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ACI World director general, Angela Gittens, reflects on how the eco-design of terminals and other facilities is becoming increasingly important for the world’s airports.

With the number of infrastructure projects that will be needed to accommodate growth in air service demand, airports and their stakeholders must continue to consider the crucial issues of environment and sustainability when planning airport projects. Likewise, it has also become more common to have sustainability criteria requirements to approve funds for major infrastructure developments.

The eco-design of airport buildings explores the environmental and resource-efficient operation and management of infrastructure taking into account the entire planned lifecycle of the development. This includes the overall process of airport planning, design, construction, operation, maintenance, refurbishment, and demolition.

This is particularly relevant when considering the role airports play in the global fight against climate change. As well, airport buildings must be resilient to the effects of climate change over the long-term. Eco-design can play a key role in not only reducing airports’ environmental impact, but also in mitigating risks generated by climate change, such as severe weather events.

Every airport is part of its own distinct environment with its own challenges to consider. While there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to eco-design of airport buildings, there are several worldwide eco-design themes and areas that have become prevalent in airports. Examples can be found below and in the ICAO Design of Airport Buildings, as part of the ICAO Eco-Toolkit, a project actively supported by ACI.

For one, eco-design of airport buildings must integrate systems. Elements such as lighting, temperature control, and waste management are integrated into a physical shelter to make it comfortable for human activities. And, at the risk of stating the obvious, any proposed airport development should incorporate features making the operation safe, secure and efficient and meet national airport design standards.

An efficient layout should reduce physical distances between areas and include infrastructure to facilitate passenger movement between areas. For example, minimising taxi distances can reduce fuel consumption and emissions of aircraft.

Finding alternative power sources and energy conservation has become another key priority. Energy efficiency and minimising energy waste should always be a goal of terminal design or reconstruction for both financial and environmental reasons.

Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP), for example, has installed a green roof. This growing trend can substantially lower heat absorption and thereby reduce energy needs, as well as reduce storm-water run-off.

In addition, airports have many options for developing onsite renewable energy through solar and other technologies which can be integrated into structural design. Tennessee’s Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport recently became the first US airport to be 100% powered by solar energy.

While aircraft are the largest source of emissions at an airport, the materials used for the terminal buildings themselves can be selected strategically to minimise emissions. For instance, the use of recycled materials usually reduces the overall carbon footprint of building materials.

Queenstown Airport has made use of a new lower carbon asphalt, which incorporates waste printer toner and recycled glass sand. Not only does the innovative solution provide a more durable surface in all weather, thus reducing maintenance costs, it also helps to protect New Zealand’s finite natural resources.

Planning for efficient waste management, such as through recycling or other processes, is a crucial way to reduce environmental impacts. The industry is transitioning from traditional waste management practices to incorporate circular economy concepts, rethinking the way a product is used, extending its lifecycle and identifying economic business models to reduce consumption.

London Gatwick Airport has been able to transform waste removed from aircraft into energy using a process which also saves in water consumption. The airport has become the first airport to achieve a zero waste to landfill accreditation from the Carbon Trust and has a ten-point sustainability plan that covers everything from transport to water quality.

It is evident that airports are committed to a greener future through their investment in eco-design principles. As these and other related areas gain momentum, they will become increasingly important in the large-scale infrastructure projects that await our industry as we seek to accommodate air traffic growth for many generations to come.


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