"We have to say, that if you look at this coldly, it makes Heathrow one of the most progressive airports in the world." This quote comes not from an airline economist but from Friends of the Earth spokesperson, Andrew Pendleton. The praise, possibly through gritted teeth, came this week after Heathrow launched an innovative new strategy to tackle the airport's environmental impacts.
Heathrow 2.0, the airport's new sustainability strategy was devised with input from some of the world's most respected environmentalists, academics and community leaders.
- Making growth from a new runway at Heathrow carbon neutral
- The use of 100% renewable electricity at the airport from 2017
- Quiet Night Charter to at least halve the number of late running departures to reduce noise for local communities.
- Establishing an airside ultra-low emission zone by 2025
Heathrow will also fund and develop a Centre of Excellence for sustainable aviation to minimise aircraft noise and pollution.
An eye-catching aspect of Heathrow's plans is to explore the restoration of peatlands in the UK to offset carbon. Peatlands cover 12% of the UK but 80% are in poor condition. Restoring them would avoid releasing billions of tonnes of carbon over decades to come whilst helping flood prevention and protecting wildlife.
Tony Juniper is the respected former Friends of the Earth Director and Prince of Wales's adviser on green issues. Juniper helped the Heathrow airport team create its new strategy, calling it "bold and brave". He said: "The difference here is the extent to which they have which really embraced the challenge rather than trying to avoid responsibility".
Juniper, who is agnostic about expansion, added, "If society is going to say we are going to accommodate growth rather than to try and block it then the best possible thing you can do is to try to ensure it is as sustainable as possible… we have a growing demand for aviation and we need to be able to deal with that through a number of different approaches.”
The Prince of Wales's 'green guru' acknowledges that fast-growing aviation is going to have to become sustainable because stopping more people flying “is not going to happen”. With Heathrow announcing record passenger numbers of 75.7 million for 2016, the airport knows it must continue to innovate to make sure any gap between the economic benefits of a new runway and its environmental responsibilities is bridged. It is doing that in some style.