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ENVIRONMENT Last modified on November 15, 2012

Rules of engagement


Leonie Dobbie reports on the development and evolution of ACI’s Airport Carbon Accreditation programme.

Be warned, the airport business is very much at risk from the aviation and climate change regulatory agenda.

The threat is real, and it is growing, and a significant number of airports have responded to the challenge by initiating their own carbon and energy management programmes.

However, until the launch of Airport Carbon Accreditation by ACI Europe in June 2009, there was no standard to follow, and airports generally relied on how other industries and businesses had undertaken similar efforts or started from the beginning.

Why is it different? Because as the name suggests, it was specifically designed for the airport business. It is a voluntary programme for active carbon management, with measurable goals and reporting.

Universal to all airports, but site specific in its application, it seeks to demonstrate the airport community’s commitment to carbon reduction by recognising continual performance improvement in carbon and energy management by airports.

This programme is the only institutionally endorsed carbon management certification standard for airports worldwide, and is now the globally accepted industry reference for airport carbon mapping and management.

The programme presently encompasses 67 European airports – which between them welcome more than 50% of Europe’s passengers (over 750 million passengers yearly) – and five ACI Asia-Pacific gateways, following the region’s decision to join the scheme in November 11.


Programme launch
The catalyst for the programme’s development lay in the aviation aero-political environment in Europe, which led ACI Europe to take a strategic view of its environmental strategy and programmes and to identify key emerging issues. 

This review made it clear that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from aviation were already considered a very significant contributor to climate change, and were attracting considerable regulatory attention. 

As a result, ACI Europe took a close look at their member airports’ operational activities and development in terms of carbon management, and determined that there was a need to assist them in assessing and reducing their carbon footprints.

It worked with its members, key institutional aviation bodies, the environmental community and others to develop and launch Airport Carbon Accreditation.

The programme was built on: existing airport practices; a rigorous scoping and design, including the development of detailed technical guidance; existing international standards in the reporting and accounting of GHG emissions; and, the generation of institutional recognition at the highest level.

These factors were critical to encouraging consistent growth in airport participation and in ensuring that the programme grew in profile and credibility.


Aims and targets
A further key to the programme’s success is that it enables airports to implement best practice carbon management processes and gain public recognition of their achievements. 

Airports are accredited at four progressively stringent levels of participation with recognition of improvements at each stage. 

Overall, airports are moving through the different levels and recently, Swedavia became the world’s first national carbon neutral airport group.


Benefits of participation
Through certification by Airport Carbon Accreditation, an airport is able to attenuate its exposure to climate change regulatory risk. They are also able to achieve consistency, compatibility and compliance with national or international environmental/sustainability goals, whether or not aviation specific, as well as relevant reporting standards and management of carbon emissions. 

Participation also demonstrates that airports are committed to carbon reduction and management and help them raise their sustainability profile and credibility. 

The programme is formally endorsed by ECAC and EUROCONTROL, and is formally supported by the European Commission, UNEP and ICAO. 

It requires airports to measure their GHG (CO2) emissions in accordance with the GHG Protocol and to get their emissions inventory assured in accordance with ISO 14064 by an independent third party.

By addressing airport on-site operational activities that contribute the most to carbon emissions, and by helping to put in place suitable management processes that will enable emission reductions to be identified and achieved, Airport Carbon Accreditation can help to optimise airport capacity.

It does so by incentivising innovative activities and efficiencies to reduce the impact from infrastructure energy use and reduce or mitigate emissions from airside and landside operational activities.


Financial benefits
The majority of carbon emissions at an airport come from energy use: fuel burnt in boilers, generators and vehicles, and power imported from external sources.

Carbon emission reductions are most commonly delivered through energy reduction and with that comes energy cost reductions. Easily accessible savings can amount to 10% of total energy costs and experience shows that this is a regularly realised figure.

There is thus a clear business case for airports to participate in the programme and this has provided an incentive for airports to apply and to progress through the different programme levels.

Many European and Asia-Pacific airports are already making strides in lowering their total energy costs. Airport Carbon Accreditation offers a further opportunity to optimise operational cost savings and promote an airport’s efforts and commitment, as part of a wider campaign, at local, regional, national and global levels.


Management structure
Another factor in the programme’s success lies in the independent and interactive management and financial structure. Airport Carbon Accreditation is owned by ACI Europe, but an independent Advisory Board oversees its administration. 

It also has an independent Administrator and an airport Task Force, whose role is to ensure the continuing relevance of the programme standards.


Ten reasons why the programme is successful
In summary, the programme is successful because:

  • It responds to regulatory concerns about aviation and climate change
  • It provides a unique common framework and tool for active carbon management with measurable goals
  • It covers airport operational activities that contribute the most to carbon emissions
  • It is site specific and can be used at any airport as part of its daily environmental management activity and long-term strategy
  • It helps guide and support airport environmental management through a process of continual improvement and collaborative partnership
  • It provides improved accountability and transparency between airports and their wider airport stakeholders
  • It champions the voluntary and collective public environmental engagement of ACI member airports worldwide
  • It is consistent, compatible and compliant with national and international management and reporting of carbon emissions
  • It is recognised as the industry reference standard for airport carbon mapping and management



How to apply
Any gateway wishing to become Airport Carbon Accredited simply has to contact the Airport Carbon Accreditation administrator to obtain up-to-date programme documentation, and then decide upon on the level of participation they wish to pursue, based on the level of carbon management activity at the airport.

Once all documentation has been submitted and the participation fee received, the application will be processed according to the programmes standing operating procedures and the airport will be notified of additional requirements, if any. 

Finally, when the programme administration is satisfied that the requirements for the level of application have been met, the accreditation certificate will be issued. The airport will then receive its official accreditation certificate, publicity materials, and the airport’s name is added to the public listings of accredited airports.

So what are you waiting for?




About the author

Leonie Dobbie is WSP Environmental’s head of sustainable aviation and programme administrator of ACI Europe’s Airport Carbon Accreditation initiative.
Visit www.airportcarbonaccreditation.org for more information or contact

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