Heathrow launches revised sustainability strategy

12 Feb 2022 by Tom Otley
Heathrow airport

Heathrow has published a revised sustainability strategy called ‘Heathrow 2.0: Connecting People and Planet’.

The strategy sets out Heathrow’s goals for the next ten years “to tackle the growing climate emergency, decarbonise flight and continue to improve the area around the airport for those who live and work in it”.

On the climate emergency, the sustainability strategy recognises that “Climate is an existential threat to aviation as well as to us all personally and must be addressed.” And says “no one will fly to coastal cities or tropical islands that are under water.”

Heathrow points out that 95 per cent of its carbon footprint is from the aircraft which use the airport with the remaining 5 per cent coming from “people getting to and from the airport on the ground, as well as our supply chain, airport vehicles and buildings”.

The airport therefore estimates that 99.9 per cent of its carbon emissions are Scope 3, “which means we do not directly control them”. It adds, however that it can “influence these emissions” and so includes them in its strategy.

Heathrow Key-actions-at-a-glance

The airport identifies four ways it will reach its ‘Net Zero’ goal to remove carbon:

  1. ongoing efficiency improvements,
  2. sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) scaling up to replace 90 per cent of kerosene by 2050
  3. zero carbon aircraft starting in 2035
  4. carbon removal projects

The Net Zero goal for 2050 leads to twin intermediate goals to cut absolute carbon emissions by 2030:

  • Up to a 15 per cent cut in carbon from flying (or carbon ‘in the air’), with Government support (“the right Government policies to scale SAF”). The aim is 11 percent SAF use by airlines at Heathrow by 2030, contributing a carbon saving of over 7.5 per cent by that time.
  • At least a 45 per cent cut in carbon from surface access, supply chain, vehicles, buildings and infrastructure, (or carbon ‘on the ground’).

Heathrow intends to press ahead for a third runway, and says that the Net Zero goal will mean that by 2050 its carbon emissions will see “a fall of at least 80 per cent, even with a new runway, leaving around 20 per cent of emissions to be removed from the atmosphere to reach net zero.”

Heathrow says that while it is possible that future governments may act to discourage aviation through “tougher policies to limit flying, including constraining airport capacity….  introducing constraints in one country can have the unintended consequence of exporting rather than reducing carbon, as passengers take flights to other hub airports to connect to their end destination.”


While regarding demand management as “a last resort”, the airport says that it has been “a long-standing advocate of the polluter pays principle and passengers should pay the carbon costs of their flights.

“By applying robust carbon pricing, for example by including flights in the UK Emissions Trading System, the cost of carbon will be included in air travel. This will have some impact on passenger demand but it will also provide a stronger incentive for aerospace manufacturers and airlines to innovate and invest to cut carbon.”

On Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), the airport says that “The main barrier to SAF is economic not technological: it costs more than kerosene. This means that airlines struggle to sign agreements to purchase it, and investors are therefore hesitant to back new plants.”

Heathrow is encouraging ‘”three key market signals from the UK Government [to] help kick-start the SAF market.”

  1. A mandate requiring fuel producers to make SAF.
  2. A price support mechanism to make SAF an affordable alternative for airlines.
  3. Capital funding / loan guarantees for first of type plants.

To hit the target of 11 per cent SAF at Heathrow by 2030 the airport admits it is “largely reliant on the UK Government introducing the right policies – and quickly. To see the first dedicated SAF plants opening by 2025, the mandate and price supported policies will need to be legislated by the end of 2022.”

From this year the airport’s landing charges “will include a new financial incentive for airlines to help make SAF more affordable for airlines. The incentive will support 0.5% SAF purchase in its first year, climbing steadily in the following years. It is also offering passengers the opportunity to buy SAF through its offsetting partner Chooose [sic]

For passengers travelling to the airport, Heathrow will soon be publishing an “updated surface access strategy”. The airport highlights the full opening of the Elizabeth Line in 2022/2023 will make a real difference, providing direct train services to Heathrow from central London, the City, and the Docklands financial district and beyond. The airport also started to charge a drop-off fee in October of last year and will launch a new ‘Sustainable Travel Zone’ this year, “improving active travel and public transport connectivity and introducing financial support on key commuting routes for colleagues. It says that 30 per cent of employees live within 10 kilometres of the airport, “a good distance for cycling, so we will also invest in improvements to cycle lanes to encourage people to commute by bike.”

The report can be downloaded from the Heathrow website

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