The threat of rising sea levels, flooding, freeze, extreme heat and changes in the intensity and frequency of severe weather poses substantial risks to critical airport assets and infrastructure. The Airports Council International (ACI) announced a goal with member airports to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.1 With an emphasis on the aviation industry’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG), net zero targets aim to negate the amount of GHG emissions produced by airports and/or ensure that ongoing emissions are balanced by removals. Actions to reduce emissions may improve operations and public relations, attract new airport partners and improve bond ratings to investors.
By utilizing a net zero roadmap, airports may take an integrated approach to achieving net zero. This proposed approach includes:
- Develop a business case
- Plan and communicate with stakeholders
- Track GHG emissions, benchmark, set reduction targets and monitor progress
- Implement mitigation strategies
- Monitor, re-evaluate and update mitigation strategies
Develop a business case. A roadmap to net zero is a commitment to the future of the aviation industry, as well as local communities. Renewable technologies, like solar, require no operational fuel costs and minimal maintenance costs. Onsite power generation infrastructure will preserve the reliability, resilience and operational capacity of an airport, even in times of grid failure – which can cause delays and increase business costs.
Plan and communicate with stakeholders. Given the complex and interconnected nature of airport operations, the net zero roadmap must be developed and implemented in consultation with multiple stakeholders. To ensure the highest chance of achieving net zero success, stakeholder challenges and concerns should be incorporated early into the strategy design. Stakeholders should include entities directly impacted by airport operations, as well as off-site stakeholders who may be influenced by airport actions (i.e., local city governments, utility providers and the general public).
Track GHG emissions, benchmark, set reduction targets and monitor progress. The Environmental Protection Agency’s GHG Inventory Development Process includes information to help organizations understand their emission sources and aid in the decision-making process for a plan’s success. 2 The EPA’s Scope 1 emissions represent direct GHG emissions and are from fuel combustion in boilers, furnaces and vehicles. Scope 2 emissions are indirect and linked to the purchase of electricity like heating and cooling. Scope 3 emissions are the result of activities from non-owner assets: in the case of an airport, passenger travel to and from the facility and airline emissions. Once emissions by source are determined, the airport may conduct business-as-usual emissions forecasting and contrast this with pathways to net zero emissions. Setting reduction targets and monitoring progress are essential components of the net zero roadmap.
Implement mitigation strategies. Given the scale of airport infrastructure, mitigation strategies should be developed to increase success and minimize risks to operations. Mitigation strategies include onsite renewable energy, energy efficiency improvements, energy management, microgrid and/or backup power systems, fleet electrification, electric ground support equipment, low GHG fuels and carbon offsets and removal strategies. Other mitigation aspects should be considered including addressing financial structures, reorganization and addressing local and regional socioeconomic impacts. Every airport is unique with varying climate stressors, energy supply, land use characteristics and funding availability. Identifying a hierarchy of strategies and solutions will differ significantly by airport and region. Feasibility and concept-level analyses are useful tools to help your airport determine and prioritize mitigation strategies based on cost and impact.
Monitor, re-evaluate and update mitigation strategies. The final step of this approach aggregates the full set of renewable energy, energy retrofits, conservation and offsets into a cohesive roadmap. For each action, an implementation timeline, estimated budget and incremental GHG reduction impact are calculated through to the net zero target date. The roadmap is an editable, living document. As strategies evolve with the development of new technologies, so does the roadmap.
Sustainability is a marathon not a sprint, and a comprehensive roadmap can assist your airport in successfully arriving at the finish line. Through practical, climate-resilient designs and engineering solutions, resiliency is built across the airport environment to meet current and emerging climate commitments.
1 “Net Zero by 2050: ACI Sets Global Long Term Carbon Goal for Airports.” ACI World, 30 Nov. 2021, https://aci.aero/2021/06/08/net-zero-by-2050-aci-sets-global-long-term-carbon-goal-for-airports/.
2 EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, https://www.epa.gov/climateleadership/ghg-inventory-development-process-and-guidance.
Joseph leads the Aviation Environmental Team at EXP with experience in aviation sustainability and resilience planning, environmental management, and strategic partnering to implement net zero initiatives. He has worked at over 40 domestic and international airports, with clients ranging in size from the largest airports in the world to general aviation fields. He is a Beachhead Advisor to the New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) and assists New Zealand businesses with international growth. The GreenBiz Group and World Business Council for Sustainable Development named Joseph as one of the 2018 “30 Under 30” based on a global search for emerging leaders shaping the next generation of sustainable business.