A Journey to the World’s Most Eco-friendly Airports

by Sarah Böcking
© hxdyl - shutterstock.com

Airlines have done a lot to become more environmentally friendly in recent years: The target to mitigate CO2 emissions from air transport is pushing them to reduce fuel emissions and the revolution of electrical aircrafts is at its planning stage.

But an airport that is eco-friendly? For me, it always seemed to be an odd and self-contradictory issue. At least until the day I landed at Stuttgart Airport and saw a step towards sustainability for the first time. When I got out of the airplane, a fully electric vehicle was waiting for me and dropped me off at the terminal. Stuttgart Airport started to use e-vehicles as shuttle buses in 2013 and currently all 16 passenger buses are now completely emission-free. To complete their mission, Stuttgart Airport aims to be climate-neutral by 2050. I learned my lesson! An airport can be green indeed, and e-vehicles are just a small fragment of what is possible.

I became curious about the whole topic and did some homework: In this blog, I will take you on a journey to the world’s most eco-friendly airports. Which methods do airports use to improve their ecological footprint? Can software support the process of becoming green (spoiler: Yes, it can.)? Get ready for departure!

Take off: Stuttgart Airport

As already mentioned, Stuttgart Airport has big plans when it comes to environmental protection.

Their vision fairport STR follows the goal to become one of the highest-performing and most sustainable airports in Europe. Marvin König, Head of Internal Projects Ground Handling at Stuttgart Airport, told me that "the airport intends to half its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 as compared to 1990. By 2050 the airport’s operations are to be entirely carbon-neutral."

What does that mean in practical terms? Stuttgart Airport produces its own eco-friendly power in solar plants and a cogeneration unit on its compound. The power not used by the airport is fed into the public power supply system. Another big milestone was achieved this year: Stuttgart Airport now runs its passenger and baggage transport on the ramp with almost silent and zero-emission drives by using electrical vehicles. According to Marvin König, this is just the beginning: With the scale–up! project from Martin Hofmann and his team, and supported by the Federal Ministry for the Environment, high loaders, push-back trucks and other vehicles will be gradually replaced with the goal to operate the entire ground handling with e-vehicles.

Let’s also talk some numbers: Stuttgart Airport has implemented a software system that supports optimizing taxi times of planes. Optimizing taxi times does not only help to minimize delays and improve overall efficiency but also to reduce the jet engine running times. After one year of implementation, the reports show that fuel consumption of airplanes on the ground has been reduced and 740 tons of CO2 emissions have been cut down. Software helping airports go green? Mission accomplished!

That being said, let’s take a look at the other side of the world. Are you ready for our first layover?

Seymour Airport on Baltra: Making Use of the Island’s Sun and Wind

Welcome to Galapagos Islands! Seymour Airport on Baltra Island, also known as Galapagos Ecological Airport, won the title of “World’s First Green Airport.”. In December 2017, Airports Council International (ACI) certified the airport as a Level 4 “Neutrality”, making it the first carbon-neutral airport in Latin America and the Caribbean and the second all of the Americas.

But what exactly makes it an eco-airport? Seymour Airport in the Galapagos Islands runs 100% on power gained from sun and wind. 35% of the power is generated by photovoltaic panels installed on the terminal walkways and the remaining 65% by windmills located in the airport area. In addition to solar and wind power, Seymour Airport features its own desalination plant. The facility converts seawater to desalinated water which then is used in the airport’s toilets and sinks. This method successfully contributes to water saving. While a single, relatively lightly-trafficked island terminal is probably not going to make a tremendous change in the impact of worldwide air travel on the environment, Seymour Airport offers a model for other countries on how ecological consciousness at airports can function. Let’s check out our next destination!

San Francisco International Airport: Achieve Zero by 2021

As outlined in their strategic plan, San Francisco International Airport’s (SFO) goal is to become the world’s first zero waste airport by 2021. What defines zero waste? According to the Zero Waste Alliance, it means reducing, reusing, recycling, and composting waste with nothing going to landfills or incineration.

Solid waste is generated at airport operated facilities, aboard incoming aircrafts, and by various airport tenants. Since 2008, SFO has undertaken a comprehensive waste reduction program including resource conservation, source separation, and composting, which has resulted in a gradual increase in the airport’s recycling rate. In 2018, the airport has published a Zero Solid Waste Management Plan which will optimize on-site handling and sorting of waste. It also ensures that all recyclable and compostable materials from the airport are handled accordingly. San Francisco International Airport intends to reduce the use of non-recyclable materials at the airport and to ensure that recyclable materials are not mistakenly landfilled.

Our final airport we will take a closer look at deals with waste optimization as well. Get ready for a journey to India.

Delhi’s Indira Ghandi International Airport to be Plastic-free

Namaste! Indira Ghandi International Airport (IGI) in Delhi will welcome its passengers with a plastic-free environment by the end of 2019.

IGI Airport, one of the 20 busiest airports in the world, wants to eliminate single-use plastics. The initiative is in line with India’s commitment to ban all single-use plastic items in the country by 2022.

The airport has launched several initiatives including creating awareness, improving waste management systems, and promoting the use of eco-friendly sustainable alternatives.

Grocery bags, food packaging, bottles, straws, cups, and other plastics will be prohibited at the airport as soon as there is a green alternative. Considering that most of the food comes in plastic packaging, IGI Airport has already started to look for sustainable packaging for such takeaways. Equally, all the shops inside the airport must switch to environment-friendly bags.

Global Rise of Sustainability

Stuttgart Airport, Seymour Airport, San Francisco Airport and Delhi Airport are just a few examples of eco-friendly airports. In fact, there are a lot more airports across the globe that have made and are taking the first steps towards sustainability. The airport carbon accreditation programme by ACI is recognized by plenty of airports around the world who participate in the program to manage and reduce their CO₂ emissions.

While we await the era of electric aircrafts, right now it seems that the key to eco-friendlier airports isn't in a single innovation, but in the combination of multiple sustainable initiatives around the world.

We see: sustainability does not have to start in the air - it can begin on the ground.

I hope you had a pleasant journey to the world’s most eco-friendly airports.

What are your thoughts about eco-friendly airports? Can airports ever be sustainable?

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About the author

  • Sarah Böcking

    Sarah worked as a Marketing Manager at INFORM in our Aviation Division. She is an online marketing enthusiast and a travel devotee.

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