What does the Sustainable Airport of the future look like?

In my February 2019 blog I talked about Airport Carbon Accreditation, one of the initiatives set up by ACI Europe and adopted by airports worldwide as part of their efforts to achieve Sustainable Development. I want to revert to the subject of Sustainable Development on the occasion of the launch by ACI Europe, during its 29th Annual Congress held at the end of June 2019 in Cyprus, of the Sustainability Strategy for Airports, building on a decade of work on climate action, which began with the establishment of the Airport Carbon Accreditation programme in June 2009. Using the ACI Sustainability Strategy publication as a guide (which can be accessed in its entirety though the link below1) I will try to highlight its key aspects here.

Sustainability, Sustainable Development and aviation

According to the Brundtland Commission, whose report on Environment and Development was published by the United Nations (“UN”) in 1987, sustainable development is defined as: "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs". In his foreword to the Sustainability Strategy for Airports Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI Europe, says that sustainability as a concept means achieving a balance between the social, economic and environmental impacts of an activity. These three pillars of sustainable development are especially relevant to the aviation sector, “which is universally recognized as an essential component of the global economy and universal social progress, through its offering of a safe and efficient means of mass transportation”2.

Airports’ significance

Airports have traditionally focused their sustainability efforts on minimizing the environmental impact of their operations. Whilst this remains critical, especially so given the existential threat posed by global warming, new challenges in terms of economic disruption, rising inequality, depleted resources, changing consumer behavior, new societal values and political dynamics, mean that airport operators are facing a new imperative: putting their social purpose at the heart of their business strategy and embracing a new Business-to-People paradigm. This means that airports need to maximise the added value they provide to society and at the same time articulate that value through enhanced engagement and communication with their communities and other stakeholders.

Airports are already providing essential connectivity services to the communities in which they are based, helping to generate and increase economic activity, and in doing so they act as a key interface between a wide range of aviation and non-aviation stakeholders. This provides airports with the potential to lead transformational change beyond their boundaries and to act as a role model within and outside the aviation industry. Airports, through being a sustainable business, can contribute to creating more cohesive and resilient societies making them better equipped to withstand major environmental, economic and social pressures in a fast-changing world. This in turn preserves the foundations of a prosperous world for future generations.

UN Sustainable Development Goals

Sustainability is defined in the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)3 adopted by the United Nations in 2015:

Along with the dissemination of the SDGs, governance has gained global acceptance as a major building block of sustainability. The adoption of materiality analysis for defining priorities, the use of strategy and reporting standards, such as the Global Reporting initiative (GRI), as well as the engagement of third party assurance to add validity to disclosures, are important components.

ACI Europe Sustainability Vision and Strategy

Within the global framework described above, ACI Europe has formulated the sustainability strategy for the airport industry based on the following shared vision of the sustainable airport of the future: “Every airport builds local and global partnerships to accelerate the journey towards fair , prosperous and environmentally responsible societies”. Based on the Vision and depending on local specificities, airports can define different priorities and actions, and relate them to one or more of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Global Reporting Initiative Sustainability Reporting Guidelines and Airport Operators Sector Supplement.4

Clearly SDG 13-Climate Action- is of undisputed significance worldwide. This is especially true since the adoption of the Paris Agreement (December 2015) which sets the objective of limiting global warming to 2° and ideally 1.5°, to prevent catastrophic consequences for our planet and mankind. The EU’s vision, adopted in November 2018, is for achieving a net zero carbon economy by 2050. Europe’s airports have responded to the Climate Emergency by committing to become Net Zero for carbon emissions under their control by 2050 at the latest, through a resolution which was unveiled during the annual congress held in Cyprus in June 2019 and has already been adopted by 194 airports run by 40 operators in 24 European countries.

The sustainability strategy, which is based on the vision outlined above , is intended to provide a general direction and guidance to the sustainability efforts of European airports and relies on the three key pillars of sustainability:

Each airport is encouraged to perform its own materiality assessment and by referring to the 13 material issues identified in the table above as a common baseline , establish its own priorities and plan its actions accordingly. Sound governance of sustainability related work is encouraged, through defining clear roles and responsibilities, establishing processes for the collection of data and associated external assurance as well as putting in place regular, transparent and holistic reporting. The strategy identifies two enablers to support the airports’ efforts towards enhanced sustainability: Innovation-highlighting innovative approaches in the different sustainability areas and Partnerships-highlighting opportunities for airports to build on their critical role as the operational interface between stakeholders.

The launch of the sustainability strategy is considered by ACI Europe as a first step in supporting airport operators in measuring and enhancing the sustainability of their operations in a comprehensive manner, noting of course that many airports have already begun this journey, and thus improving the sustainability of the airport industry and enabling the achievement of its sustainability vision.

Hermes Airports

Hermes Airports operates the two international airports of Cyprus, Larnaca and Paphos, since 2006 under a concession agreement with the Government for a 25-year period. The airports are the gateway to the country and play a key role in connectivity and tourism development, with just over 11 million passengers expected this year. At the same time, Hermes mission statement includes “operating the airports in an environmentally friendly and socially responsible manner” and accordingly it was important that the airports were amongst the first to adopt and sign the “Net Zero for carbon emissions under its control by 2050” resolution unveiled by ACI Europe in June . Both airports have achieved Carbon Accreditation Level 3+: “Neutrality” and are now proceeding with the target of Net Zero by 2050. At the same time Hermes Airports was one of the contributors to the development of the Sustainability Strategy for Airports and is proceeding with its implementation.


  1. https://www.aci-europe.org/component/downloads/downloads/6026.html
  2. https://www.icao.int/environmental-protection/Documents/RIO+20_booklet.pdf
  3. https: www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-developemnt-goals/
  4. https://www.globalreporting.org/SiteCollectionDocuments/G3-1-English-Airport-Operators-Sector-Supplement.pdf