Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye speech: ‘Airport expansion a model for sustainable growth’

Heathrow Airport chief executive John Holland-Kaye took to the stage at edie's Sustainability Leaders Forum this week to announce that all of the Airport's energy usage will be generated from renewable sources within the next few months, ahead of its controversial expansion. Here's a full transcript of his speech.

I’m sure everyone’s been feeling a bit anxious about what happening in the States and which direction thing are going. We’ve relied on politicians to take a lead in sustainability and while I can’t comment on all of the things that President Trump may or may not intend to do, my message really is don’t panic – don’t think that this means that all of the hard work we’ve all been doing around sustainability will be ground into the sand, there is still a lot that we can achieve.

There are some things where we need politicians to take a lead on helping economies to grow because we know that it’s only by having a healthy economy that can afford to pay for the change that we need to make to achieve a low-carbon economy.

But if politicians are wavering on climate change, then surely now is the time when companies need to step forward and take a lead on sustainability, and set out the case for taking action to secure a sustainable world for future generations – make that business case for sustainability.

Expansion plans

I would like to think that Heathrow is a good example of this. You will know that we have just been given the backing of the Government to expand the Airport, it is a key part of the Government’s economic plan. It will create 180,000 jobs across the country, and around £211bn of economic value to the country.

But expansion has to happen in the right way and that is exactly what we’re going to be doing. As we move into the delivery phase of Heathrow expansion, we need to make sure that the expansion is seen as the model for responsible growth in aviation.

Aviation has been seen in many environmental circles as an exception. It’s been carved out of its national agreements, and there’s a number of reasons for that, including that because growth in aviation is such an enabler for economic growth, a lot of countries just haven’t wanted to include it in any agreements from an environmental point of view.

And, of course, there is not yet a viable alternative to fossil fuels to fly planes, so there have been reasons why many countries around the world have chosen not to include it in environmental targets.

But that exceptionalism has tended to mean that aviation has been seen as the enemy by many people in the environmental world, and that undermines a lot of the good work that has been taking place within the aviation sector.

British companies have taken a strong lead in helping to make global aviation a more responsible sector than it would otherwise be. The airlines have invested tens of billions of pounds in a new fleet of cleaner, quieter planes – the planes that are starting to give us the possibility of having carbon-neutral growth in aviation.

Rolls-Royce, a great British company, has been emerging as the global leader in fuel-efficient engine technology. British Airways and Virgin have led the way in research into commercialising biofuels. And last year, the global aviation industry agreed that all aviation growth from 2020 should be carbon-neutral – that is a huge step forward, it has taken years to get there. And Heathrow was one of the first company’s calling for that over 10 years ago, so some of the things we work on for a long time do pay off, so it is worth keeping on lobbying, pushing and building a coalition of support for the things that really matter.

So, the real picture for aviation is complex. Long-haul flying is one of the least substitutable forms of transport, and the modern economy relies on the ability to get people and goods around the world very quickly. And that’s not just for the benefit of wealthy economies. Global trade, much of which relies on aviation, such as transporting fresh fruit and vegetables or even tourism is critical to helping billions of people in developing countries escape from poverty. And as such, it’s one of the most valuable users of carbon, which is likely to continue even after other industries have been decarbonised.

But the sheer size of aviation’s carbon budget, and the fact that it will be with us for the foreseeable future, mean that aviation will remain inspired, and we need to keep working hard to minimise the negative impacts on the planet, and to maximise the benefits. In other words, to make sure that we grow sustainably.

We have a particular role to play in this at Heathrow. We are the UK’s biggest port and one of the busiest hub airports in the world. And we are perhaps one of the best-known in the world because we are seen as a pioneer in technology and in service. You only have to check the news channels and you’ll see that the smallest things that happen at Heathrow are global news in the way that things that happen at bigger airports such as Dubai or Beijing or Atlanta just aren’t. And that is something we can use – making sure we use the grandee of Heathrow to really make a difference in the world.

And that is why I say that Heathrow expansion should be a model for how things should be done in the future; for responsible growth in aviation. And that where we lead, other airports around the world choose to follow.

Climate action

So, for me there’s a number of aspects to sustainability at Heathrow – it’s about making Heathrow a great place to work; being a good neighbour; being a responsible citizen for the UK and for the globe to ensure that future generations inherit a world that is worth travelling.

Doing the right thing is critical for our license to operate and to grow, but it is also good business sense. So, the questions I ask my team to think about are: am I making the right choice for future generations? Will this decision I’m taking make sense decades from now? Is it the right answer for the UK, our neighbours and the planet?

