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Finnair strives for comprehensive accountability

Air travel is growing faster than ever but, at the same time, more tourists are interested in their own environmental impact. Climate change and the carbon footprint of tourism make many people hesitate to travel by air, which also obliges tourism companies to react.


Martti Asikainen

viestinnän asiantuntija, yrittäjyys ja liiketoiminnan uudistaminen
communications specialist, entrepreneurship and business development
Haaga-Helia ammattikorkeakoulu

Published : 09.09.2020

Research shows that sustainable and responsible operations bring more satisfied customers to the company and that the quality of responsibly designed services is perceived to be higher. One of the pioneers of responsible tourism is Finnair, according to many surveys the best airline in Northern Europe, which has made economic, social and environmental responsibility a key element of the company’s strategy.

Customers expect responsibility

Tomi Karlson, a Finnair Kitchen Outstation Management Specialist and Haaga-Helia alumnus, sees responsibility as not only a competitive advantage or a PR trick, but also part of customer service.

– Recent studies show that this is what our customers want. We are not, after all, starting this work cold.

Karlson and his supervisor are responsible for purchasing, planning and delivering the approximately 20,000 daily meals served on Finnair flights.

Aiming for carbon neutral travel

Finnair’s long-term goal is carbon neutrality, which is achieved by investing in efficiency and technology. Among other things, the airline invests in new lower-emission aircraft and the development of fuel and electricity technologies.

In addition, Finnair is engaged in various voluntary activities, such as investing in carbon sinks and emissions compensation schemes, which also ease the minds of customers. The proceeds will be given in full to emissions reduction projects selected by the company.

Big reduction in disposable plastic

In Karlson’s opinion, the targets set are strict, but nevertheless he considers them realistic.

– Change begins with small deeds, which may have significant effects on an annual basis. On the catering side, we managed to reduce our plastic consumption by 11.8 million tonnes just by replacing plastic cups with cardboard cups.

Indeed, the airline has reduced its annual consumption of disposable plastic by more than 80 million tonnes in a short period of time.

According to Karlson, the first concrete measure of plastic substitution was to replace the plastic milk pots used on aircraft with cardboard-packaged portions or by serving milk directly from a jug.

Soon followed many other measures, such as giving up plastic cups, replacing plastic meal packages with carton boxes, and the enhancement of recycling.

No landfill waste at all

At present, all the waste produced by Finnair catering operations is either recycled or utilised in energy production. Nothing ends up in a landfill.

– My supervisor and I are actively seeking new and innovative solutions to reduce the amount of waste generated during flights – without compromising on quality and content.

Normally, catering waste returning from Finnair flights ends up as biogas or in composting. Products that are discontinued or close to expiry are donated to charity through partners.

Attitudes change – slowly but surely

Finnair flight crew is said to have been quite understanding about the reforms, although they raised doubts at the beginning. According to Karlson, in particular the carton boxes that replaced meal packages were found to be difficult at first.

– We want to communicate to our customers that we are responsible in regard to what we do. Our staff also understand this, even if it sometimes makes the work a little more difficult.

Finnair has also sought to increase its vegetarian options due to rising demand. The company is committed to raising public awareness of the ecological nature of vegetarian eating.

– Customers’ interest in vegetarian food is clearly growing. Usually, finding good food requires some fancy footwork, but fortunately vegetarian food is not tied to culture or preferences. It is suitable for everyone.