The Winding Path to Sustainable Aviation

August 30, 2022

Sustainability is a process, one which requires dedication and patience to develop and maintain. It is also non-linear and often more complex than expected, as Wisk employee Daniela Schaff had to discover. Daniela is one of the co-founders of the Sustainability Team at Wisk and was recently promoted to Head of Sustainability.

Daniela believes that “A pillar to minimizing the environmental impact of our next generation aircraft lies in maximizing the useful life of the raw materials used during the production and operation of the aircraft as a means of reducing overall CO2 emissions and eliminating hazardous emissions.” 

Last year, she spearheaded a project to address one of the biggest challenges facing electric vehicles: how to safely and sustainably dispose of batteries.

Wisk’s all-electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVOTL) aircraft are battery dependent, and developing the next generation of urban air mobility means we use a lot of batteries for testing, all of which need to be disposed of properly and ethically. 


The Difficulty is in the Details

“What first seemed like a straight-forward logistical problem soon became a squiggle,” recalled Daniela, who notes that sustainability is rarely as uncomplicated as it is presented. Instead, the project to recycle these batteries soon involved fifteen people across eight departments. The Sustainability Team needed to find the right recycling partners and appropriate transportation for the batteries.

Their perseverance eventually paid off and the team was able to recycle the batteries while saving the company close to $100,000 compared to the costs of regular battery disposal. Given that Wisk has plans to expand its fleet of electric aircraft, the future management of battery waste is important not only for sustainability reasons but for the company’s bottom line. This is a valuable lesson for Wisk, as well as all industries that rely on batteries as shortages of the metals and materials to build new batteries loom on the horizon. 

According to Daniela, “It is important to let people know how complicated this process can be. This is not to dissuade them from pursuing sustainability, but to make sure they are properly prepared for what they may encounter. Regardless of the difficulty, it is essential that companies pursue sustainability as this is what is now expected in our industry.” 

Once the process is figured out and implemented, there is really no disadvantage to recycling over disposal. It’s better for the environment, saves the company money, and prevents/solves – at least partially – the looming supply chain shortages for the precious metals necessary to build new batteries. Recycling companies provide certificates of destruction the same way disposal companies do, so there are no concerns about intellectual property issues.


A Bright Future for Sustainability

Daniela, and the sustainability group, are now looking into how future batteries used by Wisk aircraft can be repurposed or recycled as part of a larger circular business model.

While the initial process was complicated, occasionally frustrating, and time consuming the lesson drawn from this experience was that sustainability becomes easier over time and with continued interactions. Continuous improvement is key and eventually sustainable processes become embedded into the company’s culture. 

Battery recycling was one of the first steps taken by Wisk towards comprehensive sustainability, but it is certainly not the last. Wisk is in the process of developing and implementing a comprehensive sustainability plan which will impact all parts of the company, from the carbon footprint of our facilities to the design, manufacture, and ultimate recycling of our aircraft. 

Check back regularly for more information on our sustainability journey.