We have to be very frank right from the beginning: When we started with our digital product for airlines, it wasn’t about sustainability or planting trees. Similar to most products, it was about doing business. However, with this article, we want to tell our story—a story of how the idea of saving 20,000 trees and planting 20,000 trees evolved. 

airline trees

A Long And Winding Road

It was back in the early days of the 2010s’ when we started to work on a new technology product. Initiated by our launching customer, Lufthansa, we had the idea of creating a digital fuel platform.

What’s A Digital Fuel Platform?

And since I’m pretty sure that most of you have never heard of such a platform, I’ll give you a very brief introduction. No worries, it won’t be too techy. Actually, a digital fuel platform is relatively straightforward: Airlines have to refuel their aircraft after almost every flight. Therefore, they have to communicate with the fuel provider at the respective airport. Unfortunately, this communication —in most cases— happens verbally. Moreover, the entire fueling process is highly manual and paper-based. Fuel orders are sometimes handed over manually; receipts are paper-based, plus paper-based invoices and other documents.

The Concept

With a digital fuel platform, we wanted to streamline that process: Digitizing the entire communication and improving efficiency. The concept is easy: A technology (let’s call it middleware) that connects fuel providers on the hand side and airlines on the other side. Accordingly, the digital fuel platform routes the entire communication between airlines and fuel providers.

The Big Challenge

Although very straightforward from a technical point of view, the challenge lies in diversity. From a global perspective, there are thousands of airports. Moreover, every airport has several fuel providers. So it turned out —very quickly— that we need to put in a lot of effort into connecting all the airports resp. fuel providers.

The Status Quo

Today, we are proud to call our fuel platform the “biggest fuel network on earth.” With almost 50 airports and dozens of fuel providers, we’ve done a good job during last — however, knowing there’s a ton of work in front of us.

Sounds Great — But Didn’t You Want To Talk About Trees And How Airlines Can Save Trees?

You are so right. But as I said in my initial statement: Trees weren’t on our radar when we started to build that network. So here’s how the trees came in.

It was early 2020 when we connected another airline to the fuel platform. Once the job was done, we had a project debriefing with the client. In that context, we talked about the reasons why they joined the platform.

Surprisingly, the hard facts, such as cost savings, delay reductions, or process efficiency, seemed secondary to this airline. However, one of the main reasons they mentioned was to eliminate paper! They wanted to achieve a truly paperless process.

That Moment When You Think, “Damn — This Is So Obvious!”

I sat together with my team in that (virtual) meeting, and you could literally see four people starring at each other with the same thought in mind: “Damn, this is so obvious — why did we never think about that!”

Doing The Math!

The second the meeting was over, we started to research and calculate.

On average, there are (at least in pre-COVID times) 100,000 daily commercial flights. When we assume a “fueling-rate” of 90% (considering 10% tankering flights), that sums up to ~33 mil. flights per year. Without a digital fuel platform, every fueling process creates the mentioned papers. We took a conservative approach and assumed ten pieces of paper for each flight. 

Accordingly, 330 mils. pieces of paper are “wasted” on an annual basis. But more importantly, you need almost 20,000 trees to produce that enormous amount of paper!

Let’s Help Airlines To Save 20,000 Trees!

That’s was the moment when the idea was born: Let’s save 20,000 trees! If we could connect every airline and fuel provider in the world to our digital fuel platform, we could establish a genuinely paperless process worldwide.

Undoubtedly, it’s still also our business. But for us, it is like an even stronger motivation. Besides the business and financial goals linked to a product on a corporate level, this feels like a goal that genuinely makes sense and has an impact.

Let’s Plant Another 20,000 Trees!

But we wanted to get even more severe. Instead of just “saving” 20,000 trees, we want to do more. So we decided to plant one tree for every tree we save. That means for every airline we connect to our fuel platform, we calculate the amount of paper, respectively, trees saved. And we take that amount and donate to various organizations that plant trees around the world.

What Can You Do?

If you are working for an airline (that isn’t connected to the digital fuel platform), you can create awareness! Awareness of the paper that is wasted every day — and that can be saved efficiently and sustainably. Talk to your management, to the fuel or operations department. Send them the link to this article. Post it on social media. Tell them that there are alternatives. And by the way, the option not only saves trees but also reduces costs and drives efficiency. A straightforward ROI!

Besides Trees — What You Should Know About Airlines And Digital Fuel Management

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Benjamin is an information-enthusiast, a content-maniac, and CEO of Information Design (in this order). His daily business revolves around pioneering solutions with the aim to change the way companies use information. His visions are based on expertise gained in more than 15 years in the industry, and working with renowned companies all over the globe.