We all want to play our part in tackling the global challenges so that our children and their children inherit a world worth travelling. And the key environmental challenge as you know is climate change.

Heathrow expansion is compatible with the UK’s challenging climate change targets. I’ve already talked about the leading role we’re taking in decoupling aviation growth from growth in emissions. The work that we’ve done on that allowed us to be the first airport in the world to sign up to the Paris Pledge for Action on Climate Change. And we’ve been working hard to reduce our own demand for energy while increasing the amount of energy generated sustainably.

And today I am pleased to announce that, within the next few months, all of the electricity that we generate will be entirely from renewable sources – UK offshore wind, our onsite biomass boiler and onsite solar power. This is a real step forward for us and just one small part of a wider, long-term plan to deliver a resource-efficient, zero-waste airport and support a circular economy.

And, as well as climate change, we’re working with our partners to tackle some of the other global issues that come with one of the world’s great ports. We are one of the main transit points between Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas. And that means that for people who want to smuggle endangered species or people, we are one of the natural transit points. People are always looking to get things through the airport.

That gives us an opportunity to make a difference to some really important issues. If you look at endangered species, about 1,000 live animals are seized every year at Heathrow. In one case, 13 endangered iguanas were smuggled into Heathrow from the Bahamas on their way to Germany. Fortunately, those were detected, we had a targeted operation between border force and British Airways and we were able to return those to their home in the Bahamas.

We take a similar approach to human traffic and modern day slavery – we’re working with the Met Police and the Border Force to help colleagues and passengers spot vulnerable passengers. This can happen at any point in the journey. I was talking to a colleague recently who had been asked for help by a passenger going through security, who feared she was being taken to the sub-continent to be killed by her husband. We were able to intervene; we got the Met Police involved and the husband was arrested. This gives you a sense for why you might think that airport security is particularly tight at Heathrow – these are some of the valuable things we are doing to help to make sure that we are tackling some real-world issues.

So, in carbon, wildlife, people smuggling – we are playing our part to ensure a world worth travelling for the next generation and for me that is good business sense. We have a responsibility to make sure that future generations in this country can enjoy the befits that we have enjoyed in our generation. Helping our economy to grow sustainably will help us to pay for that transition to a low-carbon economy.

Skills and training

The critical role that we play is in providing the direct, long-haul routes that cannot be supported by any other UK airport. With expansion, we will serve up to 120 long haul destinations, making Britain the best-connected country in the world, right at the heart of the global economy.That’s vital for our services sectors, for inward investment, tourism, education, but also our exporters – we’re the biggest UK port by value and anything of high value with a short shelf life or short supply chain goes in the hold of passenger planes from Heathrow.

With expansion, we’ll double that export capacity and help more businesses from all parts of the country get their goods to the growing economies across the globe. The benefits that we’ll bring to the UK come long before the runway opens. We’ll be injected billions of pounds into the UK economy while we build, stimulating jobs and growth across the UK.

While we were re-building Heathrow over the last 10 years, we pioneered offsite manufacture in the UK. If you’re ever in one of the toilets in Terminal 2, all of it was made in Northern Ireland and shipped in overnight by rail and by boat into the airport and that reduced the amount of manufacturing we needed on site. The electrical systems came from the West Midlands; the steel from Sheffield, the car park floors from Glasgow.

This is a transformation in the way that things get built in the UK and with expansion we’ll be doing much more of this, creating skilled jobs across the UK but also reducing our carbon footprint in construction. We’ll be helping to pioneer new businesses in all parts of Britain to give them a chance to demonstrate what they can do at the UK shop window. We have a good track record in this.

I was yesterday at an exhibition for driverless vehicles and it’s amazing how quickly the technology has developed. But do you know where the first commercial driverless vehicle was established? Right here at Heathrow, using British technology. If you’ve ever travelled form a hotel or car park in Terminal 5 using one of our pods, that is the pioneering system.

We are now using that technology to develop ‘Pod 2.0’ which we are testing in Birmingham and Greenwich, which is a driverless vehicle capable of driving on our roads. That could be one of the Answers to traffic congestion in built-up areas and also to tackling some of the air quality problems that we have in this country. And as a technology that, when we establish it, will give us something that we can export all around the world, helping to build the UK economy.

That’s not the only example of things we’ll be able to do to pioneer new ways of doing things to create a sustainable economy here in the UK; showcase it at Britain’s front door. That’s why being a responsible citizen for the UK will help to make the UK economy more sustainable, it will help to fund the transition to a low-carbon economy – it makes good business sense.

Finally, from a local point of view, we’re an integral part of our local community – 76,000 people work at the Airport and we provide employment for almost one in four local households. And because of our global connections, hundreds of other companies have based themselves nearby, providing jobs and growth for local communities.

