On 01SEP21, Aviation Week hosted an online panel discussion titled “The road to zero carbon airports”, featuring Juliana Scavuzzi, Senior Director, Sustainability, Environmental Protection and Legal Affairs at ACI World, Lena Wennberg, Head of Environment at Swedavia, and Olav Mosvold Larsen, Senior Executive Advisor, Sustainability at Avinor. The panel was moderated by Routes Editor-in-Chief, Wesley Charnock.
The focus was on how ACI World and its member airports which have all committed to carbon neutral operations by 2050 (latest), are reducing their carbon footprint, what practical steps airports
need to take now to meet their targets, how airports can support their airline partners in becoming more sustainable, and what role new technologies and sustainable fuels play in
Direction Net Zero
The 1991-established global trade representative, Airports Council International (ACI), meanwhile numbers almost 2,000 airports in 183 countries. Needless to say, these airports all vary greatly in size, resources, and political/social circumstances, so a one-size-fits-all Net Zero solution is not possible. However, the topic has been on the table, not least since the Paris Convention on Climate Change in 2015. Juliana Scavuzzi illustrated that airports are responsible for around 2% of total global human-induced carbon emissions, and that if all airports collaborate to make improvements, this percentage, which has not changed much since 1992, could be improved. She underlined that, as the result of a zero-carbon feasibility study carried out on behalf of ACI World in FEB20, a long-term carbon goal was set: “ACI member airports at a global level commit to reach Net Zero Carbon emissions by 2050, and urge governments to provide the necessary support in this endeavor.”
“Airports are the face of Aviation”
Already prior to the pandemic, the public eye was on aviation as an environmental offender. The flygskam (flight shame) movement began in 2018, encouraging people to stop taking flights as a means of transport. As aviation ramps up again post-pandemic, sustainability will play an even stronger role in consumer choice, as passengers consciously opt for greener air travel. “Airports are the face of Aviation,” Juliana Scavuzzi emphasized, as they are the first point of contact for passengers coming in to fly. The panel discussed the manifold areas where airport operators can look to improve their carbon emission figures, be it in investing in electric ground vehicles, pushing for sustainable aviation fuel, selecting energy efficient lighting, using bio-products for de-icing, to name just a few options.
Know your starting point
The starting point for improvement, the panelists agreed, is to establish a status quo and a feasibility study. Know what your airport’s carbon footprint is, what you aspire it to be, and then create a strategy based on those figures, Lena Wennberg outlined. Speaking on behalf of the 10 Swedavia airports in Sweden, all of which already achieved their goal of zero carbon dioxide from fossil fuels by the end of 2020 within that year or early this year (due to pandemic delays), she stated that fossil-free solutions were found for almost all processes (with the exception of not being able to source bio-petrol yet). It should be pointed out here, that Swedavia began its sustainability drive back in 2003, which is why it is already so advanced in its progress. Another crucial factor in striving for net zero success, Olav Mosvold Larsen emphasized, is that the topic has to be integral to the company’s DNA. “We have a handful of people working full-time on the topic, but all 3,000 people across the company are part of this,” he pointed out.
Green attracts green
Asked by the moderator as to the fact that aiming for net zero can be very cost-intensive, the panel was unanimous in its response. “It’s a matter of perspective,” they returned, pointing out that the long run brings the return on investment in more ways than one, since those investing in greener processes will also find it easier to access financial support either in the form of budgets or in less taxation, be it CO2 tax, Jetfuel tax, airport passenger duty, CORSAIR, NOX tax and all the other taxes that either already exist or may be levied in future on less green operations. “Can we afford NOT to invest?” Olav Mosvold Larsen asked, stating that “Yes, first movers will pay more, but it’s all about how you establish your business case. When do you need return on investment? Walk the talk and show confidence,” he urged. The panel also emphasized the need for collaboration across the various stakeholders, and talked about those net-zero advanced airport operators such Swedavia and Avinor acting as mentors for airports not so far along in their journey.
Collaboration is key, they agreed. Share knowledge, go for low-hanging fruits, work through challenges, embrace technological innovations, and airports will successfully reach their various net zero goals, be they by 2026 (Lyon Saint Exupéry Airport), 2030 (a great number of airports), 2040/45, or in 29 years from now.
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