Budapest Airport: Amongst the greenest European airports

Although aviation is only responsible for global warming to an extent of two percent, and airports only generate 5 percent of the total emissions of the industry, airports around the world are making ever greater efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and improve energy efficiency. Budapest Airport is leading the process amongst European airports, having reduced its emissions by approximately 6000 tons of carbon dioxide during the past two years. This is equivalent to the annual energy consumption of more than 500 households. Gábor Szarvas, director of community relations and environmental protection for Budapest Airport, was asked about their recipe for success and future plans. 

Your efforts to combat climate change were recognized recently by ACI Europe, the largest umbrella organization of European airports, by awarding a prestigious carbon accreditation certificate to Budapest Airport. When you received this for the first time, you said that Budapest Airport joined the elite club of European airports seeking to cut emissions. According to the latest news, you have now received a second certification, whereby you have reached the second level in this prestigious “club”, by achieving the 2nd grade of the accreditation. What does this mean precisely?

Budapest Airport joined the group of carbon–accredited airports in 2011. Carbon-accreditation is a comprehensive, multi-level environmental protection program spanning several years, with the ultimate goal of ensuring that the airport in question operates without any environmental carbon dioxide burdens. This is the long-term objective that Budapest Airport has also set itself when it joined the carbon accreditation program operated by Airports Council International (ACI). As a first step, since 2011 we measure the quantity of carbon dioxide emitted by Budapest Airport on a regular basis, which provides a clear picture about the energy consumption and the related environmental burdens of a given institution, company or sector. Every year, Budapest Airport drafts a report on this, and commissions an independent expert company to certify it. Following stagnation or a reduction of only a few percent in emissions during the previous years, Budapest Airport achieved a significant, 15% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions last year. The second level in the accreditation process basically means that we undertake to achieve a reduction of the same degree, on a continuous basis.

When you talk about energy consumption at an airport, what exactly do you mean? What counts towards these measurements?

Based on the methodology used since 2010, natural gas and electricity consumption, as well as the fuel consumption of the vehicles operated by Budapest Airport counts towards the total value. 

6000 tons of carbon dioxide during the past two years sounds impressive, but it does not mean too much to those of us who are not environmental experts. Could you give some examples how much or how significant this is?

Indeed, in 2013, airport operation generated nearly 6000 tons less in carbon dioxide emissions than in 2011. This is equivalent to the average annual energy consumption of 550 households, or burning 32 railroad cars of coal, or the average annual consumption of 1200 passenger cars. It is also an important indicator that 2000 hectares of forests would be required to store this quantity in one year.

This is considered a significant achievement in terms of emissions reduction. How were you able to achieve this, and, more importantly, how will you be able to fulfill your ambitious commitments for the future?

Our efforts over the past years have borne fruit. Amongst other things, we switched energy-inefficient machinery off the network, switched off the heating in a number of empty, disused buildings, optimized our energy supply systems in accordance with the specific needs of the summer and winter seasons, and installed solar collectors a long time ago to provide hot water for our offices. We are in the process of drafting our long-term energy strategy, and I am certain that once it is approved, we will be able to achieve additional, significant savings. We performed detailed calculations before we made our decision, so I am confident that we will be able to fulfill our undertaking. Moreover, the fact that ACI Europe issued the certification shows that they also believe we will be able to deliver on our commitments.

What measures does this involve specifically?

In order to reduce emissions, firstly we will implement numerous technical developments, including the modernization of our boiler house, the installation of new air handling units and LED lighting. Secondly, going forward we will place increased emphasis on trainings and raising awareness of energy efficiency. In addition, Budapest Airport has established an Energy and Carbon Management Working Group, with the aim of monitoring the achievement of our energy consumption objectives and coordinating the necessary measures.

A legzöldebb repülőterek között

In your view, Budapest Airport’s efforts to cut emissions can be described as average, lacking or pioneering, in international comparison?

Last year, at ACI’s general assembly held in Frankfurt, we learned that there are 102 large international airports participating in the international carbon accreditation program, including ourselves. Out of these, 85 are European. The total reduction in carbon dioxide emissions achieved was 133 599 tons, which is a reduction of 5.98 %. Budapest Airport is proud of the fact that in 2013, it was able to reduce its emission of greenhouse gases by a much greater degree, by nearly 15%. However, it is important to emphasize that in the case of the ACI program, participation is the most important, since the common enemy is climate change.

 It seems that airports are making ever greater efforts to reduce their carbon dioxide footprints. On a global scale, how much does this contribute to the collective fight against climate change?

Out of the various industries, aviation only makes a minor contribution of 2% to carbon dioxide emissions, and airport operation only accounts for 5% of that quantity. Irrespective of this, responsible thinking and operation is a must, as far as we are concerned. Our objective is to set a positive example for other sectors with our commitments and voluntary initiatives. I think the accreditation process is an excellent example of this, since it is not only recognized in our industry, but also by the environmental protection leaders of the United Nations. Also, it is ranked by the European Union amongst the three most successful programs on the continent in terms of contributing to an actual reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

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