ACRP Synthesis – Outcomes of Green Initiatives: Large Airport Experience

Synthesis on Green Initiatives at Airports 2

First Environment developed this synthesis report for ACRP to explore the drivers and outcomes of green initiatives at large airports in North America. It presents perspectives and technical data from airports regarding their initiatives to address compliance issues, reduce their environmental

footprint, and improve long-term prosperity and success. The synthesis focuses specifically on understanding the drivers and outcomes of the green initiatives: how they have had a positive impact on the environment, financial performance, and, in some cases, community surrounding the airports.

The synthesis consisted of three parts; a literature search, an online survey, and case studies. First Environment developed the survey for panel approval and administered it using SurveyGizmo. Airports were initially contacted by phone to confirm participation in the electronic survey, as well as to potentially participate in the development of case studies describing specific initiatives.

The survey participants consisted of 15 airports—primarily large hubs—that have partially or fully developed sustainability practices in place. The airports were queried about drivers, barriers, and benefits. They were also queried as to the organizational governance that supported the green initiatives and specific sustainability practices they had implemented. The airports were given the opportunity to provide details on up to ten sustainability practices each, which were categorized according to the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Sustainability Reporting Guidelines & Airport Operators Sector Supplement categories.  The most widely identified initiative category was waste and recycling; others included, in order of prevalence, green transportation; energy, water resources, wastewater, and stormwater; air quality and greenhouse gas (GHG); green buildings; noise; green construction; material purchasing and use; life-cycle assessment; land use, biodiversity, wildlife management, and restoration; and adaptation to climate change.

Twelve of the 15 airports also contributed to case studies that provide specific details of how they identified, implemented, and assessed a specific green initiative at their airports. Throughout the case study development, First Environment gained further understanding of the specific drivers, outcomes, and lessons learned from each practice. In some cases, outcomes included performance and cost measurements; in others, outcomes were qualitative in nature and reflected benefits such as community recognition and improved relationships with stakeholders.

Between the survey and case studies, we were able to explore common themes in the implementation of the green initiatives at airports. One conclusion we drew is that green initiatives often reflect the unique drivers to an airport’s mission and particular location. We also found that airports are increasingly looking beyond the airport perimeter to address their activities within the context of the sustainability of the community as a whole. In addition, overall, sustainability practices are most effective when a management system and governance structure is in place to support the practice. 

Notably, many of the environmental practices airports have employed have resulted in triple bottom line improvements: that is, improvements to the environment, to society as a whole, and to the long-term economic outlook for the airport. The publication is available here: