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26 March 2017
26. March 2017 Company

Think global, act local: Pursuing sustainability

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A signatory to the United Nations Global Compact, Airbus is a firm believer in the private sector’s ability to make the world a better place.

Guided by the UN Global Compact

In September 2015, the 193 member states of the United Nations (UN) adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in a bid to eradicate world hunger and poverty, protect the environment and combat climate change by 2030. In December of that same year, Airbus became one of the first aerospace companies to adopt these goals and convert them into the core of its corporate social responsibility policy.

Rather than attempting to implement all 17 of these goals, which are divided into 169 targets, the company undertook a process of analysis to determine where it could really make a difference and then established plans in these areas.

The company worked together with the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG), who carried out a survey of members of the aerospace industry. “The results showed that those surveyed thought there were several priority areas we should be working on: decent work and economic growth; industry, innovation and infrastructure; climate action; and sustainable cities and communities,” explains Andrea Debbane, executive director of the Airbus Foundation, which is heading the project to adopt and apply the SDGs.

The role of millennials in achieving the UN goals

The role of ‘millennials’ born between 1980 and 2000 will be instrumental in achieving the goals established by the UN. As part of its project, Airbus established working groups of millennial employees from all over the world to find out which goals they thought should be prioritised and pursued more actively.

“Millennials are the future leaders of the company and we discovered that as a generation they have a very different view of things,” says Debbane. The majority thought that the company could be most impactful in responsible consumption and production, affordable and clean energy, and partnerships for the goals.

The participants, who were all Airbus employees, were located not just in  Europe but worldwide in order to provide as global a view as possible. Not only did they propose their ideas, they also formulated specific proposals for each of the goals.

For example: why couldn’t Airbus become a global leader for aerospace engineering education and create the necessary tools so that this training could be more accessible in developing countries, perhaps by expanding internet coverage in hard-to-access areas? Why not make better use of the energy produced by the company’s own activities and generate less polluting materials?

This group of professionals does not view the SDGs as a mere statement of intentions, but rather an opportunity to extend the company’s activities and generate additional profit while at the same time doing its part to create a fairer and more sustainable planet.

MoU between Airbus Foundation and the IFRC MASTERFILMS
Airbus Foundation 16 November 2015

MoU between Airbus Foundation and the IFRC

Signature of the Memorandum of Understanding between Airbus Foundation and the International Federation of Red Cross. From left to right: Tom Enders, Chairman of the Airbus Foundation and CEO of Airbus and Elhadj As Sy, Secretary General of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

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At the forefront with Airbus Foundation

Airbus has already started up similar initiatives to those proposed by the millennials. For example, Airbus Foundation recently established a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) centre in Stevenage (United Kingdom), with the aim of encouraging young students to take up a career in these areas.

Students can visit the site used to simulate the surface of Mars for tests of the new Rover that will travel to the red planet on the ExoMars mission, and they can talk with the engineers who designed it. Airbus Foundation is also working on an online STEM education programme that has the potential to reach and inspire “millions of youth all over the world,” says Debbane.

In addition, Airbus has joined forces with NGOs working on the SDGs. For example, as part of an open challenge it has collaborated in the design of new devices for hand hygiene together with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

In the near future, the Airbus Foundation plans to start up similar challenges to adapt existing technologies to the problems that these NGOs face on the ground. The idea is to transfer knowledge to where it can help others, for example through the use of drones, 3D printing or nebulising and disinfecting technology. “We can exploit our capacity for problem solving and be of great help to other organisations that are also working to achieve different SDGs,” says Debbane.

“These are issues that all businesses should be contemplating,” says Haldane Dodd of ATAG. “The SDGs set out a very useful framework to help companies view their sustainable development responsibilities. Airbus is doing a lot to contribute to a more sustainable world and, importantly, has been careful to select the areas where its expertise and skills can have the greatest impact.”

Nuño Domínguez

More information on Airbus' corporate social responsibility:

Airbus' commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals

Millennials’ Voices

Jana Obeid

United Arab Emirates

“Gender equality will make the world a better place”

The starting point for civilisation is when we recognise, respect and appreciate those who come from different backgrounds.

Being a businesswoman is not shameful, nor should it be bound to society’s view. I’ve always felt that gender equality is a must in any organisation. It gives me great pride to see that Airbus is working on increasing female recruitment to 30% in order to promote gender equality in the workplace.

Our strenght lies in our diversity, which in turn ignites thought leadership and innovation.

Askold Falkenberg


“We should become a dream enabler”

The most relevant SDG is quality education. Education enables, empowers and frees people. It is the safeguard for a better world. We as Airbus are an ‘education concentrate’. Yet we have come a long way. Airbus was a dream. Impossible to realise, they said. Our founders were pioneers. And dreamers.

I believe we are still. So on top of using our knowledge to improve the world, we should share it. We should inspire others, help them to surpass their dreams, show them that dreaming is just the beginning. We should become a dream enabler. Not only in the cities hosting our headquarters, but also in underprivileged areas. Particularly there. I’m convinced it doesn’t necessarily need to come at a cost.

Christopher Bryant

Alabama, USA

“It is critical that Airbus recognises just how important the zero hunger goal is”

Out of the 17 sustainable develop­ment goals, I believe that zero hunger is among the most important. Ending hunger, achieving food security, improving nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture is important for our well-being and future. Airbus has taken several actions to fulfil this goal, and here is one: colleagues from the Airbus Engineering Center in Mobile, Alabama form teams to volunteer donating food and creating nutritional food packs for those in need.

In one day, it is possible to create about 1,200 food packs. These packs are then given to the many in need through programmes such as Child Nutrition, Community Garden, Educational Cooking Classes, Mobile Pantry and Disaster Relief.

Luiza Beatriz Mattoso


“Airbus should encourage the conscious consumption of food among its employees”

I consider zero hunger the primary goal for a better world.

Airbus should encourage the conscious consumption of food of its employees; implement a self-service system in its restaurants to reduce food waste; donate the parts of food plants that are not consumed, as the majority of the nutrients are in the peel, seed and stalk and these are not normally used; and keep supporting the donation of tonnes of food with humanitarian flights using Airbus aircraft.

Joe Bryant


“Airbus can develop, support and bring to fruition the imagination of others”

Industry, innovation and infrastructure is a critical and inspiring SDG that provides a strong foundation from which Airbus can develop, support and bring to fruition the imagination of others. This SDG supports the development and evolution of new products and processes driving technology, employment and growth from which the world can benefit.

Demonstrators like Bluecopter and other innovation programmes are prime examples of the company’s commitment to this SDG and to making a difference – Airbus leads by example!

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