Green buildings focus helps Heathrow hit 2020 carbon reduction target

The installation of more than 100,000 LEDs and a rooftop solar system helped Heathrow Airport achieve a 14% year-on-year reduction in carbon emissions from its buildings, enabling the business to hit a target that was set for 2020.

The 38-page sustainability report outlines Heathrow's aim to ensure the Airport's expansion is seen as

The 38-page sustainability report outlines Heathrow's aim to ensure the Airport's expansion is seen as "the model for sustainable growth in aviation"

The Airport’s 2016 sustainability performance report, released today (29 June), notes that Heathrow has cut emissions from buildings by 37% since 1990, exceeding the 2020 reduction target of 34% from that baseline year.

The report has been released on the same day that Heathrow has also announced the launch a new programme to incentivise its 6,000 employees to acquire low-emission vehicles, as the Airport continues with its expansion plans to deliver a third runway. 

Writing in the sustainability report’s introduction, Heathrow Airport chief executive John Holland-Kaye stated: “I’m particularly pleased that we’re emitting 37% less carbon from energy used in our buildings than in 1990, an improvement on last year and ahead of our target of 34% less by 2020. “This is a fantastic outcome from all the hard work undertaken, year after year, by so many colleagues.”

The 38-page report, which expands upon the wide-ranging ‘Heathrow 2.0’ sustainability strategy released earlier in the year, notes a particular improvement in energy efficiency across the business.

Onsite solutions 

In 2016, the Airport consumed 6.5kWh of electricity per passenger, a slight improvement from the 6.8KWh of electricity that was being consumed per passenger in 2015. In absolute terms, Heathrow’s electricity consumption fell from 511GWh in 2015 to 488GWh in 2016.

This drop in total electricity usage was driven by investment in energy demand projects such as the installation of 100,000 LED lights across the airport. In September 2016, Heathrow became the first European hub airport to install LED lighting on all of its aircraft stands, which has led to a 64% reduction in electricity.

Earlier in 2016, Heathrow installed 165 solar panels on the roof of the Compass Centre, its head office. The panels generate 37MW of energy a year and have reduced Heathrow’s carbon emissions by 17 tonnes.

The report also reveals that the amount of waste recycled or composted by Heathrow, including aircraft cabin waste, reached 45% last year – with a 70% recycling target set for 2020 – and that the amount of potable water per passenger had reached 24 litres, beating a 2016 target of 24.6 litres.

Carbon offsetting 

Meanwhile, Heathrow has also announced today that it is launching a new incentivisation programme which will allow more than 6,000 of its direct employees to acquire a low-emission car of their choice. Colleagues will be able to pay for the car through a monthly gross salary reduction, which will ensure they receive savings in income tax and national insurance, in return for their participation in the scheme.

The announcement comes at a crucial time for Heathrow, which is gearing up for a controversial expansion involving the development of a third runway. Critics have questioned how the Airport’s expansion will align with the UK’s national emissions targets under the approved Fifth Carbon Budget.

But the Heathrow 2.0 strategy, which is used as the basis for much of today's sustainability report, has received praise from an array of politicians, industry, academia and businesses for its level of ambition. Crucially, the significant growth in flights and infrastructure caused by Heathrow’s expansion will be carbon-neutral under the new sustainability 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.

Today’s sustainability report notes that Heathrow wants to “take the lead” in restoring ecosystem carbon sinks in the UK. “Sinks will contribute to offsetting Heathrow’s own emissions,” the report states.

“They present an innovative opportunity for the aviation industry to deliver its goal of carbon-neutral growth. In 2016, we began this work by meeting with NGOs, researchers and academics to explore the potential of peatland restoration which could present a significant opportunity to offset carbon emissions in a cost-effective way.”

--- READ: Inside Heathrow 2.0: a flight path towards true sustainability leadership ---

Earlier this month, Heathrow announced that airlines that use the airport will be incentivised to reduce emissions and noise in their operations through a new public ranking system, which awards aviation companies with a red, amber or green rating across seven noise and emissions criteria.

The Airport – which is the first in the world to simultaneously hold four certifications from the Carbon Trust Standard – has also made a switch to 100% renewable energy for its operations; announced a £2m plan to 'go electric' with the installation of more than 135 electric vehicle (EV) charging stations around the area; and rolled out new zero-carbon, fully autonomous, battery-operated carrier pods to act as shuttle vehicles – all within the past year.

Luke Nicholls


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