Trash talk


Business aviation can learn a lot of lessons from commercial aviation on how not to do things. But last week United Airlines has pulled off the hire of the century. It has recruited Sesame Street’s Oscar the Grouch.

If you have not seen Sesame Street, Plaza Sésamo or Sesamstrasse (or any one of the 160 international versions in 70 languages) recently, you may have forgotten Oscar. He is a green puppet who lives in a trash can. Jim Henson and Jon Stone, the creators of Sesame Street, named him after the “magnificently rude” owner of a local restaurant they regularly ate in.

You may be thinking that the airline has hired a character famous for being grouchy to guarantee consistent customer service levels, but in fact the puppet has been given the role of Chief Trash Officer (CTO). United is using him to highlight how Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) is made from waste.

The airline has made more than 30 videos of Oscar talking with United staff (the first two are here) and is working on digital and physical campaigns. If you email Oscar ([email protected]) you receive a reply telling you that he is out of the office. It ends saying: “For the forestinkable future, our CTO is out of office telling the world about his love of garbage. Speaking of, your email will be forwarded straight to the trash folder. Just where we like it.” (This is not particularly innovative, a lot of emails to airlines seem to go straight to trash folders.)

SAF was less than 0.1% of United’s total fuel use in 2022. The airline says it is using Oscar to highlight its investments in SAF.

United has invested in more sustainable aviation fuel production than any airline in the world by far,”  said Josh Earnest, chief communications officer, United. Every airline burns jet fuel to run their business, but no airline will solve climate change on its own. So United has enlisted Oscar to help us educate the travelling public of all ages about SAF and rally them to the cause of fighting climate change. From banana peels to fryer grease, Oscar is uniquely qualified to help us explain why trash could be the treasure that fuels the jets of the future.”

While it clearly hopes people will be encouraged to book flights, United deserves huge credit for this campaign which is great for both airlines and business aviation. While you may be getting bored of SAF*, very few people outside of aviation really understand what it is or how it is made.

United’s Oscar campaign explains in very simple terms that SAF is – and will be – made from waste. The airline’s investments in five different SAF companies show this. It has stakes in Alder Fuels (forestry and wood waste), Cemvita (taking carbon dioxide from factory emissions), Dimensional Energy (air extraction), Fulcrum BioEnergy (municipal waste) and Next Renewable Fuels (used cooking oils and fats).

Last week United Ventures, the airline’s corporate venture capital fund, launched a new SAF fund with Air Canada, Boeing, GE Aerospace, JPMorgan Chase and Honeywell as investors.

Business aviation companies are also investing in SAF. Directional Capital is an investor in Alder Fuels along with AvFuel. NetJets has backed WasteFuels which is looking to make SAF from garbage.

As United says, no operator can change climate change on its own. Perhaps business aviation as an industry should have its own sustainability campaign. What about using a big flightless yellow bird? (Image courtesy of United Airlines).