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ENVIRONMENT Last modified on March 30, 2012

Road map to sustainability

Kris Pauwels argues that a structured approach to sustainability will guarantee the most effective results for the world’s airports.

A 2008 survey by the US-based Transportation Research Board found that ‘regulations’ were the main reason for airports embracing sustainable practices, with stakeholder concerns viewed as the most likely driving force in the future.

From this we learnt that a ‘licence to operate or grow’ was the main reason to become a sustainable airport and that airports expect stakeholders to have a growing influence on legislation in the years ahead. 

Another interesting fact from the survey is that neither economic incentives (cost reduction and project finance), nor quality of customer services (offered to both passengers and airlines), were identified by the airports as drivers to implement sustainable practices. 

A sign of how things have moved on in just four years is the fact that ‘stakeholder concerns’ are clearly one of the main forms of motivation for the gateways participating in the ACI Europe-led Airport Carbon Accreditation (ACA) scheme today.

However, in my opinion, ‘licence to operate/grow’ still remains the key driver behind the willingness of most airports to actively look for and apply sustainable practices. 

Eindhoven Airport in Holland and Stockholm Arlanda in Sweden are perfect examples of airports whose ‘licence to grow’ depends directly on sustainability. 

Indeed, participating in the ACA scheme was one of the conditions for future growth imposed on the Dutch gateway during its negotiations with stakeholders that included residents as well as local, regional and national authorities. While Stockholm Arlanda has a carbon emissions cap in its permit.

Two key reasons for wishing to become sustainable, ‘cost reduction’ and ‘quality of customer services’ are often overlooked by airports when formulating their green strategies, and this is regrettable as including all drivers is the best way to develop a truly comprehensive sustainability strategy. 

Project finance is often used to fund the development of an airport. There is a clear trend that financial institutions involve sustainability in their credit risk management, an example of this are ‘Equator Principles’. These principles are a framework for assessing and managing environmental and social risk in project finance. The equator principles or similar initiatives are being applied by a growing number of financial institutions.

The road to sustainability

For a successful and efficient implementation of sustainability practices, it is the opinion of consultants and IT solutions provider, Adecs Airinfra, that airports need to deploy a structured approach. 

We believe that following six steps, which we call ‘the road to airport sustainability’, will help to maximise the value of sustainable operations:

Sustainability vision
What does sustainability mean for your airport? Every airport is unique, has its own business model and its own environment and, therefore, needs its own corporate vision on sustainability. Creating a vision on sustainability with a multi-disciplinary team helps the airport to focus on sustainable strategies. 

Key performance indicators and airport boundaries
To be able to build and manage a strategy with vision, the vision needs to be measurable. This can be accomplished by selecting a relevant and smart set of key performance indicators (KPIs). Making the vision measurable means defining the airport and its boundaries as well. An airport is typically a place with many stakeholders, from passengers and airlines to handling agents, security, retailers and customs. To be able to manage an issue like sustainability, it must be very clear who is responsible for all activities and facilities at the airport.

Establishing these boundaries contributes to the ability to measure and manage sustainability. The most practical way is to look at each activity and facility and determine whether the airport ‘controls’, ‘guides’ or only ‘influences’ the activity or facility. And this doesn’t mean that the airport only needs to measure activities within the airport’s control as, in a lot of cases, the biggest gains can be found in the ‘guide’ or ‘influence’ domain.

In some cases certain measures to improve sustainability may even shift the responsibility of an activity from, for instance, guide or influence to control. An airport, for example, has little say if an airline uses an Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) for the provision of power to an aircraft, but all this changes if it supplies the fixed ground power. 

Sustainability footprint
With the KPIs and the airport’s responsibilities clear, it is possible to determine a sustainability footprint. The footprint essentially is the result of the KPIs within the airport’s boundaries. The footprint is a starting point to develop a strategy and should be used as a basis for comparison for future years. The footprint needs a high level of detail in order to be useful in the development of a strategy. With a carbon footprint, for instance, the airport can apply for the first level of the ACA scheme and has a solid foundation for future progress.

In essence, the strategy defines hard targets and what solutions need to be implemented to meet those goals. It also defines when they need to be implemented, allowing for the formulation of business cases.
More often than not, finding solutions to improve sustainability is often not the hardest part. The Sustainable Aviation Guidance Alliance (SAGA) database, for example, contains a wide range of possible solutions, but finding the most effective and cost efficient solutions is the key to creating value with sustainability. A recent study from Adecs Airinfra and the Delft University of Technology in Holland shows that an airport’s strategy regarding customers, cost and quality will influence the set of solutions. According to the data collected, a cost-driven strategy will benefit most from ‘hardware solutions’, while a (customer) quality driven strategy will benefit most from ‘process’ solutions. 

The solutions selected in the previous step need to implemented efficiently by a programme manager who is involved in the whole process. Depending on the solution, it may be introduced as a quick win, or implementation may take years for large hardware solutions. 

Monitoring and reporting
This step is about evaluation of the strategy and about openness. The continuous monitoring of the strategy and the sustainable progress is important, because solutions may not live up to expectations, or a change in fuel prices may justify a change in priority of the implementation of solutions.

Regular monitoring of the strategy and the results will help to keep your costs as low as possible, while maximising the value. 

The only way to create value, in the form of a licence to operate, is to be open about the performance by publishing a sustainability or corporate responsibility report, preferably based on unbiased guidelines like those of the Global Reporting Initiative. Done properly, this will ensure that an airport remains on top of things.

Creating value

Sustainability can create value for airports, but it does not come in the same form for every airport. This makes it a difficult issue. Our road to airport sustainability describes a way to maximise the value of sustainability irrespective of the specific issues. Such a process should accompany the airport’s development, regardless of whether it is developing a multi-billion dollar master plan or is just concerned with the maintenance of existing facilities. 

From our experience, we see airports trying all kinds of measures, from LED-lights to geothermal heating and cooling, sometimes without knowing if this is a solution to their problem or even really knowing what the problem is and whether it is the most efficient solution. 

In such circumstances then, surely a structured approach to sustainability is the best way forward? 

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