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Tue 14 Oct 2008 04:00 AM

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Carbon copy

BAA's Malcolm Mitchell explains how UK's biggest airport Heathrow is cutting its carbon footprint.

Airport operators look to one another to further progress, but at what cost to the environment? BAA's Malcolm Mitchell explains how Heathrow is cutting its carbon footprint.

One plane leaves a BAA airport every 30 seconds," Malcolm Mitchell, head of information, systems and technology architecture at BAA explains. With statistics like this, the UK's biggest airport operator has a tough challenge to face when it comes to cutting the causes of climate change.

There are many disputed figures published, but aviation is a relatively small contributor to the entire global greenhouse gas emission. Reports state around 2 to 3% of greenhouse gas emissions are caused by the worldwide aviation industry. But as the aviation sector continues to grow, Mitchell believes it is becoming an easy target for environmentalists.

We are looking to transform Heathrow and work towards projects which we hope will influence the wider world.

BAA owns seven airports in the UK and Mitchell is quick to admit that the company recognises climate change as a massive challenge. "In 2002, we set targets to reduce CO2 by 15% compared to 12 years earlier, and by 2020 we will have reduced it by 30%. This is fixed assets, so fundamentally the infrastructure, not the aircraft, but you have to tackle all parts of this important agenda."

During the construction of Heathrow's Terminal 5 (T5), BAA realised that being ‘green' is not just about cutting carbon dioxide and emissions, but also about how large-scale airport projects sit in society and most importantly, within the environment.

"Surprisingly, as we began to prepare for T5, a number of archaeological finds were found, so this had to be attended to in the correct way." Mitchell explains. "Meanwhile an enormous quantity of earth was moved about, but none of it left the site. Some projects involved digging tunnels for 11km so you can imagine the amount of earth."

In terms of construction of the buildings, sustainable materials were used wherever possible. "300,000 tonnes of concrete was smashed up, recycled and reused as an aggregate," Mitchell continues. "We also used other low grade waste like crushed green glass on the site's construction roads."

Water and heat conservation is an ongoing part of T5's sustainable strategy. The completed terminal building harvests up to 85% of rainwater and an energy centre supplies an equivalent amount of required heat. "A combined heat and power (CHP) facility built at T5 saves over 11,000 tonnes of CO2 per year, compared to conventional energy use," explains Mitchell.

Natural light also helps to lower energy use. "The terminal is like a cathedral," Mitchell continues. "It is very light and airy, and as long as we control solar radiation, the use of natural light helps to reduce the lighting bill."


What can the region's airports do to improve environmental management?

Airports Council International (ACI) recommends that airports develop and implement a framework that addresses reduction and more efficient use of resources throughout the lifecycle of a product or a piece of infrastructure. Such a framework should consider the design, planning, construction, operation, decommissioning of airport infrastructure and the supply chain management.

Green design and operations include, but are not limited to, rainwater harvesting, water recycling for certain applications, avoidance of air conditioning system through natural ventilation, alternatives to chemical based systems, use of renewable energy sources (photovoltaic cells, wind or solar energy, etc.) and materials that require little maintenance or resources for operations (e.g. lighting). There is also a growing trend towards airport terminals being planned with ‘smart' building and control techniques - utilising automatic control systems that regulate energy use according to flight information systems and other factors.

But it's IT that is the biggest part of the challenge at Heathrow. When BAA began its thermal and energy analysis on T5, it revealed that IT is the fourth largest consumer of energy in the building. Mitchell admits that this came as a surprise. "This means it has really got to earn its keep too."

Worse still, IT is the third largest consumer of electricity at the terminal. Mitchell sees this as unacceptable. "We cannot have devices and systems that have this level of energy consumption, and we are looking to the IT industry to help us to cut our electricity use."

Mitchell explains that IT can be used as part of the solution to these issues. When it is time to refresh PCs, thin-client devices and multi-function printers are selected. Plasma displays are shunned in favour of less glamorous, energy efficient screens and online and video conferencing is encouraged amongst staff and business partners.

Mitchell believes this way of thinking is leading the way in BAA's procurement decisions. "The industry leaders that are taking this on board will win our business in the future and we will upgrade technologies purely based on the proven energy savings alone."

BAA is already preparing for its next project, Heathrow East, which will replace the existing Terminal 2. Mitchell promises that this will assume the same sustainable approach as T5. "Heathrow East will be 40% more energy efficient than the facilities it replaces, which is a pretty big target, but we are looking at viable options."

The proposed Heathrow East terminal will be the first major development in London to use biomass boilers, which as Mitchell says, "will run on materials like scrapwood pulp and willow." This will be used as a fuel to heat and power the terminal. Stansted airport already uses this process, albeit on a smaller scale. Other options are also being explored.

"We would like to use photovoltaic panels and wind turbines to generate electricity for the Terminal 4 forecourt extension. We are looking to transform the whole of Heathrow and we are working towards projects at Heathrow which we hope will influence the wider world," concludes Mitchell.


ACI has adopted the following key environmental policies on behalf of the world's airports.

• Minimise or mitigate the adverse effects of aircraft noise on people.

• Minimise or mitigate the adverse effects of aviation related air pollution.

• Minimise or mitigate the impact of aviation on climate change.

• Promote sustainability by improving the environmental performance during airport development and operation.

• Improve environmental awareness, training and sharing of information among world airports.

• Promote understanding, cooperation and collaboration with stakeholders.

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