Sustainability in the aircraft interiors sector


Sustainability has become a part of our daily lives, personally and professionally, and the topic is widely discussed. The aircraft interiors industry is no different, with sustainability increasingly integrated in design decisions, business discussions, and even brand identity. All these discussions are filled with buzzwords like ‘Net Zero’, ‘Carbon Neutral’, and ‘Carbon Offsetting’, to denote more responsible behaviour to enable a better planet. The aviation industry is at a precipice, preparing to move beyond talking about sustainability, to implementing true sustainable changes.

Most people relate sustainable materials to recycled products, created through a circular economy, but it’s about much more than just recycled materials. Understanding the full lifecycle of the materials, and responsibly recovering materials for recycling after use, is a challenging process, and an essential step towards fostering material traceability. But how can you provide recycled materials if you don’t have the infrastructure to provide a closed-loop supply chain? Many companies resort to sustainability marketing gimmicks or greenwashing, in order to accommodate the demands for recycled products in the absence of a strong infrastructure.

If we are aiming to create truthful initiatives that meet the promises made by the aviation industry, we need to begin by understanding what it all means, then develop an infrastructure that will support sustainable activity, and source new recycled materials and solutions for the market – and all with a wholistic lifecycle view.

Seek first to understand

The Green Cabin Alliance (GCA) is a cross-industry group within the aircraft interiors supply chain, which is leading discussions to address environmental challenges and promote a more sustainable cabin interiors industry. One of the core goals of the GCA is to increase transparency, build common language, and improve the reporting of carbon footprint data throughout the industry. Fundamentally, the biggest question is what this all means. Before you can solve a problem, you need to understand it. GCA is actively working to dissect and define sustainability in the aviation industry, which includes many sub-topics, including language around measuring and managing carbon emissions.

The aviation industry is committing to Net Zero, but what does that mean? At its simplest, it is balancing the amount of greenhouse gas produced with the amount removed from the atmosphere, in order to reach the lowest-possible carbon emissions. This differs from carbon neutrality, which only focuses on maintaining current carbon emission levels, and carbon reduction, which focuses on reducing the current carbon emissions. Carbon offsetting is the activity of buying or earning carbon credits to offset those carbon emissions that cannot be reduced through other activities. Carbon emission neutrality, reduction, and offsetting are useful steps towards reaching NetZero.

The aviation industry is primarily focused on reducing fuel consumption to drive down carbon emission numbers (which is very important), but one area of focus to help reach Net Zero is to design and manufacture sustainable seat and cabin components. The expedition to these new areas has begun in parts of the supply chain, with recycling infrastructures already in use.

Develop carbon-reducing infrastructures

The Aircraft Interior Recycling Association (AIRA) and Sekisui Kydex worked with Safran Seats GB in the UK to improve its recycling infrastructure. By utilising enhanced collection practices for thermoplastic trim during the manufacturing process, AIRA provides full traceability and measures carbon reductions.

For example, AIRA shares that in just the first three months of recycling in 2022, it collected 30,000kg of recycled content, which equals 60,330kg of CO2 (148,594 PAX miles) in savings. But how will these efforts impact a company’s journey to reach NetZero by 2030?

These carbon footprint reductions for manufactured products are ideal for carbon neutrality and Net Zero initiatives. If your goal is carbon neutrality, these measures provide a way to prevent an increase in carbon emissions. More importantly, for the industry goal of Net Zero, reducing carbon usage helps to balance the amount of carbon required to be removed from the atmosphere by providing credits to offset any carbon production that cannot be eliminated through other measures.

As Tony Seville, director of AIRA says, “If you can measure it, there can be benefits to your company. If measured and applied correctly, they can be invaluable to your company.”

Having gained an understanding of Net Zero and having implemented an infrastructure, opportunities abound for the development of recycled solutions.

Delivering sustainable material solutions

Sekisui Kydex has been recycling Kydex thermoplastics for over 20 years, and supplies recycled products to a breadth of other industries. All Kydex thermoplastics are 100% recyclable, including materials created with the company’s Infused Imaging technology. Because Infused Imaging is monolithic (embedded in it, not on it) and not a secondary layer or cap, it can be recycled in the same stream as all other Kydex  materials.

Developing recycled materials for use in aviation interiors presents a new set of challenges, including material traceability, maintaining physical properties, and meeting stringent flame and smoke certifications.

Sekisui Kydex is introducing a new flight-ready, recycled product line, named Kydex  RCL. The initial product launch features Kydex 5555 RCL, made using recycled Kydex thermoplastics. Because the recycled material is made from the Kydex 5555, it is specifically formulated to exceed low heat-release requirements for aircraft interiors.

This development came from years of recycling experience and a renewed interest in sustainable products from the aviation industry. Through a partnership with Stelia Aerospace (a seating brand of Airbus Atlantic) and Team Plastique, Sekisui Kydex worked through technical requirements and validations to bring this product to launch.

The goal for Stelia Aerospace and Team Plastique was to implement an eco-design approach into their products and to use a more sustainable supply chain. Sekisui Kydex helped them to achieve their ESG initiatives, by supplying them with sustainable materials.

The teams set out to develop a truly recycled product that would pass the required technical requirements and provide the same level of reliability that customers expect from Kydex thermoplastics. The results of this collaboration bring the industry one step closer to having a closed-loop supply chain.

“Team Plastique has been sorting, recycling, and ensuring the traceability of its manufacturing scrap for more than 30 years in the plastics industry. This was a great opportunity for Team Plastique to partner with Sekisui Kydex to bring thermoformed parts made from recycled materials to the aircraft interior sector. The testing of Kydex 5555 RCL carried out at Team Plastique has given excellent results, both in terms of thermoforming and the appearance of the parts,” explains Régis Sauvion, general director and CEO at Team Plastique.

Recycled-grade materials in the supply chain are just one opportunity for airlines and the industry to demonstrate to passengers that their sustainability story is not one of greenwashing, but one based on traceable sustainable material choices. The industry still has a long way to go to meet the goal of net-zero by 2050, but the work has begun.

Visit Sekisui Kydex at Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg on 14-16 June (booth 5D40) to explore the journey of sustainable and customisable thermoplastics, and see the materials in action at Stelia Aerospace’s stand (7A30) or Team Plastique’s stand (6C50A).

About the author

Developing most of her writing accolades as Strategic Communications Manager at Sekisui Kydex, Heather Coyle has created content for Aircraft Interiors International, Railway Interiors International, the Society of Plastics Engineering and Kydex Innovation Stories. Her content includes the why as much as the what of Kydex Thermoplastics, with a passion for design and sustainability-focused elements. She holds a BASc of Mass Communications in Public Relations and Marketing from Mansfield University of PA and is pursuing a Masters’ from Michigan State. Heather resides in a small town in Pennsylvania, United States with her spouse and two dogs and enjoys spelunking through the many local antique shops.

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