February 16, 2023

In Conversation: ACI World's Luis Felipe de Oliveira

In this week’s episode of our ‘Sustainability in the Air’ podcast, SimpliFlying CEO Shashank Nigam spoke to ACI World’s Director General Luis Felipe de Oliveira, who shared how the organisation is supporting airports in their net-zero journey.

You can listen and subscribe to the podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Podcast Addict and Google podcasts.

Here’s a deep dive into the episode:

ACI-ing airport sustainability: Airport Carbon Accreditation and ACERT

On average, airports account for roughly 5% of aviation’s carbon footprint. The majority of these emissions are from ground operations, including energy use for heating, cooling, lighting, and airport vehicles.

Airports have varying carbon footprints due to their geographical, cultural and economic intricacies. This, as Luis Felipe puts it, makes each airport a mystery that needs to be understood and unlocked in its specific context.

Recognising the impact of these emissions on the environment, ACI’s European body ACI Europe launched the Airport Carbon Accreditation program in 2009. The program has since expanded, with nearly 450 airports worldwide enrolled and certified at different accreditation levels.

ACI’s carbon accreditation program is the only voluntary global carbon management standard that helps airports to manage and reduce their carbon footprint. Focusing primarily on CO2 emissions, the program offers a common framework for airports to analyse and identify carbon-intensive activities. It is site-specific and can be used by airports to plan daily as well as long-term sustainability strategy through continuous improvement and stakeholder partnerships.

It comprises six progressively stringent levels of accreditation that address the needs of airports of different sizes that are at various stages of their carbon management journey. The six levels with their specific requirements are as follows:

  1. Level 1 (Mapping): Determine emissions sources within the operational boundaries. Calculate the annual carbon emissions and compile a carbon footprint report.
  2. Level 2 (Reduction): Provide evidence of effective carbon management and demonstrate quantified emissions reductions.
  3. Level 3 (Optimisation): Widen the scope of carbon footprint to include third-party emissions and engage third parties at and around the airport.
  4. Level 3+ (Neutrality): Offset remaining emissions for all emissions over which the airport has control with high-quality carbon credits.
  5. Level 4 (Transformation): Define a long-term carbon management strategy for absolute emissions reductions, aligned with the objectives of the Paris Agreement. Demonstrate evidence of actively driving third parties towards delivering emissions reductions.
  6. Level 4+ (Transition): Offset the residual carbon emissions over which the airport has control, using internationally recognised offsets.

ACI's Airport Carbon Accreditation Program

In 2012, ACI also developed an inventory tool called the Airport Carbon and Emissions Reporting Tool (ACERT) to help airports estimate their carbon emissions. ACERT is a self-contained Excel spreadsheet that doesn’t require environmental or emissions expertise but yields sufficiently accurate results to allow airports to put together a mitigation plan. Particularly useful for smaller airports, the tool is available free of charge.

ACI also works closely with the Aerospace Technology Institute, UK and has launched joint reports to guide airports about the integration of technologies like hydrogen aircraft and sustainable aviation fuels in the airport infrastructure.

Visions for the future: SAF and effective communication

The aviation sector is often criticised for not doing enough to curb its carbon emissions. This, however, does not imply a dearth of initiatives in the industry but a sheer lack of awareness about them, states Luis Felipe. For example, Airports Council International’s Airport Carbon Accreditation program was instituted over a decade ago, yet it remains relatively unknown.

Luis Felipe believes that aviation is perhaps the one of the most environmentally conscious industries but it fails to convey its efforts to the public. He is convinced that a consistent and cohesive communication strategy will be crucial in allaying such misconceptions.

Given his background in fuels, Luis Felipe is certain that Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) will lead the industry’s trajectory towards a sustainable future. Since SAF production is currently limited due to high prices, a mix of mandates and incentives will be required to catalyse its supply. This would again require the industry actors to work in tandem.

Our take: The challenge with voluntary accreditation

ACI’s carbon accreditation program lays down a framework to help airports manage and reduce their carbon emissions. It helps them navigate the complex subject and take necessary action to mitigate their environmental impact. It also helps airports demonstrate their commitment to sustainability and step up to their environmental responsibility.

The accreditation program neatly outlines the measures for emissions reduction and best practices, but its voluntary nature tends to blunt its teeth. Airports are under no obligation to participate or even work towards a high level of accreditation.

Voluntary initiatives, while a powerful force to create awareness, are not binding. The lack of incentive can deter and undermine their effectiveness. In ACI’s case, while about 450 airports have been accredited as of Feb 2023, only 33 have reached the highest Level 4+ Transition. Interestingly, only three each have been certified in North America and Asia. The remaining 27 airports are all in Europe.

As the aviation industry works towards its net-zero goals and aims to become more sustainable, concerted efforts and a consistent communication strategy, as Luis Felipe pointed out, are absolutely essential. What’s also important is to substantiate every claim made with concrete, actionable steps – to not just drum up sustainability clauses, but to also imbibe the true spirit of it.

Our Sustainability in the Air podcast is powered by SimpliFlying which has been helping build trust in travel for over a decade.

Season 3 is brought to you by our sustainability partners, Cirium and CarbonClick

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In Conversation: Adam Goldstein, Archer Aviation


In Conversation: Airbus’ Amanda Simpson


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