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Sustainability and Defence: The Unlikely Allies?


Answers and perspectives with Johannes Müller, Head of Sustainability and Communications, membre of the Executive Committees for Airbus Defence and Space. 



© Johannes Muller - Airbus

Without security there is no sustainability, without sustainability there is no security 


Over the last few decades, we have been convinced that climate change poses the greatest possible threat to the planet and humanity. That was true – and still is. However, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022 war has returned to the periphery of Europe, and it has made society particularly aware of the need for a substantial defence capability. 


Reconciling performance and sustainability  


Sustainability is playing an increasingly important role in the development, production and use of our products. As a company, we work hard to reduce our own environmental footprint, starting with the consumption of resources at our sites.” Johannes Muller explains. Airbus defined emission reduction targets validated by the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi) in 2023 and made a Group-wide commitment to reduce industrial CO2 emissions "Scope 1 and 2" by 63% by 2030 (compared to 2015) - in line with the 1.5°C pathway. This means that energy consumption at the sites will be reduced by 20% by 2030 and that all of them in Europe will be supplied with 90% renewable and low-carbon electricity. Other Consumption reduction measures include water (- 25%) and waste production (-20%) – both also based on 2015 figures. While being committed to pursuing security and sustainability in everything they do, companies must act economically and competitively in order to survive as a company and contribute to the prosperity of their workforce and society. "Then, and only then, can we talk about a systemically sustainable approach that takes equal account of the planet, people and prosperity. As a company, we strive to meet this requirement as comprehensively and responsibly as possible without losing sight of our core business - security." Johannes Müller believes. 


Sustainability, a driver for innovation 


“The move towards greater sustainability in the defence industry is an opportunity. It forces us to rethink, examine and improve products and business models daily, and ultimately to market them in new business areas. Sustainability therefore drives innovation our companies, the industry and beyond.” Johannes Müller argues. For many years, Airbus has been striving to make aircrafts more efficient, which ultimately leads to less CO2 emissions. Airbus was a founding member of Clean Sky 2, launched in 2014 as Europe’s largest aeronautics research programme, a public-private partnership between the European Commission and the European aviation industry. They have had a leading role in this R&T programme that involves more than 110 partners and fosters the development of disruptive technologies. One of the most important demonstration campaign was done in flight with Flight Test Bed based on the C295, with a revolutionary semi-morphing wing concept, demonstrating emission reductions of up to 43% of CO2, 70% NOx and 45% of Noise for some specific missions. In Clean Aviation, Airbus continues to explore new propulsion technologies, such as hybrid electric propulsion, high voltage electrical network, and high efficient wing and fuselage to achieve GHG emissions reduction between 30- 50%. The company is also exploring the use of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) for military aircraft. The Royal Air Force carried out the world’s first 100% SAF test flight using an A330 MRTT and other customers successfully tested SAF with the A400M and the C295. Airbus is also increasingly using SAF in their own operations, with a target of 10% by the end of 2024.  “We have definitely not yet reached our sustainability goals, even if we are consistently pursuing this path. Technologically, we are still a long way from producing a CO2-neutral fighter aircraft. But in view of the current geopolitical threat, we must not compromise our defence capabilities. Any compromises in favour of sustainability are out of the question if they are accompanied by a disadvantage compared to our potential opponents, who care little or nothing about these issues.” Johannes  Müller reminds. 


Creating positive impacts  


“As we strive to minimize our negative impact, we also strive to increase our positive handprint, i.e how our technologies can have a positive impact on people and the environment, and how they can help prevent, protect and restore in cases of acute crisis.” Johannes Müller explains. Data, software solutions and flight/space platforms can be used to prevent humanitarian and ecological crises. The Eurofighter and MRTT patrol NATO's eastern flank to prevent potential intrusion by hostile flying objects, such as Russian drones or aircrafts. Airbus is also working on solutions that use satellites to detect forest fires in their early stages from space, or software-based detection of misinformation and disinformation campaigns. Satellites also help to monitor climate change and deforestation. 


When deployed in war and crisis zones, the A400M military transport aircraft can be used in a number of situations, such as the evacuation of European citizens from Afghanistan in 2021. Its networking and reconnaissance capabilities also allow Red Cross employees to make the right decisions as quickly and efficiently as possible to save human lives. Airbus is also working on a fire extinguishing kit for the A400M, which could provide support in the event of forest and wildfires in the future. 


A400M and C295 aircraft, are used as flying hospitals or for humanitarian air transport, as recently following the earthquakes in Morocco and Turkey, thereby contributing to reconstructing infrastructure, social systems and the environment after disasters and conflicts. 


"Without security there is no sustainability, without sustainability there is no security - they are interdependent. Only if we take this into account will we be able to effectively and permanently ward off the two major threats we face today: climate change and the (new) threat of war! That means also, that defence efforts should not come at the expense of sustainability, and vice versa. Sustainable defence involves strategies that focus on minimising harm to both people and the environment, while still effectively safeguarding national security interests." Johannes Müller concludes. 


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