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Heathrow to Pilot Winning Ideas Around Plastic Roads, Green Space

London’s Heathrow International Airport has chosen the winners of its inaugural Centre of Excellence Sustainable Innovation Prize, which were judged as the best solutions to some of the sustainability challenges facing airports and the aviation industry more widely.

Launched in January, the competition challenged entrants to focus on three areas as part of Heathrow’s Centre of Excellence for Sustainability work:

  • using waste as a resource,
  • sustainable and low-carbon materials,
  • and measuring and enhancing quality of life in the community.

The six chosen finalists pitched to a senior judging panel of Heathrow execs:

  • Matt Gorman, Director of Sustainability & Environment
  • Katherine Leahy, Director of Airport Operations
  • Chris Annetts, Retail Director
  • Fiona Carleton, Future Heathrow Director
  • Plus, guest judge Jonathan Counsell, IAG’s Director of Sustainability


Energy Crop Solutions will receive £20,000 in funding and the opportunity to use the airport as a “test bed” for its sustainability solution. The Essex-based startup will work with local charity Green Corridor to explore how different willow varieties provide acoustic, air quality and aesthetic improvements for local residents. The company will also explore if the willows can be used to fuel the airport’s on-site biomass boiler. If the results are favourable, Energy Crop Solutions may have the opportunity to expand this project more widely across the airport.

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“We are absolutely delighted to be selected as a winner of the Sustainable Innovation Prize,” said Energy Crop Solutions’ Gary Crooks. “Working with Heathrow has given us a unique opportunity to demonstrate the benefits now possible from the latest willow cultivars and 2nd-generation biomass. With this amazing opportunity, we will demonstrate the benefits of willow for air quality, biodiversity and noise reduction for the local communities. We will also highlight the use of greatly improved 2nd-generation biomass, accelerating its adoption across the UK. We are excited to explore the opportunities that winning the prize presents and can’t wait to get started.”

An internal innovation competition, run concurrently to engage Heathrow employees, was won by Maidenhead resident Andrew Swift. His winning idea would use the airport’s plastic waste for its road surfacing. Heathrow will fund research into Swift’s winning idea with its university partners, which could lead to an on-airport trial.

“I was very surprised and pleased to not only to have my idea shortlisted but to end up an eventual winner of the Heathrow’s Centre of Excellence innovation prize,” Swift said. “The world slowly is waking up to the big issue plastic is causing our environment and here at Heathrow, I can see the desire to be an industry leader in making a difference.”

Five honourable mentions were given to the other finalists, and Heathrow is exploring whether these ideas can also be supported in some way at the airport:

  • Cheshire-based Driver Net has established a smart logistics app which would be tested for its potential to improve operational efficiency and cut vehicle emissions from freight deliveries;
  • London-based ForestCar is an airport car-sharing service involving peer-to-peer lending;
  • Dorset-based ECO360, which provides recyclable cardboard furniture, suggested trialing these in specialist airport applications;
  • Hertfordshire-based Urban Control put forward low-cost noise detection monitoring combined with machine learning to determine specific sources of noise;
  • Leeds–based Yellow Label, a tech startup seeking to cut food waste, proposed the idea of alerting travelers to the availability of discounted food options.

“The creativity and ingenuity from all the entries we received has shown us the value of our Innovation Prize,” Gorman said. “We look forward to seeing the results of the research and trials from our winners, and how they will help us think outside of the box to tackle our biggest environmental challenges at the airport.”

Trialing innovations such as those proposed by this year’s Prize show Heathrow’s commitment to reaching the ambitions outlined in Heathrow 2.0 — its sustainability leadership strategy designed to make the airport a center of excellence in the aviation industry, which includes ambitious goals to reduce the airport’s and the industry’s environmental impacts while maximizing economic opportunities throughout the UK.

Heathrow says the strength and creativity of this year’s entries has encouraged the airport to launch a second Prize in early 2019.


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