement with the Canadian aviation industry, Air Canada previously committed to a 2% average annual fuel efficiency improvement up until 2020.

In short, Air Canada is taking a multilayered approach to mitigating atmospheric CO2 indirectly and directly.

Although progress for these specific goals may take years, Air Canada is taking an aggressive approach to greenhouse gas reduction. For example, Air Canada is reportedly looking into biogas and renewable electricity alternatives, in contrast to AA’s purchase of only SAF.

Additionally, the aircraft upgrades are particularly advantageous. According to the Aviation Benefits Beyond Borders, the Boeing 737MAX is one of many “newer aircraft” that require much less fuel. On average, these modern vessels consume less than three liters (0.79 gallons) per passenger’s kilometer, or 0.62 gallons per passenger mile.2

Plus, the A220 is one of a handful of modern aircraft composed of lightweight materials like carbon composites, which come from a new technology that converts captured CO2 into various other materials and products, helping to keep carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.11 These materials also significantly improve the overall performance of the aircraft, lessening the environmental impacts.2

An 8 Billion Trees graphic depicting Canada's carbon emissions by sector, with transportation making up a quarter of all emissions. An 8 Billion Trees graphic depicting Canada's carbon emissions by sector, with transportation making up a quarter of all emissions.

2. Less Energy

Air Canada aims to reduce energy consumption throughout its operations, including aircraft, ground support, and all facilities.

In terms of aircraft, the company is investing in a lower-emissions fleet. This includes everything from fuel efficiency to using more lightweight materials, such as the carbon composites in the A220. Air Canada even stated that there are efforts to change “how we fly” to improve “gate to gate” fuel and energy consumption.

The company claims that it is strongly incentivized to reduce the aircraft’s weight. By removing even one kilogram (about 2.2 lbs) across the entire fleet, Air Canada could save 24,500 liters (6, 472 gallons) of fuel and a reduction of 63 fewer tonnes (69 tons) of greenhouse gasses (GHGs) pumped into the atmosphere in one year. The airline also cites a “lighter paint process” as integral to flying more efficiently.3

Additional changes to improve flights include:

  • Eliminating paper: Air Canada flight crews are switching to iPads from paper to eliminate 110-200 tonnes of CO2 (carbon dioxide equivalent) fleetwide.
  • Hybrite carts: Flight attendants will use carts made of composite materials. These will weigh up to eight kilograms less than present carts. Once these newer carts are in all the aircraft, it’ll save the fleet more than 2,000 tonnes, or 2,205 tons.
  • Base Coat Clear Coat: This new livery paint system contributes less to the aircraft’s weight, eliminating an average of 767 tonnes CO2 per aircraft annually.
  • Fuel education: Air Canada initiated educational protocols about fuel requirements to reduce over-fueling incidents. This has decreased additional fuel requests by over 40%, saving about 915 tonnes (1,009 tons) of CO2 yearly.

This is a highly attentive, detail-oriented approach to reducing the airline’s contributions to carbon dioxide emissions, homing in on as many energy-consuming factors as possible.

Air Canada plane on the tarmack at night.

iRamp

Yet, that’s not all. Air Canada also plans to implement the iRamp system. iRamp is a program designed to identify idling vehicles and remotely power them down to prevent fuel waste and excess emissions.

Even without the sustainable fuel alternatives Air Canada plans to use, iRamp saved more than 123 tonnes (136 tons) of CO2 in 2018.

In Office

Regarding their office and hanger operations, the airline has plans to improve its sustainability by installing energy-efficient equipment and smart, low-energy LED lighting systems.4

Such a dynamic approach to reducing energy consumption is critical. Many industries overlap in the air travel sector, which makes airlines’ carbon footprints much larger than they might seem at first glance.

For example, consider everything it takes to run an airport based on a breakdown of Santander airport in Spain:5

• Airfield lighting

• Radio navigation systems

• Parking operations

• Terminal operations (where most of the energy goes)

3. Less Waste

In 2017, Air Canada adopted the 2020 Corporate Waste Reduction Strategy. This plan requires the 20% reduction of waste in the airline’s offices, facilities, and “Maple Leaf Lounges” and recycling 50% of “approved items,” such as single-use plastic, on domestic flights.

As of 2019, Air Canada has successfully removed 38.2 million single-use plastic products from its flights. (Unfortunately, the pandemic set this goal back a few steps since single-use items were the most sanitary option for passengers.)

This is critical, as the amount of single-use plastic that comes from the air travel industry is widely understated.

Experts have estimated that airlines used hundreds of millions of single-use plastics per day based on average traffic of 100,000 global flights per day and about 14 pieces of plastic per meal.6 These plastic products include things like cups, cutlery, and packaging.

The company is even looking into innovative ways to recycle the materials from uniforms and other fabric products. Since 2017, Air Canada has donated more than 90 tonnes (99 tons) of discontinued uniforms and 50 tonnes (55 tons) of things like duvets and banners.

The company’s recycling efforts are quite extensive as well. In addition to recycling plastic, the airline is also recycling batteries and cell phones in a program known as “Call2Recycle.” As of January 2020, the company has eliminated more than 11,000 kg of batteries.7

The airline also plans to improve the way it handles de-icing. Currently, this practice commonly requires ethylene glycol to clean stormwater run-off from the aircraft. This substance can have severe impacts on wildlife due to its toxicology and can pollute several types of water sources.8,9

Round Trip Collection

In one of the most creative sustainable initiatives in aviation, Air Canada also created “The Round Trip Collection,” made from repurposed aircraft cabin materials. A Canadian company called Mariclaro uses materials like old leather seat covers and transforms them into beautiful handbags and other accessories.

