Hong Kong Airport Authority tackles sustainability challenges head-on

By Michael Barrett |

Terminal1-interior-HKIAFollowing our airport sustainability stories on Budapest, Stansted and many others, we showcase the numerous initiatives and ambitious undertakings by Hong Kong Airport Authority and its partners at Hong Kong International Airport.

Sustainability in airports covers a wide range of measures from single-use plastics reduction, to waste management, carbon emission reductions – under the ACI-led carbon neutral programme for airports globally – and even sustainable supply chain management. Social welfare among all supply chain stakeholders and human rights issues are also areas airports in some regions need to address.

At Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA), the management collaborates with all airport business partners to adopt an ‘airport-wide’ approach to manage, reduce and mitigate the airport’s environmental footprint. Waste is one of Hong Kong’s most pressing environmental issues, according to HKIA. With landfill sites reaching capacity, the airport continues to look for innovative ways to accelerate the reduction of waste produced by the airport and its partners.

The HKIA approach to waste management is a holistic effort to reduce the absolute amount of waste generated. This is achieved by facilitating waste separation at source, promoting recycling as well as exploring other disposal options.


Among the waste management initiatives at the airport, food waste is one area which has been a priority and according to the Hong Kong Airport Authority (AAHK), it has been collecting food waste for recycling for nearly two decades already (since 2003).


The Airport Authority of Hong Kong has been collecting food waste for recycling since 2003

The scope of collection now covers 17 airport business partners including restaurants and lounges operating in terminal buildings, as well as airline catering companies, hotels and cargo terminals.

Most of the collected food waste is sent to be converted into biogas. The remainder is converted into fish food at an off-site plant. Over 2,000 tonnes of food waste was collected in 2018 alone.

Ten years after initiating its food waste management programme, in 2013, the Airport Authority of Hong Kong launched the HKIA Food Rescue Programme in partnership with a local NGO, Food Angel.

The joint initiative aims to collect surplus food from restaurants and caterers at the airport to provide meals for the underprivileged. The programme was launched thanks to the support of the HKIA Environmental Fund.


Five years into the programme, in 2018, the value of the charitable partnership was given the recognition it deserved and the programme was formalised into a service contract with the NGO. In 2018, Food Angel collected over 50 tonnes of surplus food, transforming it into over 67,000 hot meal boxes, which were then distributed to those in need.


‘Green Ambassadors’ recruited to engage passengers and promote waste management through interactive and educational activities

HKIA sees partnership recognition as a fundamental way to address the waste issues. In 2017-2018, the airport implemented the third HKIA Environmental Management Recognition Scheme to engage its airport business partners and tenants on waste management. The airport recruited ‘Green Ambassadors’ as part of this recognition scheme to engage passengers and promote waste management through interactive and educational activities inside the terminal. Prominently displayed posters also highlight HKIA’s environmental campaigns.

In the past two years the airport has introduced performance-based agreements with waste management contractors at the airport to encourage continuous improvement in HKIA’s recycling rate. The airport also recently completed a municipal solid waste charging pilot scheme with over 200 participants from across the airport’s terminal buildings. Research is an important area of investment for HKIA. The airport provides financial support for studies on transforming food waste at HKIA into value-added chemicals through the HKIA Environmental Fund.

Every aspect of waste is being addressed; the airport also decided to replace paper towels with hand-dryers in the terminal buildings and the HKIA tower and offer reusable dining ware to dine-in customers at all food and beverage outlets and food courts.

Sustainable strategies for carbon reduction

Using non-dredged reclamation methods to minimise disturbance to the marine environment;

  • Adopting environmentally preferable deep cement mixing for ground improvement works in the disused contaminated mud pit areas north of HKIA;
  • Implementing horizontal directional drilling (HDD) technique in the construction of two underwater aviation fuel pipelines to avoid dredging of the seabed;
  • Establishing dolphin exclusion zones around potentially noisy marine construction activities;
  • Managing SkyPier high-speed ferries (HSFs);

Considerable efforts have been undertaken for over a decade at HKIA to meet ACI’s Carbon Accreditation Programme objectives to reduce carbon emissions.  Conscious that global and regional demand for air travel continues to grow, the HKIA management team works closely with the airport community to mitigate climate change and decouple its business growth from an increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

In 2008, the airport established the HKIA Carbon Reduction Programme to provide a platform for the airport community to measure, reduce and report carbon emissions. Since then, together with its many business partners, the airport has made two pledges to reduce HKIA’s ‘airport-wide’ carbon emissions.

