A growing number of pioneering airports are proving that becoming carbon neutral is an achievable, not just an aspirational, goal. As more airports around the world reach the pinnacle of the four-step Airport Carbon Accreditation programme, the hope is that others will take note and follow suit.

However, the path to achieving this objective can be long and challenging. It requires buy-in and commitment from all stakeholders, which can sometimes be sorely lacking.

The Airport Carbon Accreditation (ACA) programme was developed and launched by trade body ACI Europe in 2009, and has since been rolled out across ACI’s other regional branches. Its four levels of accreditation represent all stages of carbon management: mapping, reduction, optimisation and, finally, neutrality.

The initiative, which is independently administered, covers the operational activities at airports that contribute most to carbon emissions. It provides a common global framework to manage, reduce and offset these emissions and measure the results.

To date, a total of 173 airports around the world are participating in the programme, 27 of which have achieved carbon neutral status. Of those 27 airports, 25 are in Europe; the remaining two are in North America and Asia. Europe is the most active region with 113 certified airports, followed by Asia with 30, North America with 21, Africa with five and Latin America and the Caribbean with four. At the 2015 COP21 United Nations climate change conference in Paris, the European airport industry pledged to have 50 carbon neutral airports by 2050.

Outside Europe, Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) in August 2016 became the first airport in North America to achieve carbon neutral status. While DFW has spent the past couple of years working within the Airport Carbon Accreditation framework, the airport’s efforts to reduce its carbon footprint began two decades ago as part of a drive to improve air quality in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area, which has consistently failed to meet US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards.

“When this programme [ACA] came about, we saw it as an opportunity to validate what we had already done,” says DFW vice-president environmental affairs, Robert Horton. “We found that 70% of our emissions footprint came from our electricity consumption. We saw an opportunity to go to 100% renewable energy and that has offset all our electricity needs.”

Most of the remaining emissions are caused by ground vehicles in and around the airport, so DFW has switched its airport-owned buses to transports that run on compressed natural gas. The airport has also consolidated its car rental facility so that all hire cars are collected from and returned to one centralised building, instead of several facilities dotted around the airport. DFW covers an area larger than the island of Manhattan, and the airport says that having one consolidated rental car centre has resulted in significantly reduced car exhaust emissions.

It is the residual emissions – that airports do not directly control – which many airports find most challenging when they look at becoming carbon neutral, Horton believes. The cost of purchasing offsets for these residual emissions can seem prohibitively high.

“There has been a lot of conversation on this topic in North America and what we’ve seen is that it is very difficult to get buy-in from all the different stakeholders,” he says. In the case of DFW, the airport considers itself fortunate to have the full backing of its board in driving through its emissions-reduction initiatives.

“We really didn’t have a very difficult time [convincing stakeholders] because our board of directors had the foresight to adopt the direction we went in many years ago, because it made good business sense,” says Horton. He adds that the airport has “invested millions but saved tens of millions” in its quest to become carbon neutral, and its new status “greatly enhances our brand”.

Terminal D Dallas Airport

Dallas-Fort Worth International is the first carbon-neutral airport in North America

Dallas Fort Worth International airport

“We need to deal with man-made contributions to climate change,” says Horton, adding that the aviation industry faces “significant threats” posed by the effects of global warming. “If you look at unpredictable weather effects, like the 500-year rainfall event in the [Dallas Fort Worth] metroplex last year, and if you look at those impacts on your infrastructure – if you don’t develop new standards, they can create lots of disruptions to your operations.”

DFW achieved carbon neutrality earlier than its planned 2020 target, which Horton attributes to the commitment and fastidiousness of its employees. “I am very grateful to my staff." he says. "Even though there was no regulatory driver to do this, they started documenting what our environmental footprint looked like many years ago.” He says the quality of the information collected was “so high” that when the third-party verifiers came in the majority of the data required was already to hand.

DFW does not plan to become complacent now that it has achieved carbon neutrality. Its aim is to reduce emissions to such an extent that the need to buy carbon offsets is completely eliminated.

“Our goal is to not have to offset anything in the future. We’re going to explore net zero or net positive terminal expansion so that we can actually create carbon credits,” says Horton. “We’re still going to work on being more efficient at using energy and we’re looking at renewable natural gas [for airport-owned buses] because compressed natural gas still has some carbon emissions.”

