Amid a raft of sustainability measures, PwC Netherlands staff are now ‘flying entirely’ on sustainable aviation fuel

Company: PwC
Sector: Professional services
Objective: Reduce carbon footprint from business travel via investment in sustainable aviation fuel as part of wider company goal to achieve net zero by 2030
Number of staff: 5,600 in PwC Netherlands (2019)
Flight duration: 23 per cent short-haul, 62 per cent medium-haul, 15 per cent long-haul
Total flown kilometres: 44 per cent short/medium-haul, 56 per cent long-haul
Carbon footprint: In 2019, 90 per cent of PwC Netherlands’ carbon footprint was derived from business mobility, half of which was from flights

In February this year PwC Netherlands proudly proclaimed that its staff would henceforth fly “entirely on sustainable aviation fuel” – a key component of the organisation’s wider programme to reduce its carbon emissions.

While sustainable aviation fuel currently accounts for a mere 0.1 per cent of all fuel used by the world’s airlines – and is disparately deployed – the company made clear its intentions: for every flight taken by a PwC Netherlands employee, the company would purchase the appropriate amount of SAF via a partnership with SkyNRG.

As part of a three-pillar environmental roadmap focussing on reduction, compensation and innovation, the company had already taken significant steps to reduce its environmental impact. In 2017 it introduced an internal carbon price of €100 per tonne of CO2 emitted by the company, with that ‘tax’ invested in reduction and compensation measures. More recent measures include the promotion of virtual meetings, the mandatory use of trains for business trips from Amsterdam to Frankfurt and Paris, and more stringent rules around business class travel. It is also committed to cutting its mobility kilometres by at least 25 per cent post-Covid.

Like many professional services companies, the vast majority of PwC Netherlands’ carbon emissions come from its business travel activity. In 2019 – the new benchmark for many companies’ sustainability targets – some 90 per cent of its carbon footprint came from mobility and half of that was from flights.

“That is a big chunk of our emissions,” says Wineke Haagsma, partner and chief sustainability officer (CSO) at PwC Netherlands. She says that business mobility accounts for an even greater proportion of carbon emissions in some of the company’s markets outside Europe where car travel is less prominent. “Our SBTi target to be net zero by 2030 means that, as a global organisation, in every market, we all need at least a 50 per cent absolute reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030 [compared to 2019].”

Haagsma continues: “For every remaining tonne [CO2 equivalent] that we emit, we will remove a tonne of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to achieve net zero climate impact by 2030.”

PwC’s 2022 initiative to buy SAF started life at a meeting with SkyNRG at a WBCSD (World Business Council for Sustainable Development) meeting in Switzerland back in 2018, which ultimately led to the signing of a five-year partnership in 2019.

“They were the first provider in Europe to deliver biokerosene and we quickly saw the potential of SAF,” says Haagsma. SAF has the potential to deliver an up to 85 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions over the lifecycle of the fuel compared to fossil jet fuel. “We believe in particular that it is the best solution at the moment for longer intercontinental flights – beside not taking the flight in the first place, of course.”

Haagsma acknowledges that while SAF supply is currently limited, it is commitments such as PwC Netherlands’ that will stimulate demand. “SAFs are not yet used a lot because they are way more expensive than regular kerosene. We need to look at how we break out of this chicken and egg situation because we need more demand to increase supply and reduce prices. What makes me hopeful is that [corporates] investing in SAFs is already so much higher than even 12 months ago.”

SkyNRG told BTN Europe that, according to its latest figures, SAF costs “just over three times” that of fossil jet fuel. Another leading supplier, Neste, said that in general, SAF is “three to five times more expensive than fossil jet fuel, depending on where the fossil prices are at any time”.

As Haagsma points out, the company’s SAF investment does not mean that all flights with PwC Netherlands employees on board take off with sustainable fuel. Instead, she likens it to a contract for green electricity – you purchase enough renewable energy for your consumption and thus contribute to the future of renewable energy.

The book-and-claim process

Its SAF programme with SkyNRG operates on a ‘book-and-claim’ process and sees the company pay the difference between the cost of fossil fuel used and the cost of an equivalent amount of SAF.

