Organizational Change
Heathrow Moves Towards Carbon Neutrality with New Sustainability Strategy

London’s Heathrow Airport has unveiled a new sustainability leadership strategy designed to make Heathrow a center of excellence in the aviation industry. The strategy announces ambitious goals to reduce the airport’s and the industry’s environmental impacts while maximizing economic opportunities throughout the UK.

Plans include a new R&D incubator, an ambition for growth from a new runway to be carbon neutral and at least halving the number of late-running departures to reduce noise for local communities.

The release of the report is timely. The airport’s planned third runway is expected to generate 260,000 extra flights a year once in operation and would make Heathrow the UK’s largest source of carbon emissions. The sustainability plan tackles this issue with a wide range of targets, including the use of 100 percent renewable electricity and encouraging passengers and employees alike to use public transport.

“Heathrow 2.0 is a step-change for our business and accelerates the shift in our industry towards a sustainable future for aviation. By focusing on the long-term and working together, we can deliver a world-leading economy — innovative, competitive, successful and sustainable. And we can create a future where our business, our people, our communities, our country and our world can all thrive,” said John Holland-Kaye, Heathrow Chief Executive.

Heathrow 2.0 was drafted with input from a wide spectrum of stakeholders, including environmental groups, academics, community leaders, as well as Heathrow colleagues, passengers, commercial partners and suppliers.

As a part of the new sustainability strategy, the airport has invested an initial £500,000 in its first R&D incubator to minimize aviation’s impacts like noise and carbon emissions. Heathrow will consult leading experts to identify participants from the aviation industry, academia and business. By the end of the year, more funding resources will also be identified so that the incubator opens its doors in 2019.

The strategy takes a “greening from the ground up” approach, with an aspiration to make growth from a new runway at Heathrow carbon neutral and to use 100 percent renewable electricity at the airport from 2017 in a major step toward creating a zero-carbon airport. It also proposes establishing an airside ultra-low emission zone by 2025, to improve quality of life through cleaner air.

Heathrow 2.0 also outlines new initiatives for the benefit if local communities — including a voluntary Quiet Night Charter seeking to at least halve the number of flights on non-disrupted days leaving late after 11:30 PM by 2022. The plan launches a “Fly Quiet and Clean” league table, which will publicly rank airlines according to their noise and emissions.

Carbon offsets have been named as a crucial in achieving Heathrow 2.0’s carbon-neutral plans, with restoration of peatlands in the UK being the main focus. Eighty percent of the peatlands in the UK are currently in a degraded state, which is “releasing billions of tons of carbon over decades,” according to environmentalist and plan consultant Tony Juniper.

While the plan looks good on paper, the third runway — and the multitude of impacts it entails — remains controversial. Critics believe the project could prevent the UK from meeting its climate change targets, as well as aggravate already severe air pollution problems.

“The plan aspires to a cleaner and quieter future, but its detail is largely concerned with short-term, incremental improvements that are not up to the challenges that would come with runway expansion,” said Tim Johnson of the Aviation Environment Federation. “There is nothing in this report to suggest that we are any closer to finding effective solutions.”

While some elements of the strategy — such as how to achieve longer-term goal — still remain unclear, the Heathrow plan marks an important step in the tackling the aviation industry’s sustainability challenge.

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