Net Zero by 2050 is on the business agenda, but how can airports keep up? Aviation is an industry notoriously difficult to decarbonise, with many of the emissions out of direct control. And yet, there are methods airport companies can use to cut back on carbon and reduce their footprint. From implementing innovative AI and managing building utilities the smart way to installing LED light fixtures and using sustainably-powered vehicles, there are many ways for airports to go green.
In this article, we explain the environmental impact of airport buildings and provide our top tips for cutting emissions.
Aviation is purported to be responsible for around 2.4% of global CO2 emissions. Taking into account the total environmental impact of the industry, it is thought to have contributed to 5% of global warming (source). When it comes to the airport buildings themselves, figures differ across the world. However, airport-related carbon emissions are thought to represent around 2-5% of aviation industry emissions.
Whilst this may sound like a very small segment of a larger problem within aviation, airports have a vital role to play when it comes to driving the sustainable agenda. Let’s look into the environmental impact of airports in more detail.
Airports have a significant impact on the environment on various scales. They contribute to global carbon emissions, noise pollution, the loss of biodiversity, and reduced air quality.
Unfortunately, not all carbon emissions can be actively controlled by airports themselves. It is estimated that airports directly control 10% of emissions, with other contributions coming from passenger travel to and from the airport, airlines, retail and cargo businesses (source).
However, airports have a critical role to play when it comes to influencing and engaging other stakeholders and acting as a role model for the future of the industry. By taking control of the emissions they can manage such as building energy consumption, vehicle emissions, and energy source, they can radically decrease their impact and lead the way in the race to Net Zero.
Carbon neutrality has emerged as a goal for many airports across the world. Airport Carbon Accreditation is a global standard for the carbon management of airports, and it defines airport carbon neutrality as compensating for any direct airport emissions through the purchase of carbon credits. These carbon credits are then used to fund environmental initiatives that are intended to go some way towards mitigating the impact of unavoidable emissions. At the time of writing, 47 airports globally are classed as carbon neutral, including Athens International, Muscat International, and King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh.
Though many aspects of an airport’s carbon footprint are out of direct control, there are ways to make a difference. Below, we outline our top 5 tips for dramatically cutting the carbon emissions of your airport.
There are many vehicles involved in day-to-day airport operations, from passenger shuttle buses to runway vehicles and ground handling equipment. Replacing your fleet with electric, hybrid, gas, or even biomass powered alternatives will drastically reduce this aspect of your carbon footprint.
You could also look to influence passenger behaviour by prioritising sustainable transport to and from the building. This might include providing regular and reliable shuttle buses, installing electric charging hubs, developing public transport links, and providing preferential access to electric or low carbon fuel powered taxis. You could also increase the cost of parking on site and use the extra profits to invest in sustainable initiatives or offset schemes.
Airports need to be well-illuminated and comfortable for occupants, but inefficient lighting can be a key contributor to energy consumption and therefore emissions. To tackle this problem, consider replacing lighting throughout the building with LED bulbs which require far less energy to function whilst providing more than adequate illumination. Outside the building, runway signage and other exterior lighting can also be replaced with LEDs. To avoid disruption, it might be best to undertake this replacement over a period of time, in several stages.
Our next tip is to aim for green managed growth. Of course, every airport business wants to expand and scale up over time, but this doesn’t have to come at the expense of the environment. Green managed growth is essentially about compensating for expansion at all stages of growth. This might mean installing green roofs, planting onsite in a way compatible with aviation, or offsetting with a local focus – tree planting in your area or investing in sustainable initiatives for your community, for example.
Of course, when it comes to the physical expansion of your site, this can be sustainable too. Using recycled, organic, or natural materials to construct your building will mean the project has a significantly lower carbon footprint. The new expansion should also be designed to limit heating and air conditioning requirements, with any HVAC usage that is required monitored and managed automatically by advanced AI.
Many airports are cutting their carbon footprint through addressing the problem at its source. Changing the energy used to power your building entirely is tricky and may require a large investment, but reducing your reliance on fossil fuels even a small amount is useful. This can be done through changing energy provider or generating renewable energy onsite using solar panels, for example. Heathrow airport reports that it is powered by 100% renewable electricity, and Terminal 2 has been heated by biomass or renewable gas since 2018 (source). Elsewhere, Cochin International Airport in India is said to be the world’s first solar airport, powered by 46,000 solar panels (source).
Utilities at Heathrow airport generated 23,604 tonnes of CO2 emissions in 2018 (source), and across the world similar levels are reported. Clearly, improving the way airports manage their building management systems is a sustainable imperative.
A great way to address this problem is to optimise your HVAC system’s performance using smart technology. AI-optimised HVAC systems are proactive, responding to changes in environmental conditions and taking into account an array of information including building construction materials and occupancy rate. By harnessing the power of AI, airports buildings can reduce their energy usage by up to 30%.
Moreover, airports experience more extreme thermal peaks and troughs than other buildings due to irregular surges of occupancy in different areas. AI can combat this issue where pre-programmed HVAC systems fail, responding to environmental conditions in real time and restoring user comfort.
When it comes to reducing airport carbon emissions, smart technology holds the solution. Using AI trained using Deep Reinforcement Learning, Arloid has helped airports at a range of scales reduce their utility bills through optimising HVAC performance. Highly efficient and intricately accurate, our innovative AI can help you limit the environmental impact of your airport building, and improve passenger comfort.
If you are interested in what we do, please contact us.
Read next: Creating the Digital Twin: A Short Guide