Virgin Australia has been all over the news recently – making headlines as they cut out plastic straws and stirrers, upcycle crew uniforms, and make giant leaps forward in the world of sustainable fuels.

Whilst purpose driven initiatives are in alignment with the company’s strategy, you’d be mistaken for thinking the headlines of late are thanks to a top-down approach alone. The stories behind many of Virgin Australia’s recent successes connect back to incredible staff volunteers – environmental crusaders who are taking sustainability best-practice into their own hands.

We recently spoke to Jennifer Kyna, Group Sustainability Advisor at Virgin Australia, about how the company’s ambassador programme started, what it’s achieved so far, and what the Virgin Australia Sustainability Ambassadors have in store next.

What is the Sustainability Ambassadors programme?

The Sustainability Ambassadors programmeoffers volunteer roles to staff members of Virgin Australia. Ambassadors act as the eyes and ears throughout the business – seeking opportunities for Virgin Australia to minimise waste and help the airline be more sustainable.

Our ambassadors are passionate about the environment and provide invaluable feedback about in-flight experiences and opportunities, as well as monitoring programmes to track effectiveness and efficiency opportunities e.g. Airbus inflight recycling, to assure staff members are following procedure and provide feedback.

The Virgin Australia Sustainability team send out monthly newsletters to the ambassadors, and run monthly dial-in calls. So far we have 165 ambassadors from VA Holidays, Velocity, Cargo and Virgin Australia airlines ranging from cabin crew, pilots, engineers, office staff, pit-crew, guest services and everyone in between.

How did the programme start out?

Over the past few years the Virgin Australia Sustainability team have been inundated with emails from passionate crew wanting to help the company minimise waste. I’ve always been overwhelmed by how many people truly care for the environment. It’s our staff members who are the ones that see first-hand the changes that can be made, so I thought - why not harness the passion of these staff and create a programme where they can be heard? The Sustainability Ambassador programme was born.

Initially we sent out an expression of interest to cabin crew only and immediately had 30 people apply. Organically over time more crew emailed wanting to join and two months ago we extended the programme to guest services. We now have 165 across the business. 

Virgin Australia, Sustainability

What has surprised and inspired you the most about the programme and its evolution?

The passion of the ambassadors is inspiring. They are all so busy with their work, but still take the time to write reports, take photos and email ideas. They also volunteer with partner charities in their own time and encourage other staff members to sign up!

One of the greatest things to witness is the amount of initiatives that have started from the ambassadors. I receive emails saying ‘Hey Jen, just started the new recycling programme in Perth office, spoke with the cleaners and had it all set up” or “ I mentioned to the head of lounge catering to remove plastic straws in lounges’’. It’s amazing to see that they are all taking their own initiative in creating change. 

The ambassadors have created an effect like that of a pebble being thrown into still water – causing ripples across so many areas of the business. The passion from the staff has influenced others to not only change behaviour at work, but also at home.

What's next?

Our sustainability team is excited to continue expanding the programme, offering ambassador training on new sustainable initiatives and providing more opportunities to volunteer. Soon we will be opening up the programme to Tiger airways and our team in New Zealand. Other Virgin companies such as Virgin Galactic have been interested in this programme that I have been helping get the programme set up. 

What can Virgin Australia customers do to help support sustainability efforts?

We will continue to work on programmes within the business to reduce waste, but we can’t create change alone. For the best results we need all customers to get involved.

Some of my travel smart tips and ways to be mindful of waste during travel include:

  • Reuse water cups in flight or better yet, bring along a refillable water bottle
  • Reduce your carbon footprint by Offsetting your flight 
  • Use the recycling bins through-out the airport terminals 
  • If you don’t eat the food in flight, take it with you and have later.
  • Bring along a keep cup/ reusable coffee cup to use inflight and at the airports
  • Pop your newspaper in a recycling bin at the gates before your flight
  • Say no to plastic straws when you grab a drink in the airport terminals. 

In the following weeks we’ll be profiling Virgin Australia Sustainability Ambassadors – highlighting their involvement in the programmes, and the ways their ideas have grown into actions that are creating real change across the fleet and the business.