Noise and air quality

But our neighbours of course are also the ones who are most directly affected by the airport in terms of noise, traffic and air quality. So, our aim is to minimise the negative impacts of what we do while maximising the benefits of living on the doorstep of the UK’s hub.

Heathrow expansion is an opportunity to transform our region for the better. And we’ve got ambitious plans to make us cleaner and quieter. By 2025, we will establish an ultra-low emission zone at the airport. Already, 10,000 vehicles airside have been converted to electric, and we’ve pioneered the use of hydrogen vehicles in the UK.

I’ve called on the new Mayor of London to extend the low emission zone out to the M25 so that it covers the Heathrow area, and in time the ultra-low emission zone as we’ll, so that we’re working together to tackle air quality in the local environment.

From a noise point of view, were actually quieter today than at any time since the 1970’s. And we’ve designed our expansion plan so that fewer people are impacted by aircraft noise than today.

We’ve put in a charging system – the most progressive system in the world – which means that airlines are incentivised to bring their cleanest, quietest planes into Heathrow. And that works – you can see a much better mix at Heathrow than at any other major airport.

We have more of the next generation of planes flying into Heathrow than any other major airport – in fact, we have more than the French, the Dutch and the Germans put together. And that’s helping us to remain quieter for our neighbours, many of whom are also our colleagues.

Community engagement

And while we’re product of our business providing jobs, what communities really want are career opportunities – making sure that local kids can fulfil their potential. 

We’re lucky to have some of the best schools in the country on our doorstep. In fact, the best primary school in London is just a mile from the end of the runway. We have super smart kids with huge potential.

My vision is that a kid from a local school – maybe someone in primary school today – can come and do my job. We need to make that vision a reality. Make sure we create the systems and education support to allow that to happen.

Every year, thousands of local children take part in our stem challenges and we encourage them to consider careers as engineers or programmers and you may not be surprised to know that our best teams of 10-year-olds in our engineering challenges tend to be the girls and there’s a massive opportunity – if we can tap into the talent and capability that they have – for us to really improve the diversity in our STEM careers.

We offer internships and apprenticeships, and we’ve got a world-class graduate programme. Every year, through the Heathrow Academy, we train 1,000 unemployed local people, half of whom find jobs at the airport. That is transformational in people’s lives – not just moving into roles as security officers or in front line service roles but a whole range of potential career opportunities.

One of the things I got the biggest kick out of was when we opened Terminal 2 a couple of years ago, Heston Blumenthal recruited 70-80% of his team through the Heathrow Academy. That is the kind of thing we can do by working together with four partners and the local community to make sure that people can fulfil their potential.

Of course, with expansion we’ve got a much bigger opportunity and a challenge – we will create 40,000 new jobs at the Airport and 10,000 apprenticeships. That is the opportunity to end youth unemployment in the local area, it will really transform people’s lives for the better.

It’s a unique opportunity to work with schools and colleges to plan the skills and the teaching that we’re going to need for the jobs that are going to be needed in the future. I’ve asked David Blunkett, the former Home Secretary and Education Secretary, to chair the Heathrow Employment and Skills Taskforce, to show we can deliver on our promise for local communities.

And, of course, the great thing about local jobs for local people is that it means that new workers can get to the airport by bus, by train or b bike and that helps us to meet our commitments on traffic and air quality.

The right thing…

So, making Heathrow a great place to work and being a good neighbour makes us more sustainable. And as you can see, it is good business sense.

So, now is the time for responsible companies to step forward and set out the business case for sustainability. Next month, we will launch our detailed plan for how we will operate sustainably in every part of our business. We’ve spent over a year developing the plan and we’ve had input – some of it very challenging – from environmental groups; from campaigners, academics, public policy experts, members of our local community and our own team, to make sure we’ve got a really robust and challenging plan.

This is something that is owned by me and my executive team. We have clear, ambitious commitments and we will track ourselves against them publicly. It will be embedded as part of our culture. In fact, sustainable growth is one of the four business priorities we have for the entire organisation and every person in the company will have a target on it.

It’s the right thing for future generations. Taking an industry lead in protecting our planet and playing our part in tackling complex, global issues.

It’s the right thing for the UK, helping us to strengthen the economy and pay for the transition to a low carbon economy.

And of course, it’s the right thing for our neighbours – becoming cleaner, quieter and supporting local people to fulfil their potential at Heathrow.

That makes it good business sense.

John Holland-Kaye gave this speech on day two of edie’s Sustainability Leaders Forum.

edie staff

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