Airports and Sustainability: A Look at Strategies for Greener Airports

Airports and Sustainability: A Look at Strategies for Greener Airports

by Frank Scotti – Sustainable Energy Advocate – Feb 13, 2024

Airports are bustling hubs of activity, connecting people and places around the world. However, their operations often come at a significant environmental cost. Airports are among the largest sources of air pollution on the United States. From carbon emissions to air pollution, airports have a notable impact on the planet. To mitigate these effects and pave the way for a greener future, airports across the United States are implementing innovative sustainability measures. Let’s explore how these airports are addressing key challenges such as carbon offsetting, air pollution, energy sustainability, and the impact of parking and visitors.

Carbon offsetting has emerged as a crucial strategy for airports to neutralize their carbon footprint. By investing in renewable energy projects and carbon capture initiatives, airports can balance out the emissions generated by air travel.

Similarly, Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) in Texas has implemented a comprehensive carbon offset program. By supporting renewable energy credits and forest conservation projects, DFW is making significant strides in reducing its environmental impact.

Airports are also notorious sources of air pollution, with aircraft emissions and ground transportation contributing to poor air quality in surrounding areas. Mitigating air pollution is a priority for airports large and small, aiming to improve public health and reduce environmental harm.

In Florida, Miami International Airport (MIA) has taken proactive measures to address air pollution. The airport has introduced a fleet of electric and hybrid ground vehicles, reducing reliance on fossil fuels and minimizing emissions. MIA has also invested in infrastructure for electric aircraft ground support equipment, further reducing emissions on the airfield.

Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) is the largest source of carbon monoxide (CO) in California. Recently, LAX has launched initiatives to improve air quality in neighboring communities. By incentivizing airlines to use cleaner-burning fuels and modernizing its ground support equipment fleet, LAX is reducing emissions from aircraft and ground operations. Additionally, the airport has partnered with local transit agencies to enhance public transportation options, reducing the number of vehicles on the road and associated emissions.

Energy sustainability is a critical focus area for airports seeking to reduce their environmental impact and dependence on non-renewable energy sources.

In Texas, Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) has embraced renewable energy solutions. The airport has installed solar panels on terminal buildings and parking garages, harnessing solar energy to power its operations. AUS has also implemented energy-saving measures such as LED lighting and advanced HVAC systems to reduce energy consumption.

Similarly, San Diego International Airport (SAN) in California has prioritized energy sustainability. Through the installation of solar arrays and the use of energy-efficient technologies, SAN has significantly reduced its reliance on grid electricity. The airport has also implemented energy storage solutions to optimize energy use and minimize waste.

The influx of visitors and vehicles at airports can exacerbate environmental challenges, including carbon emissions and air pollution. Most people drive to an airport. To mitigate these impacts, airports are implementing measures to promote sustainable transportation options and reduce vehicle emissions.   San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport has about 400 visitor parking spots, 100+ employee parking spots, and another 100 rental cars. Visitors have the option of driving, using the Ride-On shuttle, a paid driver service such as Uber, or a rental car. All of these options have yet to be optimized for carbon reduction and sustainability.

San Jose International Airport (SJC) has introduced initiatives to encourage sustainable transportation.  The airport offers electric vehicle charging stations and promotes public transit options for travelers. SJC has  also implemented a shuttle service between parking lots and terminals to reduce the need for individual vehicle trips.

Similarly, Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) in Texas has prioritized sustainable transportation solutions. The airport provides designated parking for fuel-efficient vehicles and offers discounts for carpooling travelers. IAH has also partnered with local transit agencies to enhance public transportation options to and from the airport.

Our local San Luis Obispo Regional Airport is certainly not at the level of LAX. But in a town where drive through’s are banned, environmental and sustainable issues are certainly still top of mind. With record-breaking travel in 2023, San Luis Obispo Regional Airport is only going to continue to grow, and either increase or decrease its environmental impact based on sustainable efforts being implemented today.

As airports in California, Texas, and Florida demonstrate, sustainability is a multifaceted endeavor that requires collaboration and innovation. The 2021 Aviation Climate Action Plan outlines their goal for all U.S. aviation to have net-zero GHG emissions by 2050. By embracing carbon offsetting, addressing air pollution, promoting energy sustainability, and implementing measures to mitigate the impact of parking and visitors, airports can lead the way toward a more sustainable aviation industry. Through these collective efforts, airports can ensure that the skies remain accessible while minimizing their environmental footprint for future generations.