Sustainability 2.0

RS&H’s Ben Moore and Nathan Stinnette discuss the importance of sustainability management plans and getting sustainability programmes to take-off at US airports.

Sustainability is increasingly seen as a critical facet of airport planning, but getting sustainability programmes to take off at airports is no easy feat, requiring substantial effort in data collection and management, planning, engagement, implementation, and reporting.

Adding to the challenge, the sustainability landscape is becoming more complex over time, as evolving concepts like environmental, sustainability and governance (ESG) reporting, electrification, net-zero programmes, and resilience planning come to the forefront. In this article, we take a sustainable management planning 2.0 approach to address the major emerging trends shaping aviation sustainability.

Importance of sustainability management plans

In the last 10 years, many airports in the US have developed sustainability plans, often funded by FAA grants. Sustainability plan have generally taken two forms, a Sustainability Management Plan (SMP) or a Sustainable Master Plan, which integrates sustainability
with a conventional airport Master Plan.

Both types of plans provide positive sustainability results for airports – reducing greenhouse gas emissions, conserving energy, and water use, improving waste diversion, and delivering cost savings. At RS&H, we have found SMPs are most effective when they establish and maintain a quantitative baseline for airport operations, engage airport staff in creating a sustainability vision, include SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound) goals, develop detailed sustainability initiatives through a collaborative process, and include an implementation strategy.

Sustainability communications efforts can also be addressed within an SMP. Finally, SMP’s should be regularly updated to support continual improvement of the airport’s sustainability programme.

This sustainability 2.0 approach facilitates the constant innovation necessary to stay ahead of the curve in the fast-evolving world of airport sustainability. Leading sustainability programmes are using it as a platform to address the following trends, which our experience indicates are key to the industry’s efforts to minimise its environmental footprint and adhere to regulatory policy shifts.

Integrating ESG to support bond finance and insurance underwriting

There is a significant increase in airports focusing on ESG factors that impact their operations. RS&H has been instrumental in working with airports to reduce their environmental footprint and understand how ESG reporting plays a critical role in supporting bond finance and insurance underwriting for airports, including:

• mitigating risks
• minimising the cost of capital
• boosting operational efficiency
• demonstrating a commitment to sustainability

Developing a comprehensive and visible ESG reporting strategy that demonstrates the airport’s efforts in boosting investor confidence is vital to position airports for bond finance and insurance underwriting.

In 2022, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), the world’s busiest airport, was on the forefront of US airports that disclosed their environmental, social, governance and prosperity performance (ESG&P) to investors. Our team worked with ATL to develop their 2022 ATL Flying Forward ESG report in collaboration with airport leaders across the organisation.

The report addressed ATL’s priorities, performance, risks, and opportunities across environmental, social and governance elements. The addition of prosperity to ESG drew attention to ATL’s role as an economic driver in the southeast USA region and highlights the airport’s commitment to increasing business diversity.

Electrification of various airport infrastructure

Electrification is transforming mobility, and the pace of change is accelerating. This trend is especially affecting airports as they are at the centre of connecting people and goods across the globe. As a result, they face pressure to provide a significant expansion of their electrification infrastructure from many stakeholders.

Electrification can include installing electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) to support electric vehicles (EVs), ground support equipment (GSE) and electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft (eVTOLs). One challenge can be the significant power demands for these vehicles, often requiring co-ordination with utilities and upgrades to existing electrical infrastructure.

We carefully consider all aspects of integrating EV infrastructure, including planning, design, engineering, and construction administration. RS&H collaborated with the Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT) on the Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Forecast for Parking and ConRAC Operations study, a key facet of electrification growth for their parking and rental car operations.

We conducted a forecast on the rapid pace of EV growth within the airport’s planning area and applied these trends to the airport’s parking facilities and used this analysis to assist CLT in understanding demand for EV charging infrastructure in its parking facilities through 2035.

As one the first EV studies in the aviation industry, the recommendations from the study position CLT to move forward strategically with advanced parking facilities and a leading role in decarbonising landside transportation in an efficient and cost-effective manner.

Striving towards net zero emissions

Airports are increasingly setting ambitious net-zero carbon goals, and realising these goals requires conducting greenhouse gas inventories to measure progress and developing climate action plans to drive emissions reductions. Increasingly, airports are using programmes like the Airport Carbon Accreditation programme to provide a rigorous, third-party verified approach to measuring their carbon footprint, implementing policies to reduce that footprint, and collaborating with stakeholders to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs).

For example, the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority (HCAA), is an active participant in the Airport Carbon Accreditation programme, working actively to reduce carbon footprints at Tampa International Airport (TPA) and Tampa Executive Airport. Both airports have reached Level 2 status in the programme, while HCAA’s remaining general use airports, Peter O Knight Airport and Plant City Airport have maintained Level 1 accreditation.

RS&H assists in pursuing and renewing the HCAA’s Airport Carbon Accreditation while advancing the HCAA-wide Carbon Management Policy. This effort includes documenting the HCAA’s on-going commitment to managing and reducing GHG emissions, quantifying GHG emissions, documenting the implementation of Carbon Management Plan, and demonstrating a reduction in GHG emissions when comparing to the previous three-year rolling average.

The Airport Carbon Accreditation programme provides a framework for airports to gain public recognition and enhance energy efficiency, which HCAA will leverage to further their carbon management effort.

Becoming resilient to threats

A new emphasis from FAA is for airports to become resilient to climate change threats and stressors. The Indianapolis International Airport (IND) has partnered with RS&H since 2018 to further its commitment to sustainability. The Indianapolis Airport Authority (IAA) was recently awarded a grant from the FAA to complete a comprehensive SMP incorporating resilience.

As the co-lead of a team assisting IAA with the preparation of this plan, RS&H is working to identify both climate change and non-climate impacts, risks, and vulnerabilities to airport facilities, infrastructure, and operations and will identify opportunities to be more resilient to these potential conflicts. This effort will help IAA determine and justify future investments at IND that enable long-term sustainability and resilience.

This is the first time FAA has funded a resilience project that looks at climate and non-climate threats. We will take an exhaustive look at their assets and operations to score them for risks and vulnerabilities, and it is a very collaborative process. In the end, we will have recommendations the airport can adopt to be more resilient to those threats.

Managing growth through sustainable design and construction

Many airports are adopting a programmatic approach to sustainable infrastructure to ensure that growth and development is accomplished responsibly.

RS&H has developed sustainable design and construction guidance for airports like San Antonio International Airport (SAT) and Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) to streamline integration with capital improvement programmes and project delivery processes. Third-party standards like LEED or Envision are useful tools to achieve project sustainability goals.

Combined with a programmatic approach that sets sustainable infrastructure policies and procedures airport-wide rather than at the project level, they can elevate innovation, while meeting schedule and budget requirements.

Sustainability 2.0

Sustainability 2.0 is setting airports up to be leaders in transforming and decarbonising our economy and becoming the innovation hubs for transportation.

Airports are a key part of the solution to reducing environmental impacts, but careful planning is needed to get their sustainability programmes ready for take-off.

About the authors

Ben Moore is RS&H’s associate vice president/sustainability and resilience leader. Nathan Stinnette is the company’s urban greenhouse gas inventory specialist. For more information about RS&H’s sustainability management planning, send an email to

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