Carbon Footprint Sustainability Sustainability & ESG

6 Sustainable Airports Rethinking Business-as-Usual

Six airports for sustainability are leading by example. Their inspiring actions demonstrate why it's important to share sustainability activities with travelers.

Airports are entering their busy season with the onset of peak summer travel. An increase in travel could mean new travelers frequenting airports, and an opportunity to showcase a commitment to resilience. 

A Jefferies survey of 500 U.S. travelers projects an increase of travel by 2% from 2019 levels, in spite of travel costs rising 3.5% from 2023. Gen Z travelers are expected to spend the most on their vacations this summer, spending more per trip than other generations for the first time in four years. 

A survey also shows Gen Z travelers are more interested in sustainable travel than other groups, focusing on destinations and transportation choices that have a lower environmental impact. Sustainability factors in airports are likely to become a more important part of travelers’ overall experience at airports. 

Around the world, airports are already adopting sustainability initiatives to appeal to travelers and other important stakeholders. The following airports are leveraging their sustainability strengths in ways that appeal to frequenters focused on multiple dimensions of travel. 

Boston Logan International Airport 

In 2005, Boston’s Logan International Airport achieved an important milestone by accrediting its Terminal A with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Certification by the U.S. Green Building Council in 2005. It was the first airport building in the world to become LEED certified. LEED Certification provides a rating system and framework for virtually any type of building to demonstrate the building’s healthy spaces, resource efficiency, and other “green” characteristics. 

Today, the airport’s owner continues to aim high for sustainability. In 2022, Massport, the owner of Boston Logan International Airport and two other airports, pledged to achieve Net Zero emissions by 2031. Continuing its initial strategy, Massport plans to achieve its target by building energy efficiency using design standards. In addition, it plans to generate renewable energy on-site. 

When making Net Zero pledges, ambition needs to be matched with credibility. To date, Massport has already demonstrated its ability to set and reach environmental targets. At Logan International Airport, it achieved 40% carbon emissions reductions and 25% energy consumption reductions in 2019, one year ahead of schedule. 

Denver International Airport

This airport boasts the largest solar power field at a commercial airport with a generation capacity of 10 MW, meeting 8% of the airport’s annual electricity usage. However, it still has a long way to go to reach the status of India’s Cochin International Airport, which sources 100% of its electricity needs from solar energy resources, including on-site solar arrays. 

On-site renewable energy generation is a way for airports to lower carbon emissions and diversify their energy resources away from the local grid. Denver’s airport is not only planning to use renewables, but extend the advantages of the energy it generates by piloting an on-site battery storage facility. 

An important hub of transportation, Denver International Airport expects to grow to reach 100 million passengers traveling through its terminals. Sustainability and resiliency are key aims connected to this growth. Another way it enhances sustainability is through a partnership with the recycling company TerraCycle. Known for recycling hard-to-recycle materials, the company works with Denver International Airport to recycle cigarettes from the airport. 

Stockholm Arlanda Airport

The Arlanda Airport in Stockholm achieved carbon neutrality as early as 2009. It commits to maintaining this achievement in part by including a CO2 emissions cap as a line item of its environmental permit, and it’s the only airport in the world with such a cap.  

The airport uses a wide variety of strategies to ensure low CO2 emissions in its operations. For instance, it incorporates a biofuel system for heating many of its buildings. It collects well water for circulating through its heating and cooling system within pads of cement designed to prevent ice from forming on doors and ramps. 

Dallas Fort Worth, Texas

Building on existing progress, Dallas Fort Worth’s airport raised eyebrows by announcing its commitment to achieve net zero carbon by 2030. To date, it has lowered its per passenger carbon emissions 83% since 2010. It uses sustainable fuel in its fleet vehicles and has installed nine electric vehicle charging stations on-site. 

Galapagos Ecological Airport, Ecuador 

Airports are home to significant amounts of concrete and cement used within their infrastructure. Focusing on material sustainability, Equador’s Galapagos Ecological Airport was built with 80% recycled materials, such as steel withdrawn from oil extraction infrastructure in the Amazon rainforest. 

Adding to its sustainability, the airport’s design includes solar panels built into walkways and wind energy resources, which combined, supply 100% of its electricity needs. It also uses desalinized seawater and recycled wastewater for different applications, thanks to its on-site desalinization plant and wastewater treatment facilities.

Rome’s Fiumicino Airport

Today’s airports are shifting operations to adopt circular principles such as compost, recycling and reuse to divert waste from landfills. Rome’s Fiumicino Airport provides a good example of circularity in action. Its on-site composting facility processes up to 1000 metric tonnes per year of food waste from the restaurants and bars in its terminals. The compost generated is also used on-site in the landscaped areas of the airport. 

To achieve this circular model, the airport’s owner Aeroporti Di Roma partnered with the Hera Group, a leading multi-utility group in Italy, in a two-year contract covering other areas of circularity, too. The Fiumicino airport features a biological wastewater treatment plant, which is used to recycle water on-site.

Fiumicino excellence as the best airport in Europe for three consecutive years from 2018 to 2020

The Fiumicino Airport is also incorporating circularity in other aspects of operations, too. The airport features a biological wastewater treatment plant, which is used to recycle water on-site for purposes other than drinking water. This led to a 30% reduction in the airport’s water consumption. 

Thanks to these innovations and other areas of excellence, the Fiumicino Airport was recognized by the Airports Council International (ACI) as the best airport in Europe for 2018, 2019 and 2020.

Leveraging Airports Council International (ACI) Accreditation  

While not every airport is ready to become the frontrunner in sustainability, ACI has fortunately developed an accreditation framework to support airports toward enhanced sustainability. This certification, called the Airport Carbon Accreditation, focuses on adopting steps along a logical, achievable pathway towards establishing a Net Zero target and emissions reduction. Airports can gain recognition through accreditation at each step of implementation.  

Sharing this accreditation provides airport communities, travelers and financial stakeholders insight into the forward-looking management priorities of an airport. Stakeholders benefit from the added assurance of an airport’s long-term sustainability.  

However, management is the key word in sustainability. Atrius Energy and Atrius Sustainability can help airports build out the appropriate tools to measure and manage a wide range of priority topics for airport sustainability: carbon emissions, energy efficiency and reduction, water use, waste and recycling, and biodiversity. Our products are designed to help businesses access a wide range of business benefits linked to sustainable operations:

  • Cost savings through efficiency improvements, 
  • Strategic project planning using assumptions linked to environmental KPIs, 
  • Internal stakeholder engagement through compelling storytelling dashboards, and
  • External stakeholder engagement through reporting outputs aligned with widely used standards and frameworks.

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