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Actions of all sizes needed – sustainability of Finnair's inflight service is developed continuously

Finnair's main environmental goal is to go carbon neutral by the end of 2045. This requires a comprehensive review of various areas of sustainability. One of the focus points for developments has been inflight food and drink, where the aim is to reduce packaging and food waste. Several improvements towards these goals will take place in the fall of 2021 when inflight menus are renewed.

“Food and drink are a huge part of the customer experience in air travel. It is something customers pay attention to and that they remember after the flight,” says Kaisa Jaakkola, Senior Manager QSE at Finnair Kitchen.

The food served and the amount of waste produced are very concrete and clearly visible matters for customers as well as the employees at Finnair. According to Jaakkola it is important that the personnel can respect the company's ways of working.

“We develop sustainability for the sake of ourselves as well as for our customers. I have seen how eager our people are to participate and how much they care about the progress we make.”

Better cutlery and less waste

Some of the improvements done now have been under inspection for a longer time. One of the examples is bringing in wooden cutlery for the inflight service. According to Jaakkola the aim has been to use as much of the old stock first to avoid excessive waste. Some of the previous cutlery sets have been donated to charity for organizations handing out food aid.

“In 2019 we conducted a lifecycle analysis and cutlery made from bamboo or wood proved to be the best option. We considered washable cutlery but were faced with the challenge of how energy and water are used in our destination countries.”

One of the most considerable development areas is the amount of food waste produced. This has already been halved but now the goal is to reduce it by another 30 %. The actions making this possible are the streamlined menu selection and the shift to customer pre-ordering with fresh food items.

“Removing the fresh food items sold on flights has a big impact. We no longer stock food just in case, instead we make sure the products have been pre-ordered. On flights this is particularly important, since excess weight automatically means more energy used. Also, the leftover products cannot be used after the flight and would automatically go to waste,” Jaakkola explains.

Listening to the voice of the customers

In the complimentary service the number of vegetarian options is growing, more and more customers appreciate the possibility to eat plant-based on board.

“We follow our customers wishes in this and serve vegetarian on routes where it works best. Of course, you can pre-order a lacto-ovo-vegetarian or vegan meal for free on all flights where complimentary meals are served,” Jaakkola says.  

For long haul flights Finnair now introduces oat milk for business class passengers. Jaakkola is keen to see how this change is received. Another interesting detail is choosing the environmentally friendly Benella rainbow as an ingredient on the inflight service.

Customers are also increasingly paying attention to the amount of waste produced when flying. Finnair has worked to reduce the amount of material in the hygiene and food packaging used on board. Even the use of plastic cups is reduced, and paper cups favored instead. 

“In 2019 a single passenger used an average of 2,4 cups during a flight. We calculated that if the number would go down to two, we could reduce the amount of waste by two tons to every million customers. This is approximately the number of customers we served in one month in 2019. A paper cup is also more suitable for reuse, not breaking in the seat pocket for example.”

Even the recyclability of items is paid attention to. For example, the destination countries receive instructions on the correct water bottles to use on board. This is to make sure the bottles that later end up in Finland can be recycled easily.

Cooperation and thoughtful design

Jaakkola states that the developments made require a huge deal of cooperation. All parties involved from the cleaning staff to the kitchens in destination countries must be aware of the new ways of working. There must also be an understanding of how the different destination airports operate.

“As a company we are the ideal size to be able to cooperate efficiently and drive sustainability forward. We also feel that for Finns these issues are very present and thought to be important,” she describes.

The key success factor in creating sustainability is for the environmental targets, such as life cycle or waste management goals, to be considered early in the design of new concepts. As a part of this the expertise and vision of Finnair employees is also utilized. Their ideas are always heard whether they are small or large.

Finnair also hopes that similar cooperation can take place with customers. According to Jaakkola it is very important that the passengers feel they can communicate their wishes or ask questions.

“We are very pleased if people want to know more about the origins of our food for example. We really hope that our customers ask about the food and share their comments with us,” she sums up.


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