Heathrow 2.0: Airport launches sustainability super-strategy ahead of expansion

A rapid transition to 100% renewable energy, the development of a Centre of Excellence for sustainable aviation, and the carbon-neutral expansion to a third runway are among the key commitments made by Heathrow Airport in a bold new CSR strategy.

The new ‘Heathrow 2.0’ strategy lists more than 200 targets across a range of social, environmental and economic issues. It is divided into four key pillars – ‘A great place to work’; ‘A great place to live’; ‘A thriving sustainable economy’; and ‘A world worth travelling’.

Launching the strategy in London this afternoon, chief executive John Holland-Kaye said: “Heathrow 2.0. is a step-change for our business, and accelerates the shift in our industry towards a sustainable future for aviation.

“By focusing on the long-term, and through working together, we can deliver a world-leading economy – innovative, competitive, successful and sustainable. And we can create a future where our business, our people, our communities, our country and our world, can all thrive.”

Carbon-neutral expansion

The wide-ranging and ambitious strategy is ultimately underpinned by the airport’s controversial expansion plans, with the level of investment required to fulfil the strategy largely dependent on permission to build a third runway.

Crucially, the significant growth in flights and infrastructure caused by Heathrow’s expansion will be carbon-neutral under this new strategy, with the airport detailing plans to offset an inevitable increase in emissions through the restoration of peatlands in the UK, alongside other carbon-offsetting schemes it will be researching.

This aspirational goal will be supported by the global aviation deal agreed in October 2016, which saw 191 nations agree that new emissions from the aviation sector must be offset from 2020.

Heathrow will also develop a Centre of Excellence for sustainability at airports and in the wider aviation sector, which it says will facilitate the research and development of solutions to the carbon-neutrality challenge. Heathrow confirmed that it has invested an initial £500,000 into the new research and development centre with an overarching aim to identify new ways to minimise noise and carbon emissions from flights. An opening date for the Centre has not yet been confirmed.

Renewable energy

With Heathrow’s expansion expected to make the airport the airport the UK’s largest source of carbon emissions, the new strategy places a big focus on emissions reductions.

Heathrow has today joined The Climate Group’s RE100 renewable energy programme, with an aim to source 100% renewable power for its operations by April of this year – following hot on the heels of rival airport Gatwick, which joined RE100 in January. Last month, Holland-Kaye confirmed that that all of the Airport’s energy usage would indeed be generated from renewable sources within the next few months when he appeared on stage at edie’s Sustainability Leaders Forum.

Other emissions-related commitments within the Heathrow 2.0 strategy include a plan to operate zero-carbon airport infrastructure by 2050 and to develop an ultra-low emissions zone for airside vehicles by 2025. This year, the airport will also seek to launch a new car club for Heathrow passengers that promotes electric vehicles (EVs), and establish a new sustainable freight group.

The airport will also publish new guidance for staff on embedding circular economy principles in its procurement processes, with a target to reach an operational waste recycling rate of 70% by 2020. On water, Heathrow has set a new goal for a 10% reduction in total water consumption, also by 2020.

‘A new approach’

Heathrow 2.0 has received praise from an array of politicians, industry, academia and businesses across the country, with the airport listing a selection of responses in a press release this afternoon.

The Climate Group’s acting chief executive Damian Ryan said: “This is an important step as significant reductions in emissions from the aviation sector – including on the ground – are essential to addressing climate change over the next few decades. This is clearly the start of a long and challenging journey for the airport and the wider industry, and its success is vital if aviation is to have a sustainable future and continue to deliver the many economic and social benefits it provides.”

Professor Callum Thomas, chair of Sustainable Aviation at Manchester Metropolitan University, added: “Heathrow 2.0 represents a new approach. The aspiration to make areas around Heathrow a Great Place to Live has the potential, if fully realised, to deliver action not only to minimise noise and improve local air quality, but also investment in local communities and the local environment, to provide opportunities for local families, to allow local people to share in the benefits and success of Heathrow’s growth. 

“The Plan explicitly commits to support global efforts to prevent dangerous climate change, to decouple aviation growth from carbon emissions, and in so doing it addresses head on the climate challenge faced by aviation.”

Expansion fears

The release of the Heathrow 2.0 strategy follows a succession of significant environmental achievements and commitments over the past year as it gears up for expansion.

The airport – which is the first in the world to simultaneously hold four certifications from the Carbon Trust Standard – recently announced a £2m plan to ‘go electric’ with the installation of more than 135 electric vehicle (EV) charging stations around the area, as well as engineering new zero-carbon, fully autonomous, battery-operated carrier pods to act as shuttles around the streets of Greenwich.

But the environmental impact of Heathrow’s third runway – which was agreed by ministers last year and is now going through a public consultation process – remains shrouded in controversy. Just last week, a report from the Environmental Audit Committee echoed concerns of the negative environmental impact of the airport expansion, with a report warning that it could create a “black hole” in future carbon budgets.

A final decision on the expansion will be put to MPs next year and, if all goes to plan, the planning process for Heathrow’s third runway will be over by 2020.

Luke Nicholls

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