It’s safe to say that an airport, a mammoth of glass, steel and concrete with constant streams of traffic flowing in and out of its entrances, exits and gates, chews through energy faster than a child inhales Halloween candy. But that’s not the case at London Heathrow Airport where officials strive to green operations by addressing noise, climate change and air quality in everything they do.
Nestled in a city once nicknamed the Big Smoke for its air pollution, this bustling airport has been charged with moving more than 70 million passengers per year in the most sustainable way possible. It’s a societal directive Heathrow Sustainability Director Matt Gorman puts at the forefront of everything he does.
“Society’s expectations are rising: Environmental policies are demanding more, our people want to know that we are responsible, and our local neighbors are scrutinizing how we’re doing,” he explains. “Meeting those expectations through a clear sustainability strategy is important for our ‘license to operate’ as a business.”
Gorman considers working with airlines to encourage the use of cleaner, quieter aircraft; creating an efficient low-carbon energy network within airport walls; and improving the efficiency of ground operations and other essential components as essential in meeting heightened demands for greener airports.
“Running our airport sustainably—enhancing our social and economic benefits and managing our negative environmental impacts—is key,” he says, if the airport is to achieve its goal of being “the UK’s direct connection to the world as Europe’s hub of choice.”
Heathrow’s steps to sustainability have paid off in spades in the form of energy savings, reduced carbon emissions and increased community support. Most recently the International Green Apple Awards for Environmental Best Practice and Sustainable Development recognized Heathrow’s sustainability achievements when it named the European hub “Champion of Champions” in the sustainability world.
The awards presented by The Green Organization identify and recognize best practices in sustainability. Heathrow earned a Gold award for its:
Pods, low-energy driverless vehicles that produce no emissions;
Carbon reduction strategies, including projects that slash energy consumption;
Renewable energy use at its new Energy Center; and
Sustainable transport, which ensures no more than 65 percent of Heathrow’s staff commutes in a single-occupied car each day.
Gorman considers the honors yet another feather in the airport’s green cap. “We are committed to running responsibly and are delighted to have been recognized for our achievements thus far,” he says. “We will continue to work with stakeholders, employees and passengers to improve and build upon this success.”
Heathrow launched a $48.8 million network of Personal Rapid Transport (PRT) systems in 2011. Every one of these battery-powered, driverless, zero-emission transport vehicles, known as pods, carries up to four passengers and their luggage along a dedicated 2+ miles of track between Heathrow Terminal 5 and its business car parks.
Gorman says adding this transmit mode made perfect sustainability sense. With almost 200,000 passengers and 76,500 employees moving around the airport daily, a seemingly simple journey between the car park and the terminals presents travelers with real challenges and threatened to derail the passenger experience.
“We sought to develop an innovative product to offer congestion-free public transport that provided fast, comfortable transportation that was both environmentally friendly and operationally efficient,” he says.
Passengers consistently give the new transit mode high marks; not surprising given that the pods boast a 99 percent reliability rate, and keep passengers waiting no more 10 to 15 seconds. The pods also consume 70 percent less energy than it takes to power a car and 50 percent less than a bus.
“The pod is one of the most environmentally friendly transport options [available] for airports,” says Gorman. “This efficient passenger service reduces an airport’s environmental footprint through energy efficiency, reduced emissions and silent vehicles.”
Ease Carbon Emissions
More than 320 companies operate at Heathrow, generating waste and emitting carbon, making it critical for airport officials to keep a close eye on its environmental footprint.
Heathrow officials set out to cut carbon emissions by 34 percent compared to 1990 levels by 2020. The airport invested $7.32 million in Energy Demand Management (EDM) projects over the past four years. Though this commitment involved a sizable sum, the improvements conserved cash as well. “We use less energy and cut carbon emissions,” says Gorman. “One great example is the installation of LED lighting. The technology has now evolved to the point that the lower cost of running and maintaining LEDs offsets the upfront costs.”
Heathrow has added Low Energy/Low Maintenance LED lighting where appropriate. These systems rely on automatic lighting controls that only switch on when necessary. This measure trims energy consumption and saves money, with an average annual savings of up to 70 percent. It also reduces maintenance needs by 80 percent and enables the airport to use natural light more effectively.
LED lighting, however, is just one of many energy savings projects at Heathrow. Upgrading heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems; adding energy efficient lighting and controls; and installing a range of automated motor controls for escalators and other systems are among the projects expected to deliver an annual savings of 16.2 million kWh and more than 8,500 tons of CO2 emissions, Gorman says.
Eye on Energy
The $55.33 million Heathrow Airport Energy Center marks the first phase of a major energy infrastructure project that currently provides low carbon heat and power to Heathrow Terminal 5 and will do the same for Terminal 2 when it opens in June.
The energy center includes a new boiler plant; a biomass combined cooling, heat and power (CCHP) installation; and an Organic Rankine Cycle engine (ORC) generating electricity, which is fed into the airport grid. The facility provides renewable heat and power and builds the latest biomass-fueled CHP technology into the airport’s day-to-day operations. To meet its goal of using 20 percent renewable energy to power the airport’s new terminal, the airport will need to bring in nearly 25,000 tons of woodchips annually.
The Energy Center pushes Heathrow one step closer to its CO2 reduction plans. In full operation, the center will offset approximately 40,000 MWh/year of gas and 12,000 MWh/year of electricity, saving around 13,000 tons of CO2 a year. “That’s equivalent to the annual emissions of 6,500 passenger cars,” Gorman says.
Heathrow has a strong track record in sustainable transport, and even has a dedicated commuter team that markets and promotes sustainable travel choices to staff through PR campaigns, road shows and a commuter center.
“The value of constantly communicating about sustainable travel cannot be underestimated,” says Gorman. “Car sharing along with discounted travel and The Heathrow Cycle Hub have helped us reduce single occupancy car use from 71 percent in 2008 to 59 percent in 2011. The initial target was to have no more than 65 percent of Heathrow staff commuting daily in a single-occupied car and we have achieved a greater reduction than that.”
Heathrow built relationships with the airlines, local authorities, and bus and rail operators to develop and deliver a suite of sustainable travel options. As a result, Heathrow operates the:
Only airport cycle hub in the UK. This hub gives employees ready access to a bike shop. Participating employees receive free membership and a 10 percent discount on bicycle products, and free bike servicing, maintenance classes and bike ability training. There’s also an emergency call-out available for anybody who has a breakdown in the airport.
Largest single-site car share scheme in the world. The Heathrow Car Share program has operated since 2002 and is available to all employees. To date, there are 8,100 employees from more than 250 companies as members. To use, employees register their journey, and the system looks for matches around the area as well as matches for a pickup en route. Staff can contact the person they wish to car share with through the portal and make travel arrangements.
A free travel zone that includes a comprehensive bus network with 31 local bus services and 13 early morning bus services.
“We’ve found the key to encouraging participation [in these programs] lies in a number of factors, including achieving the right mix of people, so that those using the [car sharing] scheme have similar roles, shift patterns and work in the same building,” says Gorman. “Incentives are also key. Our car sharers have preferential parking bays closest to their place of work, and an emergency ride home program in case their ride is called away.”
All of these programs add up to one thing: Mammoth operations do not need to equal mammoth energy use. As Heathrow has found, airports that eye environmental improvements get high marks on their sustainability scorecard along the way.