Airports reduce their carbon footprint

In 2018, nearly 4.5 billion travelers arrived and departed from airports worldwide. Airlines have been finding ways for those 45 million flights to leave less of a carbon footprint.[1] At the same time, many airports have been measuring, reducing, and offsetting the impact of the facilities, infrastructure, and ground transportation that they provide.[2]

Airport industry response

In 2009, the European region of Airports Council International (ACI Europe) initiated a program to reduce airport carbon footprints. More than 30 airports committed to achieving accreditation within one year. In September 2009 Frankfurt Airport (FRA) was first to be awarded Airport Carbon Accreditation (ACA).[3]

ACI Europe expanded the ACA program scope worldwide in 2014. Forty-eight new airports participated in 2018.[4] Today, 275 airports in 71 countries participate. More than 3.6 billion travelers pass through those facilities,[5]

Among the quantified successes, CO2 emissions were reduced by 382,000 tons between May 2017 and May 2018. That equates to the amount of CO2 that eight million trees would absorb over a 10-year period.

Accreditation requirements

The program is scalable to the daily operations of any airport. It promotes continual improvement in carbon management through four levels of achievement:[6]

  • Mapping

    The accreditation process begins with identifying where carbon is being emitted within the airport operational boundary. Annual carbon emission for each of those locations is calculated and then compiled to produce a carbon footprint report.

  • Reduction

    After Mapping Level accreditation is verified, accreditation focuses on Reduction of emissions using carbon management procedures. The procedures themselves are evaluated along with progress toward footprint reduction at each targeted location.

  • Optimization

    The scope of an airport carbon footprint involves third parties, whether on that property or in the vicinity. To achieve ACA program Optimization, any third parties that are significant carbon emission sources must be engaged in reducing them.

  • Neutrality

    After all requirements of the previous three levels have been fulfilled, remaining direct and indirect emissions within the airport’s control are offset through one or more of these instruments:

    • Certified Emission Reductions
    • Emissions Reduction Units
    • Proprietary Verified Emission Reductions
    • European Union Allowance

    With any remaining carbon footprint erased through offsets, the goal of Neutrality at every airport-managed location is achieved.

Related initiatives

Along with certification, the now-global Airport Carbon Accreditation (ACA) program promotes many airport climate action initiatives. These include:[7]

  • Designing efficient facilities that limit environmental impact
  • Upgrading to energy-efficient lighting and HVAC
  • Conserving energy and water
  • Switching to hybrid or electric ground vehicles
  • Producing renewable energy on-site
  • Engaging vendors and other stakeholders
  • Offering passengers and employees greener transport solutions to and from the airport

As airports participate in carbon accreditation and climate action initiatives, the ACI shares news and successes within the industry, with governments, and with the public.

The North American scorecard

Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA) reports that 300 airports in the United States and Canada participate in Airport Carbon Accreditation. That gives ACI-NA the largest regional total, with 40 of the airports accredited at the first level or above.[7]

Ten ACI-NA airports are at the Mapping level. Another 15 have reached the Reduction level. Fourteen airports have achieved ACA program Optimization while serving 23.6% of North American passenger traffic. Nine at that level are in the United States:

  • Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
  • John F Kennedy International Airport (JFK)
  • Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)
  • Stewart International Airport (SWF)
  • LaGuardia Airport (LGA)
  • Teterboro Airport (TEB)
  • Seattle Tacoma International Airport (SEA)
  • San Diego International Airport (SAN)
  • San Francisco International Airport (SFO)

As of July 2019, only one ACI – NA airport has been accredited at level 4, Neutrality. Based on its praiseworthy carbon emission reductions, plus reduction by third parties, and carbon offsets, Dallas-Fort Worth International (DFW) is recognized as the first ACI – NA airport and the largest airport in the world to achieve carbon-neutral status.[8]

We at ecoPreserve would love to share news of progress toward carbon neutrality in other industries as well. Please leave a note on the Contact page. Your insights will be published in updates or additional articles this fall. Thank you!

[3] – The story so far
[6] – 4 levels of accreditation
[7] — Airports and CO2

Mital Hall

Mital Hall

Vice President at ecoPreserve
As ecoPreserve Vice President, Mital leads all sustainability projects for new and existing buildings. She has more than 15 years of experience in sustainable and Smart Cities development, including work with universities; federal, state and local governments; and businesses. Her skill set includes strategic planning, sustainable process improvement, reporting, third-party green building certifications, ISO compliance, and energy efficiency program administration.
Mital Hall


We empower organizations to reduce environmental impact, improve efficiency, and improve quality of life.
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