Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport Is a Sustainability Leader Among U.S. Airport

Sept. 20, 2022
Future-friendly airport achieves Level 4 airport carbon accreditation and releases ambitious roadmap to net zero carbon.

Being America's Friendliest Airport means more than making sure passengers have an exceptional experience at the airport. It is also ensuring that as a business, the airport is protecting the environment and the resources of Arizona for future generations. Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport’s commitment to being future-friendly and an industry leader in sustainability was recently recognized by the Airport Council International’s Airport Carbon Accreditation Program (ACA). Phoenix Sky Harbor received the Level 4 “Transformation” rating for reporting year 2021. Phoenix Sky Harbor is currently the only airport in the U.S. to have achieved the Transformation certification, and only one of three airports in the U.S to have achieved the Level 4/4+ rating tier.

“A powerful economic engine and one of the busiest airports in the nation, Phoenix Sky Harbor is proving that integrating sustainability can be cost-effective and improve the customer experience,” said Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego. “Through innovative heat mitigation, water conservation, and decarbonization solutions, Phoenix Sky Harbor sets an example for airports across our country and around the world and gets us closer to our vision to make Phoenix the most sustainable desert city in the world.”

This esteemed accreditation recognizes transformation of operations from the airport and its business partners to achieve absolute emissions reductions. Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport received ACA certification for the first time in 2016 (for calendar years 2014 and 2015) at Level 2 “Reduction” and moved to Level 3 “Optimisation” for reporting year 2019.

“This accreditation is one more example of how Phoenix is future-focused and future-friendly,” Phoenix Vice Mayor Laura Pastor said. “This recognition is significant, but not surprising. I am proud to serve on a council that directs and supports staff in seeking opportunities to boost sustainability initiatives at Sky Harbor.”

Additionally, Phoenix Sky Harbor was also separately recognized for its strong commitment to reducing its environmental impact. On Monday, Airports Council International - North America (ACI-NA) presented this year’s Environmental Achievement Award in the Innovation Category to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport for the newly opened Eighth Concourse in Terminal 4.

The Eighth Concourse was developed with a relentless focus reducing environmental impacts from the early planning stages throughout the design and construction lifecycle. From a ceiling comprised of recycled plastic bottles to walls incorporating sustainable paper atop recycled concrete, the Eighth Concourse exudes innovative and bold sustainable solutions. The concourse includes 14,000 square feet of “smart” windows that instantaneously tint to improve the built environment and enhance customer experience while reducing peak energy loads by as much as 20%. It also features a cooling system that recycles and saves water, charging stations for electric ground service vehicles, and thousands of LED lights and water-efficient fixtures.

Both of these awards recognize the airports continued focus to supporting the city’s Climate Action Plan and its own Sustainability Management Plan. In fact, the additional requirements for the upgraded Level 4 accreditation included developing an expanded carbon footprint report that inventories airport-controlled emissions sources as well as sources from third parties including tenants, airlines and passengers. The report, A Roadmap to Net Zero Carbon, outlines how Phoenix Sky Harbor will continue to lead through their pledge to reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2040; only 18 years from today, and a decade ahead of global and industry goals.

“I am proud that Sky Harbor is one of the foremost airports in the United States when it comes to environmental responsibility,” said Councilwoman Yassamin Ansari. “By aiming to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2040, we are showing yet again how Phoenix can be a leader in finding innovative solutions to the climate challenges we face. It is through our innovation and dedication that we will continue to thrive.”

To meet the Level 4 requirements, Phoenix Sky Harbor collaborated with numerous internal and external stakeholders in identifying an ambitious goal of achieving Net Zero Carbon by 2040 for emissions. In alignment with the city’s Climate Action Plan (CAP), Phoenix Sky Harbor identified the following CAP targets to serve as interim milestones to achieve the long-term net zero carbon goal:

• Reduce carbon emissions from City operations 40% by 2025, compared to 2005

• Achieve carbon-free electricity by 2030

• Increase efficiency of buildings by 30% by 2030, compared to 2012

“By focusing on how it can reduce the carbon-related impacts of its operation, Phoenix Sky Harbor is working to be a responsible steward of the environment and the community’s investment,” said Councilmember Carlos Garcia. “With this achievement Sky Harbor is affirming our commitment to our community now and in the future.”

Since 2010, Phoenix Sky Harbor has reduced annual carbon emissions 34% through energy conservation measures (ECMs) and on-site renewable energy and other initiatives despite growth and expansion. Some examples include reducing water usage by more than 43 million gallons a year, even with an increase in passengers served; reducing electricity usage by 17% and greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent; and focusing on solar power by adding panels at our Rental Car Center, East Economy Parking areas and most recently at the Aviation Headquarters Building. Additionally, the airport has increased its recycling rates of more than 40% and has implemented innovative waste reduction strategies such as asphalt and concrete recycling into new pavements.

“We are committed to focusing on being future-friendly,” said Director of Aviation Services Chad Makovsky. “Our commitment requires an all-hands-on-deck approach – from airport staff and business partners to our valued passengers and the surrounding community. We are already working together to reduce our impact to the environment and have made great strides, but I look forward to continued collaboration and innovation.”

To achieve net zero carbon, Phoenix Sky Harbor seeks to reduce roughly 69,000 metric tons of carbon emissions as much as feasible before pursuing carbon removal technologies to account for residual emissions. The newly developed Roadmap to Net Zero Carbon identifies the short-, medium- and long-term strategies for Phoenix Sky Harbor to reach this goal and satisfies the ACA requirement for identifying the specific carbon emissions reduction trajectory.