Airport unveils new carbon, water, and waste targets in updated sustainability plan

Heathrow has today pledged to make 2019 the year carbon and waste peaked at the airport, as part of a string of new goals outlined in an update to its sustainability strategy.

In its the first update to its sustainability plan since 2017, the UK’s largest airport has pledged to reduce carbon from flights by up to 15 per cent by 2030 on a 2019 baseline, and to cut its ‘on-the-ground’ emissions by at least 45 per cent by the same date.

In the introduction to the report, CEO John Holland-Kaye said emissions at Heathrow should never exceed 2019 levels, even if Heathrow gets the green light for controversial plans to build a third runway. “Our goal is for 2019 to be the year of ‘peak carbon’ from Heathrow, even with a third runway in the future,” he wrote.

The airport said it planned to cut seven per cent of its ‘in the air emissions’ through the wider use of sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) and called on the government to “inject pace” into plans to scale the nascent market for kerosene alternatives. In addition, it said it would deliver a further eight per cent reduction in emissions through “improvements to conventional aircraft” and a one per cent cut through more efficient operations and “modernising airspace”.

In order to deliver a near-50 per cent cut in its ‘on-the-ground’ emissions, the airport intends to deliver zero carbon buildings and infrastructure by the 2030s, reduce its vehicle emissions by 87 per cent by the end of the decade and cut supply chain emissions by more than a third, the plan reveals.

In a statement, Holland-Kaye hailed the launch of the strategy as a “landmark moment” for Heathrow’s “sustainability journey” that would accelerate the aviation sector shift towards a greener future.

“Decisive action needs to be taken this decade to remain on track for net zero and 2.0 [Heathrow’s sustainability strategy] sets out the roadmap to get us there,” he said. “Not only will we cut carbon, but our ambitious strategy will maintain Heathrow’s leadership in innovation, social mobility and community engagement.”

The strategy sets out Heathrow’s long-term goal to slash carbon from all flights by 80 per cent by 2050, a decrease it stressed would be possible with an extra runway.

Heathrow is entitled to apply for planning permission for a third runway after a Supreme Court decision in January 2021 overturned a previous ruling from the Court of Appeal, which had blocked the project on the ground the airport’s strategy did not align with global climate targets.

The sustainability plan published today also sets out Heathrow’s intention to become a ‘zero waste airport’ by 2030 by maximising reuse, recycling, and recovery of materials, and to reducing the amount of water “that is unaccounted for” by 15 per cent. 

In addition, the company said it was lobbying for the UK government to introduce new post-Brexit laws that would enhance recycling of cabin waste from all non-domestic flights.

The plan also sets out the airport’s intention to extend the London Living Wage guarantee it offers its direct employed staff to all those working in its direct supply chain. It said the move would give a wage boost to at least 1,300 employees and put more than £4.5m into the pay packets of staff at companies such as energy services firm Mitie and parking management company Apcoa.

Heathrow has also urged the government to support the airport’s case for a settlement from regulator Civil Aviation Authority which would “enable the necessary investment” to achieve its goals. It is currently waiting the CAA’s final determination on its business plan for the regulatory period of 2022 to 2026, a plan it stressed includes dedicated funding for sustainability initiatives.

The strategy comes just a few weeks after a study by the New Economics Foundation think tank estimated that the cost of emissions generated the third runway proposed by the airport will have more than doubled to £100bn in the wake of the updated carbon values published by the government last autumn.

Want to find out more about how the net zero transition will impact your business? You can now sign up to attend the virtual Net Zero Finance Summit, which will take place live and interactive on Tuesday 29 March and will be available on demand for delegates after the event.

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