A global carbon offsetting scheme for aircraft operators is set to start in 2021 and run alongside ongoing improvements in engine technology and efficiency. But what about the airports? In light of the energy needs required to power its buildings, infrastructure, ground transport, aircraft movement and more, airports themselves are a major source of carbon emissions. Fortunately, the airport industry is rising to the challenge of addressing a low-carbon future through innovative initiatives such as the Airport Carbon Accreditation programme.

The first key step is to set a vision and put in place a plan to deliver it. The Airport Carbon Accreditation Programme is providing a robust and consistent framework to help more than 200 airports to manage their carbon emissions. For the past 10 years, WSP has been working with Airports Council International to develop and administer its programme. The programme also works in partnership with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s Carbon Neutral Now programme and has set a target to have 100 carbon-neutral airports by 2030.

Energy efficiency is an obvious part of the solution and many airports are pushing hard on LED lighting replacements, introducing better metering, monitoring and targeting systems, improving the control of lighting, more efficient boilers, chillers and HVAC systems and introducing power factor correction. However, there is still plenty of potential to be realised. A recent study conducted by WSP for a UK airport operator identified significant carbon savings that would also help to reduce utility costs by up to £2 million annually.

Despite efforts to maximize energy efficiency, airports will always be energy-intensive consumers. It is therefore critical for airports to move toward energy that has a low, and ultimately zero, carbon content. The rapid growth and the shrinking cost of renewable energy generation is enabling more and more organisations to switch to certified zero carbon electricity. For example, Heathrow Airport has adopted zero carbon electricity supply as part of its long-term strategy to operate zero carbon airport infrastructure by 2050.