A look behind the scenes: How is Schiphol working to achieve sustainability?

Imagine an airport that, on balance, produces zero waste and zero emissions. A distant dream? For now, perhaps, but the aim is to make it a reality by 2030. This is what Schiphol is doing to achieve it.

Making choices

There are several ways of achieving any goal, perhaps especially so in the case of sustainability. This is why it’s important to make informed decisions about what we at Schiphol will and will not do. In making choices about sustainability, we take three aspects into account: strategy, impact and finances. We ask such questions as: does this proposal contribute to our zero-waste and zero-emissions targets? Will it have sufficient impact? Do the benefits outweigh the costs?

Solar panels: yes or no?

Take a practical example. In recent years, people have often suggested: ‘Why don’t we install solar panels next to the runways?’. Although many people suspect this is a good idea, the truth is the complete opposite. For example, it’s risky to install solar panels right next to the runways: imagine if an aircraft runs into them. It’s also quite expensive, because cables and pipework will need to be installed that are not yet in place. And don’t forget that the ‘empty’ green area also has its benefits: it compensates for the temperature increase caused by so many kilometres of asphalt. Black panels will actually make the environment warmer. With all this in mind, Schiphol has therefore decided not to install panels on the ground, although they are being installed on the roofs of buildings. If the technology changes, we may make a different decision.

First things first

Over the years, the approach that Schiphol takes to sustainability has changed. Initially, the issue was only discussed right at the end of every project plan. The Corporate Responsibility department added sustainable ideas to project plans, but this left no time to include them in the plans. The implementation phase needed to start quickly. Slowly but surely, sustainability was raised earlier in the process. This now happens at the start of every new project – a Corporate Responsibility colleague sits down with the project manager and they decide together what role sustainability can play in it.

Influence on the market

The advantage of this is that Schiphol is not only making an internal contribution to improving sustainability, but is also doing so externally. It works like this: when Schiphol puts out a tender for potential suppliers, we set the requirements with regard to the extent to which organisations will make a positive contribution to our sustainability targets. This may involve taking on employees who would otherwise find it difficult to gain employment or working according to circular principles. Each time, we can raise these requirements slightly, as parties work increasingly sustainably. A great sign for the future!