“The quantity of SAF that needs to be purchased is calculated from your CO2 emissions for a particular flight,” says Maarten Dansen, senior manager, corporate sustainability team, PwC Netherlands.

The company’s travel management partner, BCD Travel, provides flight distance and cabin class data which, when Defra (the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) conversion factors are applied, determines the CO2 emitted, which in turn is used to determine the amount of kerosene used.

“You then purchase that [volume of SAF] from your supplier. The biofuel gets mixed in with regular fuel at a local airport and you receive a certificate [from SkyNRG] that states the carbon reduction,” explains Dansen.

“We already had the internal carbon tax – the fund to pay for this – and the structure in place to allocate these funds. It made it easy when we started talking to SkyNRG. It all came together.”

While SAF can reduce CO2 emissions by up to 85 per cent compared to fossil fuels, PwC also reports on the non-CO2 effects of flying, meaning the effective reduction will be lower – around 40 to 45 per cent.

PwC Netherlands is believed to be one of the first organisations to make such a commitment to “flying entirely” on SAF, a move it attributes to a “super supportive management team” and the country’s progressive culture and attitudes to sustainability.

“Look at KLM – they were one of the first airlines in the world to offer a SAF programme in collaboration with other organisations. We actually wanted to join them many years ago but, as their accountants, we couldn’t due to independence restrictions,” says Haagsma.

“The Netherlands is often leading on sustainability. We are a nation of cyclists! Our mobility fleet comprises electric bikes, electric scooters and, from 2025, we will no longer allow use of fossil fuel-powered cars,” she adds.

The bigger picture

As a global professional services company, Haagsma believes it is PwC’s responsibility not only to promote sustainability initiatives, but also to help establish how SAF investment is incorporated into accounting processes. “SAF isn’t yet acknowledged in global accounting standards so that’s a project we’re working on together with the World Economic Forum and the Clean Skies For Tomorrow coalition,” says Haagsma. “We’re trying to contribute to awareness, to system change… we want to share our knowledge and experience and help others have these conversations.”

While biofuel as a SAF is a key component of PwC Netherlands’ current strategy, Haagsma believes that there could come a time when there won’t be enough biofuel produced in a sustainable way and that other, better, SAF alternatives will emerge. “We are very open to new technologies – such as synthetic kerosene – to ensure what we use is always produced in a sustainable way, otherwise you’re going from one problem to another,” she says.

Like many companies, PwC Netherlands has seen an early uptick in business trips as travel restrictions fell away at the start of the year, but that is not expected to last, nor can it, if the company is to meet its environmental objectives.

“Our clients are also setting net zero targets and we’re in each other’s supply chains, so we all need to cut emissions. In 2025, 50 per cent of our suppliers globally must have SBTi targets,” Haagsma explains.

“A lot of people were keen to travel right away but we’ve learned that not every trip is now necessary and they recognise the need to cut CO2. After that early peak, we won’t be going back to the old days. The climate crisis becomes more urgent every day.”

Sourcing SAF

Sustainable aviation fuel is made from a wide variety of sustainable resources and it recycles carbon emissions that were emitted previously, explains SkyNRG. “In its neat form, over its lifecycle SAF has the potential to significantly reduce carbon emissions depending on the combination of technology and feedstock,” says Philippe Lacamp, the company’s CEO. He says it is commitments such as PwC’s that “signal demand in the industry, support development of the market, and help the financing of future production capacity”. He adds: “We really hope this leadership will inspire other organisations to make similar commitments because SAF is the best option we currently have to fly long distances more sustainably.”

Environmental Footprint Insights

PwC Netherlands has also rolled out an Environmental Footprint Insights app which enables employees to track their carbon emissions on a personal level and while on business, as well as per project or client engagement. “Every employee gets their mobile expense report every month, so we thought ‘let’s do that with CO2 data too’,” says Haagsma. “It’s about influencing people and behavioural change, and that’s really hard.” She continues: “It’s not just CO2 data. It also covers trip or travel time – which is important for wellbeing – as well as the cost and the internal carbon tax cost. It’s giving you the true price of your decisions. All this information lets people see directly what happens if they take three people to New York, for example, and what changing the parameters does.”