At the Routes/TIACA “TakeOff Cargo 2021” online conference last week, Mammen Tharakan, Director e-commerce, Cargo, Aviation Real Estate at Edmonton International Airport (YEG), took viewers through a whirlwind presentation of the airport’s sustainability initiatives, appealed for airports to be seen as “an innovative partner in the responsible movement of freight,” and requested collaboration between all air cargo stakeholders.
In his 12-minute presentation titled, “Becoming a Sustainable Cargo Partner Through Innovation,” Mammen Tharakan was clear in his core message: “My hope today, is to provide a small
peek into some real examples that are underway, of how we are working tirelessly to become a sustainable cargo partner through innovation. We know that there's a desire in the entire air cargo
supply chain to be creative, to be greener, to move freight responsibly, and […] whether you’re a shipper or forwarder or an air carrier - the place where a lot of stakeholders converge, is in
fact, at the airport.”
Edmonton is not just any airport. It has dedicated itself to sustainability, refers to its premises as the “Airport City Sustainability Campus”, and as Canada’s largest airport by way of land (over 7,000 acres) was the first airport to join Amazon’s “Climate Pledge” (CFG reported: https://www.cargoforwarder.eu/2021/04/25/the-first-airport-in-the-world-to-join-the-climate-pledge/), with the aim of achieving carbon neutrality by 2040. More than once, he emphasizes, “we integrate sustainability in all business decisions.”
“Living lab for testing, trialing, incubation, commercialization of technologies”
“Sustainability Campus” and “Living Lab” are not titles that immediately conjure up an airport environment, and yet YEG claims both for itself. Tharakan outlined the various projects the airport is involved in and tied these in with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, going beyond the obvious environmental aspects to the social and governance challenges, too. “Goals 14 and 15 talk about life on land and water: the cargo industry has a role to play in combating the illegal movement of endangered or invasive species”; he cited as an example, before again underlining the core message: “Goal 17: Partnership for the goals is the path forward!”
So, what are YEG’s sustainability initiatives?
Tharakan outlined eight projects starting with “The Climate Pledge” which, with its 2040 aim, “is 10 years ahead of the Paris accord,” and detailing three main areas of action: emissions reporting, carbon elimination, and offsetting. He moved on to the second initiative: making the airport the “world’s largest solar farm” over an area of 627 acres, in partnership with the European company, Alpin Sun, and revealed that talks are already underway with cargo facilities to have warehouses powered by the solar farm. Third up, he described the “landmark green partnership agreement” signed with Air Canada to reduce the cargo impact of air travel and transport, jointly testing green technologies “which can then be scaled” so that “other airports and stations around the world” can benefit – technologies such as the electrification of ground equipment, for example. Fourth, he illustrated a sustainable innovative partnership with a Taiwanese company producing natural materials alternatives to plastic straws/cups/flowerpots, etc., thus reducing problematic waste.
Of green fuels and drones
Hydrogen as a zero-emission fuel is the fifth initiative, with YEG becoming a resource center for Canada through a $1.3 billion dollar project to build “the world’s largest net-zero hydrocarbon facility.” Closely linked to that initiative, was project number six: “We’re trialing growing crops on airport” which “can be potential bio-jet fuel” alongside the fact that they also “sequester almost six times more carbon from the atmosphere than other crops on the planet.”
From green fuel possibilities, he moved on to another fossil fuel free technology: “we are the first major airport in the world – as far as we are aware – to integrate drone logistics into regular airport operations,” outlining the focus on using drones for medical life science deployments as well as deliveries of food, supplies, and other critical items across more remote areas of Canada. As a final point, he stated the cargo upgrade project: “We’re currently embarking on our largest cargo infrastructure upgrade - $100 million expansion that includes new aprons, new warehouses, cold storage, fueling, among others, and our desire is to ensure our leadership in sustainability has been embedded into the project design and to the evaluation criteria for awarding the contracts,” citing carbon captured cement, renewable energy sources for power, and other carbon elimination strategies.
Collaboration is key
Sustainable initiatives take time and require investments, Tharakan stressed: “and leadership. […] Airports can create and enable that framework and environment for innovation,” yet ultimately we are all “collectively accountable”, urging the community to come together for good – not just cooperation between shippers, forwarders, and carriers, but to include airports. “The opportunity exists for airports to be that innovative partner in the responsible movement of freight, for cost sharing and best practices. It requires alignment across stakeholders, and most importantly, it requires collaboration,” he concluded.
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