The airport will also look at recycling and reusing water and reducing the amount of waste that goes to landfill. “We want to do the responsible thing in more than just air emissions,” says Horton.

Other airports that have recently achieved carbon neutral status under the ACA programme include Delhi Indira Gandhi International – the first and only carbon neutral airport in Asia-Pacific – Manchester, which became the UK’s first carbon neutral airport in December 2016, and Nice Côte D’Azur, which last August became the first carbon neutral airport in France.

Nice airport’s journey to becoming carbon neutral took five years, beginning in 2011 when it achieved the ACA programme’s first milestone and mapped out its carbon reduction plans. The airport progressed through all four levels at a rate of roughly one per year, until it achieved neutrality last summer.

“Our commitment to reduce our carbon footprint has been in place for a number of years, and the aim of becoming carbon neutral was written into our strategic plan,” says Charlotte Pruvot, who heads environmental affairs at Nice operator Aeroports de la Côte D’Azur. “The carbon accreditation programme allowed us to fix our annual targets.”

The French airport signed a contract in January 2015 to switch 100% of its energy consumption to renewable hydroelectric power, enabling it to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 60%. This came at a price, however, increasing the airport’s energy bills by about 30-40%, says Pruvot. “Every year the company invests hundreds of thousands of euros in carbon management,” she says, adding that this is done on a voluntary basis with no incentives from the French government.

Nice also carried out a pilot programme in 2015 to trial the use of a fully-electric airport shuttle bus with boost charging. But Pruvot says that while the bus meant emissions were reduced, there were technical problems and it was discontinued. However, each time the airport renews its bus contract it puts in a request for a more environmentally-friendly vehicle, in the hope of switching to an alternative in the future. In the meantime, Nice continues to purchase carbon offsets to neutralise its residual emissions.

Pruvot says the airport works in partnership with other stakeholders, with many taking part in regular workshops themed around environmental issues. “We work with airlines and all other companies at the airport, such as ground handlers and catering, to encourage them to reduce their emissions,” she says. Charges for using electrical power during aircraft stopovers are included in airport fees, she says, with the aim of encouraging airlines to switch off auxiliary power units (APUs) where possible.

Two other French airports operated by Aeroports de la Côte D’Azur – Cannes Mandelieu and Golfe de Saint-Tropez – are working towards becoming carbon neutral by 2018. Pruvot’s advice to other airports thinking of following the same path is to ensure that they have in place “very precise monitoring of all energy consumed” from the outset.

DFW’s Horton would like to see more North American airports following his airport’s lead, saying that the reason so many more European airports have become carbon neutral is because reducing emissions is “almost an expectation in Europe”.

Horton believes this will mean airports will be better placed to comply with new environmental legislation as it comes down the line: “If we’re able to make these improvements we can stay ahead of any environmental mandate that might come in the future.

“It is in our benefit to encourage others to see this not as an aspirational goal, but as an achievable one.”


Air BP announced in October that it had become the first aviation fuel supplier to achieve carbon neutrality for its into-aircraft fuelling services across 250 Air BP-operated airport facilities. Of these 250 airports, about 85% are general aviation facilities and 15% are commercial airports.

There was no official method for determining the carbon footprint from into-aircraft fuelling, so Air BP developed its own model, independently assured by a consultant, to quantify its emissions. It describes this move as the start of a long-term journey, including a 10-year commitment to maintain its carbon neutral status by implementing a carbon reduction plan to reduce its carbon intensity by 5% over the period.

The plan will be achieved through a number of initiatives focused on reducing carbon emissions associated with diesel and electricity usage, including the introduction of start/stop technology on its fuelling vehicles to reduce idling time, improving the operational efficiency of waste and stock management, and maximising opportunities to supply biofuel.

Until such measures have been fully rolled out, however, the vast majority of Air BP’s carbon-neutral status will come as a result of carbon offsetting rather than meaningful reductions.

Air BP offsets its residual emissions by purchasing carbon credits from BP’s Target Neutral carbon offsetting scheme, in accordance with the PAS2060 carbon neutrality standard.

Justin Walker, head of technical services at Air BP, says: “Reducing our carbon emissions is a long-term journey of continuous improvement, one we are committed to. We have a number of programmes and investments we are working on now to reduce energy consumption, such as accelerating the upgrade of our vehicle fleets.”

Source: FlightGlobal.com