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Executive Talk

Flying high on sustainability

SAS Greater China’s general manager Anders Wahlström is excited about the position SAS has created as an industry leader in sustainability.

TEXT: Jan Hökerberg
19 DECEMBER, 2019

After working more than 30 years for Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS) in Sweden, Anders Wahlström got his big chance to work abroad when, in late 2018, he was appointed general manager for SAS Greater China, stationed in Beijing.

“It wasn’t easy to make the decision to move abroad. I discussed it with my wife and we both knew that it would be both a challenge and an opportunity for development. We also agreed that life is too short to not go on a new and exciting adventure such as this – and today we both enjoy our new life in China,” he says.

“To work for SAS abroad has always been a goal for me,” he adds.

Wahlström was part of SAS as early as the 1980s, when then SAS CEO Jan Carlzon turned the company into a very successful airline through customer-driven strategic leadership that later led to SAS being awarded Airline of the Year.

30+

The number of years that Anders Wahlström has worked for SAS.

Even though Wahlström has spent most of his career in Sweden, he is used to living abroad. He was born 57 years ago in Stockholm and has been living both in Switzerland and on Cyprus. His parents once lived in Spain for many years and he has a brother who lives in New York and a sister in Thailand.

“Being brought up in a family that travelled a lot was part of my upbringing. We never had a summer cottage in Sweden or traditional gatherings in Sweden with relatives at holidays”, he says. “I got used to taking care of myself and learned how to live in an international environment.”

After graduating in Stockholm, he started his career at SAS. He knew from an early stage of his life that he wanted to work in the airline industry.

“I began working at Arlanda airport as ground staff, and then worked in operations as cabin crew. Later, I moved into administration, working as a manager for both inflight service and cabin management as well as in different in positions within sales and marketing since 2004,” he says.

Before he was appointed to take over from Lars-Ove Filipson as GM for SAS Greater China, he had the position as head of sales for Sweden and Finland.

He moved to Beijing in March 2019 together with his wife Lena, whom he met in 2015. He has three children from a previous marriage – Sara, 27, Linnea, 23, and Lucas, 20 – who all live in Sweden.

He is enthusiastic about his new job and about promoting the Scandinavian market and Europe to Chinese customers.

“We have so much to offer. The beauty of the Nordic nature as well as Scandinavian design, food and culture that we know attract customers from Greater China,” he says.

Currently, SAS offers three routes, seven days a week from Beijing and Shanghai to Copenhagen and five days a week from Hong Kong to Copenhagen. In 2015, SAS opened a direct route from Hong Kong to Stockholm but that was moved to Copenhagen last year.

“We were one of the few long-haul airlines departing in the morning from Hong Kong. Most customers in this market prefer a late evening departure, which is why we decided to move the flight to Copenhagen – it enabled us to offer a night flight. It was a good move. It also gave us more flexibility to connect to more routes,” Wahlström says.

Anders Wahlström and his wife Lena.

He is very much engaged in the airline industry’s important task of focusing on sustainability.

“We know that air travel will increase. Customers need to travel by air to be able to do business or to visit family and friends. But this means that our carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions will increase. Therefore, we need to act now, and SAS has decided to take on some really tough targets to reduce our global footprint. We aim to reduce CO2 emissions by 25 per cent in 2030 compared to 2005. This will be achieved by different actions such as increasing the usage of biofuel – by 2030, the amount of biofuel used will correspond to the total fuel consumption needed for our domestic flights within Scandinavia,” Wahlström says.

SAS has invested SEK50 billion in modernising its fleet of airplanes. Eight new Airbus A350s have been ordered for intercontinental routes and the first flight from Beijing will take place in the beginning of March 2020. The company has also ordered 80 new Airbus A320neo aircraft – the market’s most fuel-efficient short- and medium-haul aircraft in terms of costs and the environment. Three new Airbus A321 long-range planes will also be added.

“Our new A350s will lower fuel consumption by 30 per cent compared to today and the 320s and 321s will both consume 15-18 per cent less fuel,” says Wahlström.

“For biofuel, we have signed a memorandum of understanding with the petroleum company Preem, which will build a plant outside Gothenburg to start producing biofuel for SAS in 2023. Preem is one of several partners in sustainable aviation fuels,” he says.

Our new Airbus A350s will lower fuel consumption by 30 per cent compared to today.”

SAS is also changing the way in which planes are cleaned by using a dry-wash technique that substantially cuts the amount of water used to clean the fleet. Onboard, the use of plastic will gradually be reduced and new sustainable packaging will be introduced, while for minimising food waste SAS will focus on increasing pre-ordered meals. The company has also ceased selling tax-free items in order to reduce weight and materials onboard.

“SAS has published a sustainability report for 25 years, making us a pioneer in reporting our work in this field. However, over the past couple of years, this topic has become more important for the whole airline industry. We need to act now. We want to be in the front seat in terms of highlighting these issues,” says Wahlström.