- sustainable aviation fuel
- Green Transportation
- Customer Engagement
SAF at the Oscars: Educating Consumers about Sustainable Aviation Fuel
Coauthored by Yuchen Hu
Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) has become trendy among energy industry professionals—at the Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting (TRBAM) in January 2023, you couldn’t walk into a single aviation sector session without hearing discussions of SAF and its corresponding infrastructure. Outside the industry, though, you would be hard-pressed to find a passenger who knew that inedible corn and used cooking oil could be converted to SAF and blended with conventional jet fuel to power their aircraft from Los Angeles to Paris.
United Airlines, an early leader in SAF, has sought to change that. During the 95th Academy Awards ceremony in March 2023, the company aired one of its infamous Oscar the Grouch commercials in which Sesame Street’s Oscar is starting a job as Chief Trash Officer at United. The commercial features dialogue between Oscar and a United employee about how trash can be “used for good” to fly a plane. It ends by directing consumers to a website that explains how SAF is produced and used, which United flights currently use SAF, and where that SAF comes from, and allows consumers to invest in the company’s Sustainable Flight Fund for continued SAF research and purchasing.
Cost Is the Biggest Barrier to SAF
Airlines have invested heavily in SAF as a decarbonization strategy, driven by corporate emissions concerns and corresponding demand, as well as current and upcoming regulations in the form of national and regional mandate policies such as ReFuelEU.
However, cost remains the biggest limitation to using more SAF. Some mechanisms exist to mitigate costs, such as the US Inflation Reduction Act’s blending tax credit, but this credit is only scheduled through 2027. SAF costs still tower over those of conventional jet fuel and are unlikely to come close to parity by 2027, as infrastructure and production strategies are still in the developmental stages.
This is where educating the public comes in—from corporate users trying to decrease their carbon footprint to individual travelers who care about their climate impact. As awareness grows, these customers could be willing to pay a green premium for travel with SAF, helping offset some of the added cost. They could also advocate for legislation that helps reduce the comparative cost of SAF.
Consumer Buy-In Is Key
United has invested heavily in SAF—it was the first US airline to test SAF in 2009, the first US airline to invest in a waste-to-SAF company (Fulcrum BioEnergy) in 2015, and the first airline to use 100% SAF on a passenger flight in 2021. At TRBAM, United’s Chief Sustainability Officer Lauren Riley made it clear that the company’s plan to eliminate its carbon footprint would not include carbon credits—rather it would be 100% green by 2050 via a combination of mainly SAF and carbon capture. To reach this goal, which is expensive at least in the short term, United needs both government support and consumer buy-in.
It is unsurprising, then, that United is now spending money on advertisements, like its “Oscar at the Oscars” commercial, to raise public awareness around SAF. By educating consumers on how SAF works and how it could lower their carbon footprint, United hopes to draw investment for SAF and get more flyers to think of United as the green option when choosing a flight. Other airlines might take note, increasing messaging around their efforts to decarbonize and how air travel decarbonization works.
For further reading, Guidehouse Insights’ latest Market Outlook for Sustainable Aviation Fuels report provides an overview of the SAF market, including industry forecasts on revenue growth, pricing, and market leaders, with breakdowns by region and technology.