Action Guide

Reduce Emissions From Air Travel

Environmental Defense Fund

Companies seeking to cut down their Scope 3 emissions from air travel and goods movement can pursue various methods, ranging from straightforward strategies focused on reducing employee air travel and shifting air freight to other modes or transportation, to more forward-thinking systemic solutions like investing in high-integrity sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). Below, we delve deeper into these strategies.

View of plane wing in the sky with clouds and the sun peaking through the clouds.

Aviation is considered a hard-to-abate sector, due to weight and size requirements in aircraft, the cost of new technologies, and a high bar for safety. Air transport emissions currently make up about 2.5% of global CO2 emissions, and 3.5% when non-CO2 impacts on climate are taken into account.1If aviation was a country, it would be among the 10 biggest emitters, ahead of nations like Brazil, Mexico, and the UK.2 Additionally, air transport emissions are expected to double from pre-COVID levels by 2050. 

Scope 3 emissions from air transport typically come from the following two sources:   

  1. Business Travel: Emissions from flights taken for business purposes, including meetings, conferences, and client visits. These emissions are associated with air travel by employees on behalf of the company. 
  1. Upstream and Downstream Goods Transport: Emissions associated with the transportation of goods and services by air occurring along the supply chain. 

Most companies will find these emissions in their GHG footprint, and struggle with ways to mitigate these emissions due to the hard-to-abate nature of the aviation industry. Below we dive deeper into four main strategies to reduce your Scope 3 emissions related to air transportation.  

Limiting Employee Air Travel  

Companies are implementing several strategies to limit employee air travel, aiming to reduce both carbon emissions and costs. Some of these strategies include: 

  1. Virtual Meetings and Collaboration Tools: Encouraging the use of virtual meeting platforms and collaboration tools allows employees to connect and collaborate online. Video conferencing, webinars, and online collaboration platforms are increasingly popular alternatives to in-person meetings. Investing in advanced technologies, such as augmented reality or virtual reality, can also provide innovative ways for employees to participate in meetings or events remotely, reducing the need for physical travel. 
  1. Travel Policies and Guidelines: Establishing clear and concise travel policies is crucial in setting expectations for employees regarding the necessity and frequency of air travel. Companies can outline specific criteria to determine when travel is essential and promote alternative means when feasible. Additionally, restrictions on first and business-class tickets may be advisable, as these classes of service typically have a higher carbon footprint.3 
  1. Advanced Planning and Booking: Encouraging employees to plan and book trips well in advance allows for better coordination and optimization of travel schedules. This can help minimize the number of trips and reduce the overall environmental impact. 
  1. Alternative Modes of Transportation: Promoting the use of alternative modes of transportation for shorter distances, such as trains or electric vehicles, can be an effective way to limit air travel. Some companies may incentivize or provide options for more sustainable transportation methods. 
  1. Communication and Education: Increasing awareness among employees about the environmental impact of air travel, encompassing not only CO2 emissions but also factors such as nitrogen oxides, ozone, noise pollution, among others, and offering education on alternative transportation options, cultivates a culture of sustainability. Clear communication helps employees understand the company’s commitment to reducing emissions. 

Limiting Emissions From Air Freight of Goods and Services 

Companies may adopt various strategies to limit emissions associated with the transportation of goods and services by air, aiming to reduce their carbon footprint. Here are some common strategies: 

  1. Supply Chain Optimization: Companies are optimizing their supply chains to minimize the need for air transportation. This involves strategic planning, inventory management, and distribution network optimization to reduce reliance on air freight. 
  1. Mode Shifting: Shifting transportation modes from air to more sustainable options, such as sea or rail, for certain goods and services can significantly reduce emissions. This is particularly applicable to less time-sensitive shipments. 
  1. Efficiency Improvements: Enhancing the efficiency of air cargo operations can reduce emissions per unit of transported goods. This includes optimizing routes, increasing load factors, and implementing more fuel-efficient aircraft. 
  1. Smart Packaging and Logistics: Implementing smart packaging solutions and logistics technologies helps minimize waste and optimize cargo space, reducing the need for additional flights. This includes using lightweight materials and efficient packaging designs. 
  1. Sustainable Transportation Providers: Choosing transportation providers that offer low-emission options, or are otherwise investing substantially in sustainability solutions, for air freight can be a proactive step. For example, some carriers already invest in sustainable aviation fuels.  

Investing in Sustainable Aviation Fuels 

Minimizing employee air travel and curbing emissions from the transportation of goods and services are crucial steps for companies to significantly cut down on air travel emissions. However, recognizing that some air travel remains inevitable, investing in high-integrity Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) emerges as one of the most viable near-term solutions for substantial emissions reductions in the aviation industry. 

SAF is a drop-in fuel, meaning it is certified for use in existing aircraft and infrastructure without requiring any modifications. It is made with renewable or waste feedstocks, such as switchgrass or corn stover, or waste materials such as used cooking oil or the organic fraction of municipal solid waste. 