The airport adopts four support strategies to support its business partners and help them meet carbon reduction targets. These are:

  • Senior Executive Roundtables which bring together senior executives of business partners for high-level discussions on the business case for carbon reduction;
  • the Carbon Reduction Award which recognises efforts by business partners in reducing carbon emissions and promotes best practices;
  • the Technical Working Group, a bi-annual technical training session for business partners on carbon and energy saving solutions, such as solar panel implementation;
  • and the Benchmarking Scheme which aims to encourage friendly competition between business partners in the same sector through comparing their performance against sector averages.



Adoption of electrical vehicles in airside to reduce HKIA’s ‘airport-wide’ carbon emissions

As a result of these support strategies, a variety of energy efficiency initiatives have been implemented at HKIA to reduce electricity consumption. All lighting elements, including those inside advertising panels and the high mast lighting on the aprons, have been replaced with LED lights.

Electrical vehicles have been introduced airside and cooling systems have been upgraded to more energy efficient models. And to ensure they’re not missing any energy efficiency opportunities, the airport has installed a cloud-based analytics system which utilises big data analytics to detect and diagnose potential equipment faults and operational irregularities.

Asked about the cost of going green and introducing such far-reaching energy-saving initiatives, a spokesperson for the airport said: “Our experience is that there might be a high initial investment. However, the life-cycle cost of more efficient solutions is lower in the longer term. This means that going green might not necessarily result in higher prices for the consumers, or higher operating costs for the airport authority.”


Replacement of LED lights inside the terminal to increase energy efficiency


“With the LED lights for example, the spokesperson continued, “although there is a high initial cost, the LED lights have a longer life span, generate less heat and use less energy than conventional lighting, so this is generating savings in our day-to-day operating costs in the long run.”


In order for airports to ensure the success of their sustainable strategies it’s important the strategies and policies are widely adopted by all stakeholders. HKIA management introduced a three-pronged approach to sustainability management to ensure its policies were far-reaching and embraced by all partners. To reflect the different levels of control HKIA exercises over the various aspects of airport operations, it adopts the principles of ‘Control, Guide and Influence’.

For retail and F&B operators at HKIA, for example, the airport provides fit-out and design guidelines so that environmentally friendly or recycled materials are used for shop fit-outs, and so energy efficient appliances or energy saving measures or devices are installed in their stores.  Operators are also required to submit an environmental management plan, which outlines their sustainable practices in their operations at the airport, particularly in the areas related to energy and water consumption, waste management and pollution control.  The airport conducts regular environmental audits to ensure their business partners are operating in line with the environmental management plan.


When asked what challenges the airport authority sees for developing sustainable business practices, the airport spokesperson said: “HKIA recognises the continual growth in global and regional demand for air travel gives rise to both opportunities and challenges to the travel retail industry.

“The increasing number of passengers creates not only business opportunities but also pressure in the provision of efficient and quality services. Travel retailers and other commercial business partners may see this a challenge to extend their sustainable business practices.”

To address these challenges, the Hong Kong Airport Authority works closely and continuously with all business partners, including retail outlets, to explore innovative and pragmatic ways to implement more sustainable practices. This ranges from the macro-level airport-wide carbon emissions such as the HKIA Carbon Reduction Programme to the more retail and F&B-focused food waste, food rescue and packaging recycling programmes.

“Take the food rescue programme for example,” the spokesperson continued, “The Airport Authority has appointed a local NGO to collect surplus food from restaurants and caterers at HKIA. The food is then reheated and served as hot meals to those in need in nearby communities. This is a typical solution for restaurants and caterers to contribute to sustainability in a feasible and practical way.”

Hong Kong Airport Authority is committed to developing a robust culture of sustainability throughout the organisation and has been for many years.  The airport’s environmental management system (EMS) received ISO 14001 certification in 2018 and there are a number of supporting company policies to guide the airport’s decisions in key areas such as green procurement, energy management, sustainable dining and carbon offset. Seminars, workshops and frequently held events at the airport ensure all staff embrace the policies and become more environmentally aware and proactive on a daily basis.

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