Environmental impact continues to be an increasingly important global issue, with greater pressures to minimise that impact coming from all sides, including governments, regulators, shareholders and employees. Airports need to work hard to reduce the environmental impacts that directly result from their operations.
Help is at hand in the shape of an internationally accepted Environmental Management System (EMS), ISO14001, which is being adopted by airports to assist them in defining and identifying objectives for improvement.
One company delivering ISO14001 certification is ERM Certification and Verification Services (ERM CVS), which has worked recently with both Stansted and Gatwick airports, helping them to ensure they have the right procedures and behaviours in place to minimise day-to-day impact. Business Development Director at ERM CVS, Peter Wilson, explained: “The aim of ISO14001 is to address the delicate balance between maintaining profitability and reducing environment impact.”
The sustainable and responsible growth of air travel through Stansted airport remains a key focus for BAA, so growing the airport at any cost is not an option. It has a proven and well-respected track record in managing the environment and is certified to the ISO14001 standard.
Kathy Morrissey, Environment Compliance Manager at Stansted, explains: “We have held the standard since 2005, but have to go for re-certification every three years, as well as having surveillance visits each year in between. Knowing you will be audited annually drives us to continually improve.
“A core part of the standard is internal auditing and although it has a formal structure, it isn’t prescriptive, so we are able to make our own interpretation of it. We are able to develop a framework which fits well as part of a broader approach to our sustainability and CSR. We have a clear responsibility for minimising environmental impact and ISO14001 fits nicely into our vision.”
Stansted appointed ERM CVS to provide an independent assessment because it focuses on results, looking at performance from the bottom up. Ms Morrissey continues: “They [the ERM CVS team members] go out on site and determine if what they are seeing matches with what our documentation says we are doing. It can be quite uncomfortable when areas where we are not performing as well as we might are highlighted, but the standard does help to develop our operational responsibility.”
An airport is a complex environment with many different businesses working under its roof, and they all have to be incorporated into an environmental management system. At Stansted, there are 10,500 staff, working for 200 companies, and in their assessment, ERM CVS has to ensure that all business partners, including engineers, contractors and retailers, understand how their activity is affecting the overall environmental sustainability of the airport.
“It’s important to help everyone understand what their responsibilities are,” says Mr Wilson. “We spoke to all levels within the organisation, from MD and Operations Director level to baggage handlers and airport security. Individuals are often unaware of the environmental impact of their specific activity, so training is a core part of the whole process, depending on what different people are exposed to.”
The environmental team at Stansted carry out a lot of preparation work before the assessors arrive, to take away the ‘fear factor’ from staff and to make them feel comfortable to answer questions openly. They also communicate to all the staff and businesses through team newsletters and their own intranet to keep everyone advised on environment and health and safety issues.
As well as holding ISO14001, Stansted has two other highly acclaimed environmental and safety certifications: OHSAS18001 for occupational health and safety systems, which was also certified by ERM CVS, and the Carbon Trust Standard. As the first BAA airport to achieve all three certifications, there is a belief that these all help to drive improvements internally.
Aside from setting environmental standards through certification, Stansted has one of the latest biomass boilers in commercial operation in the UK, which helps to drive down gas consumption and enabled the 2008 arrivals terminal extension to be carbon neutral.
In recognition of the impact of their flight operations in local communities closest to the airport, Stansted operates one of the strictest noise regimes of any UK airport. It has a wide range of initiatives and targets in place to drive down the airport’s carbon footprint and reduce its environmental impact, including reducing electricity consumption by 4% on 2008, recycling 55% of airport waste, diverting 65% of airport waste from landfill, keeping more than 95% of flights on track per route and finding a 3% reduction on 2010 water consumption.
Gatwick Airport management saw the value of being independently checked and verified by ERM CVS to achieve its ISO 14001 certification, as it wanted regulators to see that it was taking positive action to improve its environmental sustainability. Like Stansted, Gatwick also has The Carbon Trust Standard for its approach to carbon management.
Environment Leader at Gatwick, Hannah Deacon, says: “We recognise that the impact of third party activity is huge. For instance, their waste becomes our waste, so it’s important that we work closely with airlines, business partners and key stakeholders. Everyone makes an impact and it’s important they know the opportunities and responsibilities in their role, whether it’s recycling paper or oil that has to be bunded.”
Mr Wilson explains: “Some certification companies look predominantly at the documented management system and measure the required procedures against a specific environment impact, such as glycol working its way into the drainage system. In other words, [they are] only looking for things that an airport has a procedure for. But if that is the starting point then activities that aren’t covered by a procedure don’t get looked at.
“We prefer to start with looking at what is actually happening on the ground and when we identify things that are not working well, then [we focus] on finding out the reason why people aren’t doing something properly.”
ERM CVS’s hands-on approach also appealed to Gatwick, as Ms Deacon explains: “It concentrated on people and talking and looked at what people are doing inside and outside at the airport. Its approach helped people to open up. Paperwork is important, but it’s more important to know what people are doing out on the site.
“We had a number of different ERM CVS assessors coming in who brought with them a wide experience of looking at other industries, which we thought was helpful. The points which they raised have been relevant and valid and we have been able to make improvements accordingly. The benefit of an external assessor is that they have a fresh pair of eyes, which in turn makes everyone else look at their environmental practice with a fresh pair of eyes.”
People are much more aware today and want to work for a company which is environmentally responsible. Gatwick’s employees responded very positively to the standard and staff have willingly volunteered to become Environmental Champions supporting the cause. The organisation also believes that it is important for the public, even if they don’t know what ISO14001 is; it is good to know that the airport is taking action, such as protecting water courses and looking at energy use.
Gatwick’s management believes it is equally important to have top level commitment as well as cascading that commitment through every level and they appear to have done exactly that.
“ISO14001 has enabled us to set up our own internal continual assessment and improvement practice. It provided a structure for us to monitor against targets. It’s all about embedding changes into the day-to-day life, a part of each department’s responsibility, not just an add-on,” says Ms Deacon.
Gatwick is committed to sustainable growth through responsible environmental management coupled with strong economic and community programmes. The standard has given the airport a structure for improvement towards achieving its environmental strategy until 2020. Gatwick’s ‘Decade of Change’ strategy includes reducing carbon emissions by 50% and energy consumption by 20% (against 1990 baselines), sending no waste to landfill and empowering employees to change the way they work.
UK airports continue to pour effort into their environmental management. With various certifications and regulations, facilities such as Gatwick and Stansted can drive towards more ecological operations and ultimately reduce the impact made on the environment. Airports across the world are striving for sustainability, and, with the right procedures and willing staff, the aviation industry can meet its environmental targets.