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How Airports Can Be Designed to Be More Sustainable


Climate change, environmental destruction and degradation, the depletion of natural resources, and other ecological problems have driven public concern for environmental sustainability to an unprecedented high in recent years. Awareness of this concern is likewise prevalent across just about every global industry, and organizations all over the world have begun to reevaluate their business practices with the aim of reducing their negative impact on the environment. 

Practicing environmental responsibility, however, is more challenging in some sectors than in others. For example, while many building approaches and technologies exist to facilitate the creation of green homes and office spaces, sustainable airport design is often a much more complex endeavor. In their bid to build more eco-friendly airports, governments and airport operators have to contend with factors such as a surrounding urban environment, the high volume of both outgoing and incoming passengers, and runway constraints, among others. 

Despite these difficulties, more and more airport facilities around the world have made great strides in the direction of more environmentally responsible airport development. These institutions have begun leveraging contemporary technologies and building practices to reduce their production of waste and harmful emissions, become more energy-efficient, and integrate better with the surrounding environment. In this just feature, we’ll examine some of the most important best practices for sustainable airport design that airport developers around the world are now making an effort to implement. 

Improve Waste Management 
Airports produce a significant amount of waste as a result of the various activities carried out within and without their premises. Single-use packaging from onsite retail and food establishments, food waste, yard waste from landscaping, and wastewater from airplane lavatories and airport toilet facilities are just a few of the many types of waste generated at airports daily. The sheer variety, volume, and potential hazardousness of airport waste are all compelling reasons for airports to seek to reduce their environmental footprint and make improved waste management a major priority. 

Fortunately, many airports around the world are actively tackling the challenge of reducing and even eliminating waste, which in turn will provide abundant constructive examples for others to follow. For example, the Mactan-Cebu International Airport (MCIA) in the Philippines has banned the use of polystyrene containers and non-biodegradable single-use plastics in its shops and restaurants since 2019. Airport management has also historically encouraged the use of biodegradable packaging options among its concessionaires, with a rate of compliance of up to 80%. 

This change of policy caused an immediate and significant drop in MCIA’s annual waste production. The airport’s monthly plastic waste output averaged 3,500 kilograms in 2018, which proceeded to drop almost 30% following the ban. This figure ultimately amounted to a decrease of around 12,000 kilograms of plastic waste per year. 

Build More Environmentally Friendly Infrastructure 
Many global airports have also used the stakeholder push for sustainability as an opportunity to design and build more physically sustainable infrastructure. One approach that has proven productive over the last few years has involved applying a 360-lifecycle methodology to airport construction and operations. By taking a circular economy approach to current physical assets and reusing materials from defunct or upgraded facilities, modern airports can cut their production of harmful waste and emissions by a large margin. In the process, they extend and increase the value of current and future building products. 

To illustrate, the development of physically sustainable infrastructure looks to be one of MCIA’s major priorities for the foreseeable future. The recent landmark deal between GMR Airports International, B. V., Megawide Construction Corporation, and Aboitiz InfraCapital, Inc. (AIC) is set to pass control of the airport to AIC from 2024 onwards. In addition to “teching up” MCIA’s operations with modern AI and data science technology, AIC’s plans for the airport include renovating existing airport facilities and pursuing sustainable expansion with eco-friendly building and waste management principles in mind. 

Limiting damage to the surrounding environment is another major sustainability concern when it comes to airport design. Major pain points in this area include noise pollution, air quality, destruction of local biodiversity, and more. Fortunately, many airports already make use of green roofs, expanded planting, and other innovative practices to integrate their facilities better with local ecosystems. One major example is the New Bohol-Panglao International Airport, which is designed to maximize the availability of natural light. The external yard surrounding the passenger terminal has also been landscaped extensively to blend in seamlessly with the island’s natural environment. 

Reduce Emissions and Promote Clean Energy 
Although the majority of the aviation industry’s CO2 emissions come from flying aircraft, there’s also plenty that can be done to make ground operations more sustainable. At many airports, making the switch comprehensively to renewable energy and taking measures to boost energy efficiency rank among the institution’s most important sustainability-related objectives. 

In the Philippines, the New Bohol Panglao International Airport again leads the way with its extensive use of solar panels on the roof of the passenger terminal, as well as its installation of more than 2000 LED lights throughout the terminal. The airport’s air conditioning system is also limited to the pre- departure area and powered fully by solar energy. 

Ultimately, building more sustainable airports will allow the aviation industry to continue contributing to global economic prosperity, human development, and the preservation of natural resources for years to come. By continuing to develop and share best practices, airport developers and governments can pave the way for healthier and more environmentally friendly air travel in the future.

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