Cleaner, Greener Airports: Making Aviation More Sustainable – London Gatwick

For International Airport Review’s Cleaner Greener Series, London Gatwick’s Head of Sustainability Mark Edwards discusses the airport’s multi-faceted, humanistic approach to sustainability.

At London Gatwick, we are working every day to improve the sustainability credentials of the airport. Whether that be on complex projects, such as replacing all our gas boilers, or seemingly simpler challenges such improving our recycling rate, sustainability is constantly evolving and advancing.

While hugely important and a significant focus for the whole aviation industry, the things many people often picture when the term ‘sustainability’ is used – namely, reducing carbon emissions – is just one piece of the jigsaw.

At London Gatwick there is so much more to sustainability than the environment. There are other areas that are making a measurable, day-to-day impact on our local and regional communities – at times the overlooked side of sustainability.

We have an entire team dedicated to advancing our education outreach with local schools and colleges, to supporting charities and community initiatives, and to working with local business and the supply chain to promote inward investment and economic prosperity.

All of the above, plus other targets around airport and aircraft emissions, sustainable travel to and from the airport, water usage, waste disposal, biodiversity, noise, opportunity and accessibility, and workplace safety all feed into our sustainability strategy: Decade of Change. Following the conclusion of our first Decade of Change programme, the second iteration was launched in 2021, laying out our targets across these different areas for the next 10 years.

We’ve strengthened our Decade of Change goals with 10 roadmaps. These set out quantitative and qualitative outcomes for each goal, clearly showing what London Gatwick planned to achieve by the end of 2023. Together, the Decade of Change policy and the roadmaps outline our approach to creating a sustainable airport for the future.

And at more than a third of the way through, we are on track to meet our goals, but there is more work to be done. Our community efforts are split into three key themes, each with a dedicated colleague responsible for delivering our goals.

Community support and education outreach

As we move towards 2030, our aim is to invest resources in programmes and partnerships for those communities most affected by London Gatwick’s operations.

In 2023 alone, our teams reached more than 98,000 student engagements across a range of programmes and initiatives, from mentoring to live broadcasts. By the end of 2023, we had cumulatively achieved more than a quarter of a million student engagements, and we are well on our way to achieving our target of one million engagements by 2030.

In October last year, we opened our new, bespoke STEM Centre, to support and inspire the next generation across science, technology, engineering and maths careers. The STEM Centre has already welcomed hundreds of students from schools across the region, taking part in a range of hands-on activities. Students can experiment with a water treatment lab, bridge building, an Archimedes screw exercise, and a mocked-up airfield rig, which enables students to practice changing the lights along the runway under a time limit.

We have a strong programme of community investment. Community groups across Sussex, Surrey and Kent are eligible to apply for grant funding from the Gatwick Foundation Fund, with a total of 57 good causes sharing £300,000 in 2023, benefitting nearly 35,000 people.

We also ran a scheme where London Gatwick staff could receive a refurbished laptop in exchange for a small donation. This has so far raised more than £30,000, which we have donated to two of our charity partners.

Opportunity and accessibility

Part of our Decade of Change strategy is to increase workforce diversity through recruitment, training and retention initiatives, and to ensure accessibility for disabled colleagues and passengers.

In 2023, we launched our Diversity, Equality and Inclusion (DE&I) strategy, and partnered with AccessAble to audit the accessibility of our terminals and produce detailed access guides for our passengers.

We also created a new Business Resource Group (BRG) for the LGBTQ+ community, Gatwick Pride. This follows on from other BRGs launched over the past couple of years, including our gender BRG Equal Plane, REACH (Race Ethnicity and Cultural Heritage), and Able2, our BRG supporting disabled colleagues. The BRGs run a number of events throughout the year for their members and the wider London Gatwick community.

In the coming months, we will also be rolling out a training programme for London Gatwick staff focusing on disability equality and accessibility.

Local economy

London Gatwick is a vital driver for local and regional economies. Our aim by 2030 is to be a partner and advocate for a thriving resilient economy by supporting opportunities for regional businesses and jobs for local people.

In November 2023, we hosted our second annual Economic Summit, bringing together 150 influential delegates from across the region, as we continue making strides towards our goal of supporting long-term, sustainable growth in our local and regional economies.

We have also enhanced our focus on local procurement. Last year, we spent £93.9 million with local and regional suppliers, of which £41.8 million was specifically with local suppliers. This means that across the second Decade of Change period to date (2021-2023), 25% of our total spend has been with local and regional suppliers, and 13% specifically with local suppliers.

We have recently launched our apprenticeship programme for 2024 – a prestigious initiative for young engineers, now in its 47th year. More than 300 people have graduated through the programme since its inception in 1977 and a further four trainee engineers will join London Gatwick later this year.

We are investing in our community in a multitude of ways and have a responsibility to do so. Bringing people together gives us an opportunity to connect with our neighbours and to help wherever we can. This often-overlooked side of sustainability is what drives our people most and we are proud of what we have achieved so far. Our motivation in this key area of sustainability will only strengthen as we continue to grow.

Mark Edwards is a Chartered Environmentalist and Chartered Mechanical Engineer. He is currently the Head of Sustainability at Gatwick Airport. Mark has considerable experience in the infrastructure sector working at both private and not-for-profit organisations specialising in resource efficiency, circular economy and carbon reduction. 

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