One of today’s greatest challenges is reconciling the drive for economic growth and commercial engagement with the impact these activities have on the environment.

International trade, particularly in the Pacific Northwest, is an increasingly important engine of jobs and economic opportunity. The challenge we need to solve is how to expand trade while reducing our carbon footprint. Pursuing and incentivizing the production and use of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is one key piece to solving this puzzle.  

Air cargo transport is vital to global commerce. The pandemic-driven proliferation of online purchases has increased reliance on the rapid movement of goods from all corners of the world. Consumers now expect products they have ordered online to arrive in days, not weeks or months — and businesses feel compelled to meet this demand. Quick transport relies on air travel. But, it’s not just online consumers. Washington state agriculture products, like cherries, need to be transported quickly to overseas markets or perish on the way. 

Washington state farmers have no choice but to rely on air-cargo trade. Increasing global trade through greater use of air transport will provide economic benefit to the state, but at what cost to the environment?  

According to the International Air Transportation Association, air cargo transports more than $6 trillion worth of goods, accounting for approximately 35% of world trade by value. The urgency and importance of air trade has been made abundantly clear in our response to COVID-19. Life-protecting vaccines can reach their destination in time to be effective. Air cargo is critical in flying these temperature-sensitive shots quickly and securely. Data showing increases in online sales in the past 18 months suggest significant ongoing dependence on air trade. 

To balance off the increased reliance on packages delivered by air cargo, reducing carbon emissions through air travel is an area well worth exploring. The promise of sustainable fuels may be a big part of the solution. Sustainable fuels are a key to a long-term, large scale CO2-emissions reduction that advanced airplane technology cannot yet achieve. In the past decade, commercial aviation has made substantial progress developing sustainable fuel.


A bipartisan group in Congress is currently considering legislation that would encourage sustainable air travel while reducing carbon emissions. This is an important first step toward carbon-neutral air travel. With substantial progress developing sustainable fuel, aviation companies like Boeing have joined others in the industry, including air carriers and airports, to lead on this effort. Airlines have bought 6 billion liters of sustainable fuel since 2015, and the trend shows an encouraging increase in the number of flights per day that run on sustainable fuel. With advanced usage, we’re learning that this energy source is more efficient than regular fuels and is flexibly adaptable — it can be blended with current fuels, a key attribute to facilitate a smooth transition to this more climate-friendly energy source.     

Studies have shown that emissions can be reduced by as much as 80% when using SAF over conventional fuels. Additionally, construction and management of production plants, including possible facilities in Washington state, can help job creation and economic growth.

We know all too well in the Northwest the importance of climate-sensible trade and economic growth. Washington state has been a leader in developing green industries and promoting sustainable growth, and fuel alternatives, like sustainable aviation fuel, offer the promise of significant progress in this area.

Making smart investments in efficiently developing these fuels is consistent with the Biden administration’s commitment to pursue international trade that supports broader sustainability and climate efforts and a carbon-neutral future.

Trade in a sustainable way that leaves less of a footprint on our environment can set us on a course for better international commerce. Support for increased investments, effective legislation and other incentives will help create commercial-scale production of price-competitive supplies that will make developing and using sustainable fuel economically viable and less costly for consumers. These efforts are a critical step to achieving economic growth in a way that helps meets our climate objectives.