Skip to content
A world of energy transition possibilities awaits.
Just fill out the form.

A united
for fuels


“A horizontal line between strategy and procurement means we sit on the same panels, work on the same challenges – and share the same goals.”

Michael AuBuchon, Managing Director, Fuel Strategy & Management, Southwest Airlines

Michael Aubuchon 260x260[29]

Key Take-Aways

  1. With “fuel folk” and “sustainability folk” on a single organization chart, strategy and execution join hands
  2. Connecting people and meeting decarbonization goals shouldn’t be mutually exclusive
  3. GHG accounting for SAF isn’t fully clarified – and carries implications beyond aviation
  4. Locking in long-term sources of SAF is a priority for the aviation sector
  5. Sustainability goals need engagement with multiple stakeholders – including industry associations and trade organizations

If this nascent market is to thrive, extending incentives like tax credits beyond 2030 is a goal; many are slated to end in 2027, the Inflation Reduction Act among them. So, a key success factor for Helen and Michael is “how you engage, how you push things forward”. Both see improved and expanded relations almost monthly between big players like major airports and trade bodies – but the job is huge and there’s still a long way to go.

Read the Full Interview

At many airlines, the sustainability and fuel functions work in silos with limited partnership toward environmental goals. US-based Southwest Airlines tackled the problem head-on – by putting both teams on the same organization chart, reporting to the same leader. This enables the Fuel Strategy & Management and Environmental Sustainability teams to execute a unified strategy for sustainable aviation fuel, with Southwest as the acknowledged leader in the space.

“When I joined Southwest, I was new to aviation – but something about the culture made me feel that if anyone can do SAF right, Southwest can. Southwest’s purpose is to connect people to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel – and our joined-up policies are facilitating those connections, while also working towards our sustainability goals.”

Helen Giles, Director of Environmental Sustainability, Southwest Airlines

The strategy at Southwest is an object lesson in joined-up thinking – with managers applying reason across the entire value chain to see how decisions in one department affect another and how different teams can be motivated to aim for the same outcome. Accordingly, we’ve combined Michael’s and Helen’s perspectives into one summary.

Helen 260x260-1

Ex-management consultant Helen quotes the United Nations definition of sustainability: meeting the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. For Southwest, that means continuing to connect people through air travel while reducing reliance on fossil fuels. It involves more than collaboration across corporate silos: it needs a genuine sharing of vision and purpose that aligns departmental KPIs and smooths cooperation toward them.

Helen’s team, as an ESG function, owns the carrier’s 10-year plan for sustainability, liaising with trade associations like Airlines for America. Many companies lean into flashy press releases that ultimately don’t say much; Helen, however, recognizes media attention is just one part of the story, and takes a more thoughtful approach to engaging with stakeholders. After all, achieving Southwest’s goal of replacing 10% of its total jet fuel consumption with SAF by 2030 involves many factors outside the airline’s control – so she makes sure Southwest is part of the right conversations.

0 % of its total jet fuel consumption with SAF by 2030
SAF Study interview breaker 4

22-year Southwest veteran Michael AuBuchon’s team is responsible for supplying the ingredient that keeps airlines in the air but also contributes over 99% of aviation’s GHG emissions: jet fuel. While there’s much more to Michael’s job than SAF, it’s a growing part – and the way his team works matrix-style with Helen is a useful example for other airlines. The role of Helen’s team is to set strategic goals, while Michael’s team procures fuel in sync with those goals, with no one operating in a vacuum. The two talk and meet regularly, each team working out what it needs from the other and agreeing on an action plan.

For example, Helen’s team developed a SAF policy in partnership with Michael’s team to determine what SAF opportunities might qualify for Southwest’s portfolio, including a minimum lifecycle GHG intensity reduction target. Michael’s team worked with producers to figure out the volume of SAF they could supply, where it would come from, and how the processes of blending and storage would work along the supply chain. The two teams then worked together to reach and execute agreements with key partners. As a result, Southwest was the first carrier to bring SAF to Oakland International Airport (OAK).

A key outcome has been Southwest’s investment in Project SAFFiRE, a Department of Energy (DOE)-backed initiative to scale production of SAF from waste biomass. It was a first-of-its-kind investment for the company. Southwest continues to evaluate SAF opportunities – and incentives exist to make the case on the commercial side, like the US government’s “SAF Grand Challenge” that aims to get 3bn gallons of SAF per year into aviators’ hands by 2030.

And it’s not limited to Southwest’s Texas home. Southwest is working with SAF producers from all over the world, as well as with governments on federal and state-level policy to provide incentives for SAF production and use. Michael and Helen see their roles as sea to shining sea … even having influence worldwide.

“Forget the difference between ‘fuel folks’ and ‘sustainability folks’ – what matters isunity, of both purpose and execution pathway.”



For Helen, carbon accounting is an issue she’d like to see solved. The Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHGP) is the world's most widely used greenhouse gas accounting standard, yet it’s unclear today how their draft Land Sector and Removals Guidance applies along the SAF value chain. There are complexities, like ensuring the accounting communicates the full GHG reductions and transition away from fossil fuels with transparency.

Left unresolved, these and others mean companies could face great complexity in reporting and may not be able to capture the full impact of SAF in their GHG inventory or toward their goals. And without clear guidance on value chain Scope 3 accounting, corporate customers could lose an incentive to support the SAF industry, which is critical to SAF scaling. Clarity would be a big win – not only for airlines, but for governments and the entire SAF industry.

For Michael, success is an infrastructure issue. With SAF feedstocks varied and bumpy in supply, he sees ensuring smooth volumes as a key issue for SAF supply; it’s one reason for SAFFiRE, which uses a widely available source (corn stover, the “leftovers” after harvest like stalks and leaves). But with the airline’s consumption around 2 billion gallons, increasing blend limits is also a priority – though outside of the airline’s control.

Michael sees
ensuring smooth volumes
as a key issue
for SAF supply