SAF provides a climate benefit when it reduces lifecycle GHG emissions as compared to fossil jet fuel. However, not all SAFs are created equal. Some can lead to greater emissions than fossil jet fuel it is meant to replace or cause negative effects on ecosystems and communities. A high-integrity SAF will follow a robust sustainability framework characterized by:  

  • Credible Emissions Reduction: The production and use of SAF, as determined by a credible lifecycle assessment, should result in a substantial reduction (ideally achieving at least 80% emission reduction threshold) in greenhouse gas emissions compared to conventional aviation fuels. This reduction is a fundamental aspect of SAF’s contribution to sustainability. 
  • Adherence to Environmental and Social Safeguards: High-integrity SAF should be produced in a manner that prioritizes environmental sustainability and social responsibility. This includes the need to avoid feedstocks that compete with food production, contribute to deforestation, or habitat destruction. Furthermore, SAF production needs to ensure the respect of human rights, land rights and water rights, and contribute to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. 
  • Transparent and Accurate Accounting: Robust accounting practices are crucial to avoid double counting of emissions reductions. It’s important that the emissions reductions attributed to SAF are accurately measured, verified, and accounted for to maintain the credibility of its environmental benefits. 
  • Certification and Standards Compliance: Compliance with recognized sustainability standards and certifications, such as those established by organizations like the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB) or the International Sustainability and Carbon Certification (ISCC) under the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization, adds credibility to SAF. Meeting these standards demonstrates a commitment to sustainable practices and ensures the traceability necessary for transparent and accurate accounting.  

High-integrity SAF can reduce CO2 emissions by 85% on a lifecycle basis when compared to conventional jet fuel.4 Aviation customers and fuel providers can support the future of SAF by joining the Sustainable Aviation Buyer’s Alliance (SABA). Founded by EDF and RMI, this group of stakeholders are helping members navigate the technical aspects of SAF and the SAF market, and assessing emerging SAF technologies to address barriers and reduce costs. Learn more about joining SABA here.  

How to Purchase SAF 

The most common method for companies to procure SAF is through a “book-and-claim” chain of custody model. Because the supply of physical SAF is still limited at airports, companies are increasingly opting to procure Sustainable Aviation Fuel certificates (SAFc). These certificates operate on a book-and-claim model, involving a financial transaction linked to the environmental attributes of the fuel. This approach allows airlines to actively support sustainability initiatives without the obligatory physical integration of SAF in every flight. The flexibility offered by SAFc plays a significant role in driving the overall market demand for sustainable aviation fuels. 

Understanding the book-and-claim model: The “book-and-claim” model is a system used in the SAFc market to track and trade the environmental attributes associated with the production of renewable fuels. It is similar to the system used for renewable electricity, where companies can buy renewable energy certificates (RECs) to support the generation of green power, even if they do not receive the actual electricity from renewable sources.  

Here’s how the book-and-claim model typically works: 

  • Book: In the book-and-claim model, the environmental attributes or benefits of the produced SAF are “booked” or recorded in a certification system. These attributes include the reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions achieved by using SAF compared to conventional jet fuel. 
  • Claim: Airlines or other entities can then “claim” or purchase these environmental attributes separate from the physical SAF. This means that even if an airline is not physically using SAF in its operations, it can purchase the associated environmental benefits, effectively reducing its own carbon footprint. 

For a book-and-claim model to function effectively, companies should use a registry system. Upon purchasing SAFc, they can register their transaction in a SAFc registry to create the consistency, transparency, and auditability of aviation-related emissions reduction claims that is necessary to build trust, scale SAFc uptake, and make a strong demand signal for new SAF supply.  

An example of such registry is the Sustainable Aviation Buyer’s Alliance SAFc Registry, founded with partnership with RMI and Environmental Defense Fund. This registry acts as a ledger, overseeing the issuance, transfer, and retirement of SAFc, thereby ensuring traceability of the entire process. 

Advocating for High-Integrity SAF 

Companies actively investing in SAF to curb their air travel emissions play a pivotal role in spurring the aviation industry towards a shift from fossil fuels to cleaner fuels. However, this transition isn’t straightforward, as not all SAFs are equal. Without careful consideration, companies risk exacerbating environmental issues rather than alleviating them, and take reputational risks.  

To navigate these complexities, it’s crucial for companies to champion high-integrity SAFs—those that demonstrably reduce emissions, adhere to stringent environmental and social standards, and are accurately accounted for to prevent double counting of emission reductions. Companies at the forefront of adopting high-integrity SAFs should leverage their influence to advocate for policies that mitigate unintended harm to ecosystems, communities, and food systems, while incentivizing sustainable practices. 

A practical approach involves collaborating with local policymakers to ensure that financial incentives for SAF deployment prioritize feedstocks with zero or very low risk of causing indirect land use changes. This entails supporting the growth of feedstocks that do not compete with food production, and contribute to deforestation, or habitat destruction. Moreover, advocating for financial backing specifically geared towards SAFs with the highest emissions reductions is essential. For example, electro-fuels (e.g. hydrogen and synthetic fuels) produced from surplus renewable energy offer greater climate benefits compared to most SAFs derived from sustainable vegetable oils or waste fats. 

Finally, it’s imperative to advocate for transparent processes that prevent double counting and accurately account for emissions reductions from SAFs. Companies can support this by advocating for the development of robust registries that track SAF usage effectively and for countries to properly account for SAFs when fulfilling their reporting obligations under the Paris Agreement. This will ensure accountability and transparency in emission reduction efforts. By championing these measures, companies can significantly enhance the effectiveness and integrity of SAF adoption in their pathway to net zero.  

EDF published the High-Integrity SAF Handbook which provides new guidance and approaches for companies, airlines, policymakers and fuel producers to effectively advance the use of high-integrity sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) and decarbonization of air travel.  


  1. SABA | SAF 101
  2. ICAO | Life Cycle Emissions of Sustainable Aviation Fuels
  3. RMI | Clean Energy 101: Book and Claim
  4. EDF | A North Star for Sustainable Aviation: Science, People and Nature