The airline also underwent a water use audit to identify methods for reducing Vancouver facilities’ water use by 30% by 2020. The audit revealed these measures to decrease Air Canada’s water use by as much as 40%:

  • Retrofitting toilets, faucets, and shower heads
  • Installing occupancy sensors on urinals
  • Optimization irrigation systems to prevent over-watering

By using more eco-friendly, natural, or recycled products, Air Canada is not just reducing the airline’s carbon footprint, but ensuring less destructive materials in landfills and water sources.

4. Less Noise

Scientists have called plane noise “the most detrimental environmental effect of aviation.”10

The most notable impacts caused by airplane noise are as follows:

  • Children’s learning ability: Kids living in areas with high levels of “aircraft noise exposure” have poor reading and memory skills. Nighttime aircraft noise, in particular, was associated with impaired reading comprehension and poor recognition memory.10
  • Lower-quality sleep: Humans detect and react to environmental stimuli during sleep. This means your body is aware of and responsive to airplane sounds while you rest, which can disrupt your sleep, resulting in a bad mood, poorer cognitive health, and even a heightened risk of cardiovascular disease.10
  • Poor overall health: Research links persistent aircraft noise exposure to reduced well-being and a lower quality of life. Those living with such disruptions might also have poor mental health.10

To limit and reduce the impact of flight noise, new aircraft designs are being tested and placed in action.

For example, the airline states that all of its fleet exceeds the ICAO’s Chapter 3 noise standards. Some of their more recent models, including the Boeing 777, Boeing 787 Dreamliner, and the new Airbus 220 meet the Chapter 4 noise standard, which is even quieter than Chapter 3. In general, expect a 75% noise footprint reduction compared to other aircraft.

5. Do More

Despite having done so much to reduce its carbon footprint already, Air Canada is looking for other opportunities to improve its sustainability beyond the hangars, offices, and aircrafts. One of these efforts is their recently developed Environmental Management System (EMS).

The company first pursued a certified EMS in 2017 through the IEnvA, or IATA (International Air Transport Association) Environmental Assessment system. This is an evaluation program designed specifically to assess an airline’s environmental management independently.11

In late 2020, Air Canada became the first North American airline to be certified for IEnvA Stage 2.

How Can You Do Even More?

Based on a careful review of the Leaveless pillars, it seems that the airline has developed an in-depth, practical approach to reducing the aviation industry’s GHG emissions. Yet, even a multifaceted plan such as this is not enough on its own.

Notice that many of these initiatives will take years to come to fruition, such as the transition to biogas or and substantial noise reductions. As the world waits for initiatives like this to be realized, people must also engage in tree planting offset projects that have more expansive benefits, such as providing much-needed habitats to endangered habitats and mitigating soil erosion, like tree-planting efforts. The best carbon offset programs increase the earth’s carbon dioxide-sequestering capacity and provide much-needed habitat to endangered wildlife.

Before your next flight, use an ecological footprint calculator to figure up your emissions in order to truly understand and reduce your environmental impact. Simply input your flight’s details to get a personalized datasheet and tips for reducing your footprint from the moment you land. Then, you can rest assured knowing you can still travel without increasing greenhouse gases, even with using Air Canada’s carbon offset program Leaveless.


References

1Tanigawa, S. (2017, October 3). Fact sheet | Biogas: Converting waste to energy. Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI). https://www.eesi.org/papers/view/fact-sheet-biogasconverting-waste-to-energy

2Efficient technology. (n.d.). Aviation: Benefits Beyond Borders. https://aviationbenefits.org/environmental-efficiency/climate-action/efficient-technology/

3Air Canada. (n.d.). Leaveless: Less energy (in aircraft). Retrieved July 2, 2021, from https://leaveless.aircanada.com/ca/en/index.html#!/less-energy/in-aircraft

4Air Canada. (n.d.). Leaveless: Less energy (in facilities). Retrieved July 2, 2021, from https://leaveless.aircanada.com/ca/en/index.html#!/less-energy/in-aircraft

5Ortega Alba, S., & Manana, M. (2016). Energy research in airports: A review. MDPI Energies, 9(5), 349. https://doi.org/10.3390/en9050349

6The Buzz. (2020, October 4). Ban single-use plastics in worldwide air travel by 2023. Global Ecotourism Network. https://www.globalecotourismnetwork.org/ban-single-use-plastics-in-worldwide-air-travel-by-2020/

7Air Canada. (n.d.). Leaveless: Less waste (recycling). Retrieved July 2, 2021, from https://leaveless.aircanada.com/ca/en/index.html#!/less-energy/in-aircraft

8US Environmental Protection Agency. (n.d.). Ethylene glycol. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-09/documents/ethylene-glycol.pdf

9Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection. (2002). Connecticut clean marina guidebook. https://portal.ct.gov/-/media/DEEP/Boating/clean_marina/Clean_Marina_PDFs/mechanical_pdfs/antifreezepdf.pdf

10Basner, M., Clark, C., Hansell, A., Hileman, J., Janssen, S., Shepherd, K., & Sparrow, V. (2017). Aviation noise impacts: state of science. Noise Health, 19(87), 41-50. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5437751/

11International Air Transport Association. (n.d.). IATA environmental assessment (IEnvA). https://www.iata.org/en/programs/environment/environmental-assessment/

12Sweet, C. (2018, April 27). 5 surprising products companies are making from carbon dioxide. Greenbiz. https://www.greenbiz.com/article/5-surprising-products-companies-are-making-carbon-dioxide