Heathrow goes carbon neutral and aims for zero carbon infrastructure by mid-2030s
(photo: Heathrow Airport)
Tue 25 Feb 2020 – London’s Heathrow Airport has targeted being a zero carbon airport by the middle of the next decade, having become one of the world’s first major aviation hubs to attain carbon neutral status for its infrastructure. The airport has invested £100 million ($128m) in improving energy efficiency and generating and buying renewable energy, which has resulted in a 93 per cent reduction in carbon emissions from its buildings since 1990. To reach carbon neutrality, remaining emissions will be offset through VCS-certified tree planting projects in Indonesia and Mexico, and Heathrow is to invest a further £1.8 million to support UK nature-based projects. Heathrow’s plan is to achieve net zero carbon across its airport infrastructure “as soon as possible” and work towards zero carbon by the mid-2030s. Meanwhile, SAS has taken the top ranking for the third consecutive quarter in Heathrow’s ‘Fly Quiet and Green’ league table.
The first step towards net zero for Heathrow is carbon neutrality and it has purchased 27,244 carbon credits to offset 2018 emissions from the airport’s gas, electricity, some of its operational vehicles and business travel. It has also purchased credits to offset anticipated emissions for 2019 to 2021. The airport expects a level 3+ carbon neutrality certificate within the industry’s Airport Carbon Accreditation programme to be approved later this year as part of the renewal timetable.
“Making our infrastructure entirely carbon neutral is a significant milestone and a testament to the determination of our airport to help spearhead a new era of sustainable aviation,” said Heathrow Chief Executive John Holland-Kaye.
Offsetting is an interim measure to reduce carbon emissions on the way to becoming a zero carbon airport, says Heathrow. To achieve further carbon savings this year, efforts will be focused on improvements to sustainable transport links and ensuring targets are met to transition all of Heathrow’s cars and small vans to electric and plug-in hybrid.
Heathrow has been supporting UK natural carbon capture projects since 2018 covering peatland restoration, woodland planting and a regenerative farming pilot. Part of the new £1.8m ($2.3m) investment will go towards a new 87.4-hectare native woodland creation project in Scotland, in partnership with Forest Carbon. The airport said it hopes to use some of the projects to offset a small amount of its “hard-to-tackle” emissions over the next few years. It adds that it would like to encourage others within the aviation industry to invest in similar initiatives and also show that UK natural climate solutions would make good options for airline commitments under the global CORSIA carbon offsetting scheme.
“With the right support and incentives from the industry and government, Britain will be able to become a world leader in green aviation technologies, benefiting both the environment and the economy,” said Heathrow.
The airport promises to confirm a plan and a target date before the end of this year for achieving net zero carbon across its infrastructure, which includes moving away from gas to heat the airport. On the ground, it is working to ensure vehicles at Heathrow meet ultra-low emissions standards by 2025 as a step to a future fully zero carbon fleet. It is also developing a new approach to landing charges to help incentivise airlines switch to cleaner fuels and penalise those that don’t.
The airport is also supporting work by industry body Airports Council International to develop accreditation that will set official standards for airports to become net zero.
A campaign is about to launch that aims to engage passengers on climate change, which includes a new carbon offsetting platform in partnership with Norwegian-based climate action subscription service CHOOOSE to ensure every Heathrow passenger has the opportunity to easily offset their flight. The funds raised will be invested in recognised reforestation projects in Uganda and Costa Rica.
Heathrow is a member of UK industry group Sustainable Aviation, which recently pledged to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 (see article). The airport has published an eight-point action plan, ‘Target Net Zero’, on how it aims to support the commitment through its own efforts and working with others, for example in the development of sustainable aviation fuels and electric aircraft. The group says decarbonising the sector requires an international approach through governments as well as industry and is calling on ICAO to agree a global net zero emissions target at its next Assembly in 2022.
“Our sights are now set on working with the global aviation industry to deliver on net zero by 2050, at the latest,” commented Holland-Kaye.
Meanwhile, the top spot taken by SAS in Heathrow’s ‘Fly Quiet and Green’ table for the final quarter of 2019 is attributed to the airline’s operational performance and use of more efficient Airbus A320neo aircraft. The next generation aircraft makes up 7% of flights from the airport and flown by eight of the airlines operating there – British Airways, SAS, Lufthansa, Air Malta, Iberia and TAP – which all feature in the league’s top 20. Air Malta climbed three positions to second place, followed by Oman Air, the airport’s strongest long-haul carrier. The biggest mover was Austrian Airlines, which climbed 16 places as a result of deploying new Airbus aircraft, coupled with a reduction in late and early arrivals.
Since the initiative was launched in 2014, Heathrow says it has played a key role in the transformation of fleets at Heathrow. Operational metrics have also helped provide respite to local communities, it adds, with many airlines improving their track keeping and adopting Continuous Descent Approach procedures.
Los Angeles World Airports has recently launched a similar programme, called Fly Quieter, at Los Angeles International (LAX) aimed at incentivising large commercial airlines to fly as quietly as possible to address local community concerns over aircraft noise. The programme will evaluate airlines annually based on scoring from a variety of criteria, including compliance with LAX noise abatement procedures, the use of quieter aircraft and new technology, as well as engagement with local community groups and other stakeholders.
The airport will monitor noise levels of the flights themselves, consider the noise levels of the types of aircraft operating at LAX and evaluate other voluntary procedures that could reduce aircraft noise impacts on adjacent communities. Airlines will be evaluated within groups determined by the number of flights, both departing and arriving, at the airport.
LAX officials will collect data and engage with each airline over the course of the year to allow airlines to improve their scores by taking proactive noise reduction and/or stakeholder engagement efforts before finalising the annual scores and publicly recognising the airlines that make the most substantial efforts to address aircraft noise.