What Is The Airport Carbon Accreditation Scheme?

We don’t often hear all that much about what airports are doing to reduce their carbon footprints. We may read stories about environmental wins in a particular area of aircraft operations, but what about airports as a whole?

Airport queue on runway
What is the Airport Carbon Accreditation? Photo: Getty Images

What is the Airport Carbon Accreditation scheme?

This may be the first time you’ve heard of the Airport Carbon Accreditation scheme, yet it’s been around for several years. What’s more, over 300 airports across the globe are involved in the program at some level. So, what is it, and how does it work?

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Essentially, the Airport Carbon Accreditation scheme (ACA) encourages the reduction of CO2 emissions across all areas of airport operations. From airlines and ground handling teams right through to airport retailers, the ACA ensures that the most is being done for the environment.

The program was launched back in 2009 at the annual assembly hosted by the Airports Council International (ACI) Europe, and it didn’t take long to gain traction. In 2011, the ACA was being used by airports in the Asia-Pacific region. Two years later, it was adopted in Africa and then by North America in 2014. Finally, the ACA became a global movement reaching Latin America and the Caribbean.

American at US airport
North American airports adopted the ACA in 2014. Photo: Getty Images

Why does the Airport Carbon Accreditation matter?

The Airport Carbon Accreditation is focused on driving down emissions. It collectively contributes to the reductions of greenhouse gases within the aviation industry, helping it meet its environmental targets.

The scheme bears weight because of the need to reduce carbon footprints in all levels of society. While airlines are doing their bit for the environment, it’s also vital that airports contribute to validate the efforts of those carriers. By carrying the accreditation, airports demonstrate their commitment to the sustainability of the aviation industry. They also stand out as leaders in innovation.

Changi Airport forest
Showing respect for the environment will help airports stand out. Photo: Getty Images

However, the will to become carbon neutral needs to be supported by a lot of perseverance. Not only are there a multitude of CO2 emission sources at airports, but many airports not part of the scheme will not have a deep understanding of their carbon footprint. Membership to the Airport Carbon Accreditation requires that airports swot up on their knowledge to measure their impact.

The steps to CO2 neutrality

According to the ACA, there have been drastic improvements in CO2 emissions from airports in the last decade. Between July 2009 and June 2010, 56,633 tonnes of CO2 was removed from the atmosphere due to the collective efforts of airports. That’s the same as the amount of CO2 captured from 399 acres of forest.

Fast-forward nine years and more than five times that amount has been reduced. Between July 2018 and June 2019, 322,297 tonnes of CO2 were removed from the atmosphere, equating to the emissions needed to power 767 million hours of HD video streaming. However, before any of that can be achieved, airports need to comply with guidance from the ACA to work out how much CO2 they need to reduce and where from.

The first step is Mapping.

Airline wing, engine exhaust emissions
Collectively, over 300,000 tonnes of CO2 was removed from the atmosphere in 2018-2019. Photo: Getty Images

What does Mapping involve?

Mapping is the most basic level of the Airport Carbon Accreditation and was recently achieved by Aruba Airport. The process involves measuring exactly what emissions the airport produces. Airports will need to compile a carbon footprint report and collect data for the previous year as well. Once that’s done, they’ll be required to verify the information from a third party.

98 airports worldwide are currently at this stage, including:

  • Jorge Newbury Airfield in Buenos Aires, Argentina;
  • Edmonton International Airport in Alberta, Canada; and
  • Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos, Nigeria.

Once an airport has earned its Mapping accreditation, it can progress to the next level.

International Arrivals Argentina
Jorge Newbery in Buenos Aires is currently mapping out its carbon footprint. Photo: Getty Images

Reducing CO2 emissions

95 airports across the globe are currently working towards the second level of the Airport Carbon Accreditation scheme. At this stage, airports must demonstrate that they are taking steps to reduce their carbon footprint. This includes the creation of a climate change committee, curating a communications strategy, and integrating CO2 reduction tactics into all areas of the business.

Some airports that have already managed this are:

  • The Airports Company South Africa;
  • Melbourne Airport; and
  • Salt Lake City International Airport.
Baggage handlers at Frankfurt
Airports must also work with third parties to improve all aspects of their carbon footprint. Photo: Getty Images

Optimizing CO2 emission reductions

Participants of the ACA are required to involve third parties in the development of their CO2 reduction schemes. For airports to completely optimize their operations alone is a lengthy and arduous task. At this stage, airports might reach out to third-party caterers or ground handling crews to work towards reducing CO2 emissions.

There are 57 airports currently at this stage, including:

  • Abu Dhabi International Airport in the UAE;
  • Paris Charles de Gaulle;
  • London Heathrow; and
  • Los Angeles International Airport.
LAX external view
Los Angeles International is optimizing its carbon footprint strategy. Photo: Getty Images

Achieving carbon neutrality

The fourth and final stage of the program sees the airport participant achieve carbon neutrality. In this stage, any carbon emissions that cannot be eradicated must be offset. 62 airports have achieved this status already with the Airport Carbon Accreditation scheme. It is the pinnacle of sustainability for an airport, demonstrating a commitment to the environment. 

In May 2017, Gatwick became London’s first carbon-neutral airport and the second busiest carbon neutral airport in Europe. For officials, it was a momentous occasion which demonstrated the strength of the airport.

Gatwick Airport aerial view
Gatwick Airport became carbon neutral in 2017. Photo: Getty Images

Speaking in 2017 in a press release, the CEO of Gatwick Stewart Wingate said,

“We consider sustainability as critical to our future as a successful airport, and the news that we are now a carbon-neutral airport shows just how far we have come since independent ownership in 2009…Our Decade of Change strategy is really driving our sustainability performance and today’s results show that we are successfully balancing growth with a reduced environmental footprint, while also contributing to the community and thriving local and national economies.”

According to its sustainability report for 2019, the airport reused or recycled 71% of all of its waste, and 47% of its passengers use public transport to and from the airport.

Climate Justice Now
Airport carbon footprints will become more of a focus as sustainability is scrutinized. Photo: Getty Images

Should more airports become carbon neutral?

It’s evident that the process of becoming carbon neutral requires dedication. However, it is also achievable. 312 airports are involved in the Airport Carbon Accreditation. While that’s a significant number, there is still a long way to go before all airports, or even half, are carbon neutral.

The benefits of sustainability and long term vision for the future certainly suggest that more airports should be getting involved. As climate change continues to be a hot topic of conversation in the public and political sphere, perhaps more airports will take up the challenge.

What do you think? Share your thoughts on this story in the comments.