A CSO Guide to Aviation Sustainability and CORSIA

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As climate change accelerates, industries worldwide are reevaluating their environmental impact—with particular scrutiny on the aviation sector due to its considerable contribution (approximately 2%) to global greenhouse gas emissions. Commercial aviation stands at a crucial juncture, facing the dual pressures of evolving regulations and growing consumer demand for sustainable travel options, including carbon offsets for flights. This article aims to equip Chief Sustainability Officers (CSOs) in the industry with comprehensive insights on aviation emissions and how to reduce them, the role of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), and how to leverage carbon credits according to the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA).

Download the 7 Benefits of Carbon Credits white paper to learn how carbon credits can advance your sustainability strategy while improving your bottom line. 

Calculating aviation emissions

The emissions landscape of the aviation industry encompasses both direct and indirect emissions from airlines. Most aviation emissions come from jet fuel, with over 70% being CO2—this makes up the vast majority of an airline’s scope 1 emissions. Additional key aviation emissions are indirect energy use emissions (scope 2), and various scope 3 emissions from activities like fuel extraction and production, and the lifecycle of goods and services. Understanding your airline’s exact emissions profile will help you know where in your operations and supply chain to focus sustainability efforts.

There are a few ways to calculate your airline’s exact emissions:

  • The Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Protocol offers guidelines for calculating total emissions.
  • The Greenhouse Gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy Use in Technologies (GREET) model by Argonne National Laboratory is widely used by fuel producers for lifecycle emissions calculations under California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard.
  • CORSIA Default Lifecycle Emission Values, similar to GREET but more generalized, are used for CORSIA Eligible Fuels.
  • For Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) emissions, airlines can rely on fuel producer calculations via GREET or CORSIA default values.

Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) adoption

SAF is at the forefront of the shift toward more robust aviation sustainability, propelled by environmental concerns and evolving societal expectations for greener travel options. Sustainable Aviation Fuel, derived from sustainable resources like biomass and used cooking oil, offers a significant reduction in aviation emissions compared to conventional jet fuels. This transition is bolstered by market forces such as passenger demand, industry collaboration, legislation, and other factors. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) underscored the pivotal role of SAF in achieving the industry’s carbon neutral goals by 2050. This would require a substantial increase in SAF production from current levels to meet future demands.

However, the path to widespread SAF adoption is not without its challenges, including limited availability, higher costs, and complexities around production and emission reduction measurement. To counter these obstacles, incentives like those outlined in the Inflation Reduction Act in the US, alongside ambitious SAF adoption targets set by major economies, aim to support SAF’s economic viability and spur its adoption​​. For airline sustainability officers, staying abreast of legislative developments, engaging with technology and feedstock suppliers, and planning for long-term integration are crucial steps toward leveraging SAF’s potential to mitigate the aviation sector’s environmental impact.

CORSIA criteria for a high-quality carbon credit:

The CORSIA criteria for a high-quality carbon credit are as follows:

      • Additionality: The project must demonstrably generate emission reductions that wouldn’t have happened without CORSIA.
      • Realistic, credible baseline: The project should have a baseline estimation of emissions that would have occurred with a conservative “business as usual” emissions trajectory. Baselines and underlying assumptions must be publicly disclosed.
      • Measuring, monitoring, reporting, and verification (MRV): The project should have a robust monitoring, reporting, and verification system to ensure the integrity of the credits. Emissions reductions should also be verified by an accredited, independent, third-party verifier.
      • Clear, transparent chain of custody: Carbon credits issued from the project must have a clear and transparent chain of custody. They should be assigned an identification number that can be tracked from issuance through retirement via a registry system.
      • Permanence: The emission reductions, avoidance, or sequestration achieved should be permanent and irreversible. Mitigation measures should be in place to monitor, mitigate, and compensate for any non-permanence.
      • Leakage: The project should have a process for assessing and mitigating leakage (where the project may cause emissions to occur/increase elsewhere).
      • No double counting: Measures must be in place to ensure the carbon credits are only counted once toward a mitigation obligation.
      • No harm: The project should not create net harm and demonstrate how it complies with social and environmental laws and safeguards. This includes disclosing which processes it is using to monitor and enforce those safeguards.

Cloverly vets carbon credits for you—get in touch today to learn how we support the aviation industry in its sustainability endeavors.

Strategic considerations for Chief Sustainability Officers

For CSOs tasked with steering their airlines toward sustainability, a multi-faceted approach is required. This involves:

  • Understanding your comprehensive emissions profile: Accurately mapping out an airline’s emissions profile is the first step in understanding its environmental impact and identifying opportunities for reduction.
  • Championing SAF adoption: By advocating for SAF, CSOs can drive their airlines towards direct emission reductions. This involves navigating the complexities of SAF production, advocating for regulatory and financial incentives, and integrating SAF into operational planning.
  • Engaging with CORSIA by purchasing carbon credits: Active participation in CORSIA is vital for compliance and for positioning the airline as a leader in sustainability efforts. Understanding the intricacies of carbon credits and how they fit into overall emissions strategies is key.
  • Embracing innovation: Beyond SAF and carbon credits, exploring and investing in emerging technologies and innovations can further reduce the environmental impact of aviation. This includes staying abreast of developments in electric and hydrogen-powered aircraft and considering their potential role in future fleets.


From understanding the full spectrum of aviation emissions to the strategic adoption of SAF and engagement with CORSIA, the path forward for the aviation industry involves a comprehensive approach to sustainability. Embracing sustainability helps respond to regulatory and consumer demands, and also positions airlines as leaders in the crucial transition toward a more sustainable future. Cloverly stands ready to support airlines in their sustainability journey, offering expertise in vetting carbon credits and facilitating the adoption of sustainable practices.

For strategic insights on how carbon credits can help boost your sustainability strategy and your business goals, download the 7 Benefits of Carbon Credits white paper.

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