Guiding Airports to Develop a Zero-Emissions Roadmap

Low-Emissions Roadmap at Airports on behalf of the National Academies’ Airport Cooperative Research Program. We spoke to Geoff about why Airport Zero Emissions Planning is such an important topic for airports right now and how a roadmap can help airports through that process.

What is driving airports to develop zero-emissions roadmaps?
Across all sectors of the economy we are experiencing the very real impacts of climate change and businesses, organizations, and government agencies are implementing strategies to aggressively reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The aviation industry is one of the most challenging to decarbonize given its reliance on carbon-based fuels, significant increase in global travel (despite the pandemic, passenger travel is expected to rebound and continue to grow), and extensive ground operations and infrastructure needed to support that travel. Airports are looking for guidance on deploying new technologies, adopting innovative financing mechanisms, and implementing long term planning to meet local, state, and in some cases global carbon reduction goals.

Airport Zero Emissions Planning image shows an Airplane above water in sunset with reflection

What gap does the roadmap fill for airports? What are the unique challenges to developing a zero- emissions roadmap?
Airports are adept at addressing a range of environmental problems and have a long history of planning and implementing well-established solutions to address issues such as noise, storm water runoff, and wildlife management. However, reducing GHG emissions presents a coordination challenge because it must be incorporated into airports’ long term airport zero emissions planning horizons.

When airports are planning to reduce emissions, they are typically planning to get to zero emissions, which often takes 20-30 years. They have to keep their short term needs and long-term goals in perspective at the same time. It also requires airports to consider all life-cycle phases of potential solutions from planning, design, and operations through end of life. This is a unique coordination challenge for airports that involves a lot of stakeholders and a lot of steps. A roadmap can provide a consistent framework to gain support for the process and apply the latest guidance to ongoing zero- emissions planning processes. It’s an effective tool because we can help an airport ultimately create a single document that unites a diverse set of actors, while also allowing for flexibility to adapt to changing conditions and rapidly evolving technologies.

What are the components of a zero-emissions roadmap?
In Cadmus’ approach to developing an airport zero emissions planning roadmap, we have identified six central steps:

  • Initiation of the Roadmap – Understanding the local context for creating a roadmap, making the business case, and establishing a management structure.
  • Stakeholder Engagement – Identifying stakeholder groups and managing communications throughout development of the roadmap.
  • Setting Emissions Goals, Baselines, and Targets – Following a step-by-step process from conducting a GHG inventory to defining goals and targets.
  • Emissions Reduction Strategies – Identifying and selecting methods to help the airport reduce Scope 1, Scope 2, and Scope 3 emissions.
  • Funding Opportunities and Mechanisms – Evaluating the pros and cons of available public, airport-based, and third-party funding mechanisms.
  • Monitoring and Outreach – Establishing internal processes to ensure the roadmap can be maintained over time.

When we work with airports, we facilitate discussion, support data collection, undertake extensive quantitative and qualitative analysis, and provide technical support as the stakeholder teams work through each of the steps. Cadmus has worked with numerous airports and regularly helps airports initiate, implement, and track sustainability programs. We bring first-hand experience with implementing solar and wind projects, electric vehicle programs, and energy efficiency initiatives, as well as technical, financial, and policy changes affecting the airport industry.

We prepare a consolidated roadmap document that signals the airport’s commitment to addressing climate change, guides the airport in planning, and identifies actionable decision points. The roadmap also establishes clear metrics which help facilitate continuous improvement. There is not a one-size-fits-all solution; our goal is to help airports establish a structured approach to developing the processes, practices, and tools needed for long-term achievement of zero emissions.

How does a zero-emissions roadmap add value to an airport’s existing planning and management cycle?
One of the most important things the roadmap does is create momentum and get stakeholders working toward a common goal. Successful emissions reduction strategies require extensive involvement from and coordination with diverse actors-from airline employees and other airport tenants to local and state government to ground transportation providers. Working through the roadmap process creates buy-in for the airport’s long term zero-emissions goal and helps stakeholders understand their distinct role in achieving critical milestones toward that goal.

Airports have already made great strides in expanding their sustainability initiatives and working toward net zero in their facilities. This is also an exciting time in the aviation industry more broadly as trends around aircraft electrification, sustainable aviation fuel, and other technology developments continue to help drive reductions in GHG emissions. We’re proud to help our clients understand the implications of these trends and explore opportunities to apply them to their airport operations.

Learn more about Cadmus’ approach to airport zero emissions planning.

The full Guidebook for Developing a Zero- or Low-Emissions Roadmap at Airports is available for download through the National Academies website.