Stephanie Baldwin, Principal environmental planner and Georgia Hughes, Environmental consultant
Considering the sustainability of an aviation project is not just necessary in order to combat climate change. Future proofing assets to changing environmental and demographic trends, the need to do more with increasingly scarce resources, and greater accountability to local and national stakeholders all mean we must take sustainability seriously.
And when truly embraced, sustainability can unlock additional benefits:
Improve reputation: With heightened awareness of the impact our actions have on society and the environment, a world-class airport that works to minimise impacts improves the standing of itself and the host country.
Attract better financing options: Lenders increasingly want to invest in sustainable projects which balance national need with a positive local and environmental impact. Frameworks such as the UN’s principles for responsible investment encourage investors to consider environmental and social governance in infrastructure development.
Reduce risk: Addressing sustainability is provenly effective in mitigating all forms of risk – commercial and technical, health and safety, in addition to social, environmental and economic.
Raise community buy-in: A positive social and environmental impact will help gain support for your development from local residents and the wider population.
Cut costs: A focus on more efficient use of resources can unlock cost savings during construction and asset operation.
Greater resilience: Acting to protect against and adapt to climate change leads to a competitive advantage over less resilient rivals.
Our sustainability work divides into five key areas:
It is widely accepted that cutting carbon cuts costs. Bringing carbon management principles into the design stage to drive down material use and take advantage of low carbon technologies such as design for manufacture and assembly (DfMA) will ensure a cheaper and cleaner airport. We have developed the Carbon Portal – the first BIM-enabled carbon calculator – to enable low carbon optioneering at the design stage.
Most of our water reduction work has been to existing airports to reduce costs and improve sustainability. Simply washing a Boeing 747 can take 200,000l of water – extrapolate this to consider the water being used at all aprons and for all people being accommodated in the terminal buildings and the water needs of an average airport can be very high. We examine existing water use from passenger bathrooms to landscape irrigation systems to see how they can be made more efficient, while rainwater collection and reuse of grey water can cut the use of clean water.
Looking at energy sources can highlight opportunities for efficiency. Photovoltaic (PV) panels can contribute to on-site power generation, and some have been specifically designed to reduce glare so as not to disturb pilots. Other renewable energy sources such as wind, geothermal energy and biofuels can further reduce reliance on the national grid.
We also look at the way energy is being used. Lighting is one big area where efficiencies can be made and when designing new airports, we work with architects to maximise natural light. Timers can ensure lights in terminal buildings are only in use when needed, while replacing old lights with LEDs can cut energy use further. An easy win for most airports would be to reduce lighting on taxiways.
There is much higher awareness of the importance of preserving biodiversity and being sympathetic to the local environment. And for some countries, ecotourism is a big economic driver, so it’s important to provide visitors with a portal to the country which respects their rich biodiversity. Environmental impact assessments, with a focus on the impact that traffic and noise levels will have on local wildlife, can highlight any problems, while mitigation measures – such as landscaping or enabling movement of animals around the site – can aid the business case for new developments.
Although airport developments are usually designed with a social purpose in mind – to stimulate the local or national economy, large scale developments can be used to further embed social benefits. An effort to enlist and train local people during the construction phase is a great way to develop skills that will serve them long after the airport has opened, and helps form bridges between the asset owner and the local community.