Texan by Nature is excited to recognize Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) as a 2023 TxN 20 honoree for their leadership in conservation and sustainability. DFW Airport’s commitment to conservation, their projects, programs, best practices, and lessons learned are an example and inspiration for us all.
Honoree Industry and Size: Transportation – Mid
Company Overview: Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) is one of the world’s busiest and most connected airports. Centered between its owner cities of Dallas and Fort Worth, it serves as a major economic engine generating jobs and attracting businesses to the region. DFW is committed to providing exceptional customer service and has been named the best large airport for customer satisfaction in North America by Airports Council International. A leader in sustainability, DFW is the world’s largest and North America’s first carbon-neutral airport.
What is DFW’s conservation and sustainability mission and why is it important to your culture?
DFW’s vision is “Travel. Transformed.” which extends to our mission to transform to a more sustainable operation. A key part of this vision is proactively addressing our sustainability impacts across the organization, both within our over 17,000-acre property and beyond our physical boundaries – noting the impact DFW has on the economic, social, and environmental quality of life of our neighboring communities. Our commitment to leadership in sustainability remains at the core of our organization’s identity, and we are continuing to engage our employees, customers, and partners in playing an active role as sustainability and conservation stewards. Our Sustainability Management Plan introduced our enterprise-wide approach to sustainability and sets ambitious, measurable goals around climate action, energy performance, circular economy, water and biodiversity, as well as social aspects of equity and health, safety, and wellness. We are committed to pursuing excellence in sustainability performance as a model both for our region, state, and throughout the aviation industry.
Sustainability Management at DFW will allow the continued survival of natural assets, such as this waterfall hidden deep within the airport property. Photo courtesy of DFW Environmental Affairs Department.
How is conservation and sustainability a part of DFW’s business strategy?
Addressing conservation and sustainability is fundamental to our business success. Our Sustainability Management Plan establishes a foundation to ensure DFW remains a resilient operation. Sustainability enhances our business strategy both through operational aspects such as improving efficiency, eliminating pollution, reducing waste of resources, and culturally by limiting our impact on local ecosystems and neighboring communities. A commitment to running a sustainable operation entails financial investment, but investments will pay off over the short and long term if we proactively anticipate the transformation that is needed. For example, our investment in the electrification of our central utility plant will significantly reduce emissions, improve resilience, and enable terminal expansion. Furthermore, our goal is to continue to deliver the highest standard of service long into the future, and we recognize there is an operational risk to not investing in sustainability and climate resilience.
What are DFW’s short and long-term goals as they relate to conservation and sustainability?
Our Sustainability Management Plan outlines our goals under six action areas: Climate Action, Energy Performance, Water and Biodiversity, Circular Economy, Equity, and Health, Safety and Wellness. These are DFW’s Sustainability North Stars, with several performance goals to be achieved by 2030 and 2040.
Who at DFW is leading your conservation and sustainability efforts and what are some examples of employee engagement in conservation and sustainability at your company?
Our Environmental Affairs Department takes the lead on establishing and implementing DFW’s sustainability strategy, but DFW would not be able to achieve this success without the collaboration from internal departments across the airport as well as external stakeholders and partners.
Environmental Affairs oversees several outreach programs both within DFW and in the broader North Texas region including:
What conservation and sustainability programs and projects does DFW lead and participate in?
One project is the Biodiversity Baseline Assessment. In support of our nature-positive goal, DFW has taken the initial step of undertaking a biodiversity baseline assessment. This assessment quantifies and characterizes the biodiversity elements across our campus. Understanding our biodiversity baseline allows us to develop a strategy to achieve our nature-positive target by providing the data to support ongoing protection and enhancement of the highest-value natural areas. Biodiversity is emerging as a crucial issue for airports and the business community. DFW has been a part of the regional landscape since 1974 and is located at the confluence of two ecoregions: the Cross Timbers and the Texas Blackland Prairies. The airport was built on and around an existing natural infrastructure that provides valuable benefits to humans and other species. As the impacts of climate change become increasingly acute, and the population continues to grow, it is crucial that the infrastructure serving our communities does not compromise the value of biodiversity and ecosystem services.
Another initiative is our Composting Program. DFW generates a substantial amount of food waste from its terminal restaurants, office kitchens, and onsite airline kitchens that prepare thousands of inflight meals each week. According to a previous waste audit, food waste represents roughly one-quarter of the waste generated in the terminals and is a sizable contributor to the Airport’s waste to landfill. To both become a more responsible environmental steward, DFW has partnered with locally based and woman-owned Turn Compost since 2021 to transfer as much of this food waste as possible from the solid waste stream into a composting program. In FY 2022, DFW and Turn steered nearly 200 tons of organic waste away from landfills and transformed it into beneficial compost. DFW continues to grow this program each quarter, adding new terminal concessionaires and office buildings and educating business partners on the environmental and economic benefits of composting. Solid waste diversion (whether via recycling, reuse, or composting) is a key performance indicator for DFW Airport, and Airport personnel are given incentives to think creatively and increase our landfill diversion by an additional 5%. DFW Airport remains committed to growing this program and substantially reducing the solid waste that leaves our property destined for a landfill.
How do you see the future of conservation and sustainability evolving, and what role will DFW play in that progress?
Sustainability and conservation challenges, as well as the technologies available to address these challenges, are evolving at a rapid pace. The ability to run a secure and resilient operation in the face of future knowns and unknowns will depend on our ability to be nimble and flexible in response to acute events and resource constraints. The aviation industry has proven to be resilient and nimble in challenging times, including DFW Airport. This resiliency will be key in adapting to future environmental challenges.
As we move toward our 2030 and 2040 goals, we believe investing in technology and innovation will be key to effectively meeting our sustainability objectives. Tools such as digital twin technologies, for example, will allow us to test approaches and predict how the airport will perform against a range of future scenarios to inform planning, operations, and design approaches.
Further, improving our ability to track performance in real-time will allow us to be nimble and resilient in the face of a changing landscape and forthcoming sustainability challenges. DFW continues to innovate and lead the aviation industry in the adoption of sustainable business practices. Our enterprise-wide approach to sustainability management gives DFW the clarity and foresight to be proactive rather than reactive when faced with sustainability challenges.
How does DFW quantify investment and return on conservation and sustainability?
As we implement our Sustainability Management Plan, we will be regularly tracking a set of key performance indicators relating to metrics including carbon emissions, energy consumption, energy sources, waste diversion, water reuse, and more. For each of the Sustainability North Star Goals, the airport has developed a roadmap to implementation. These implementation roadmaps include a set of recommended actions that we must introduce in order to be successful. The actions included in the roadmap were vetted by individuals from each implementing department to align cost and level of effort with projected, quantifiable sustainability impacts.
This analysis resulted in a set of short-listed actions showing a favorable cost-to-impact ratio that will be pursued by the airport. Furthermore, the airport will be using a dashboard to track progress and ensure investments are resulting in projected impacts over time.
What is the one lesson that DFW has learned from your conservation and sustainability efforts that others can take back and think about applying within their own space?
To be a leader in conservation and sustainability requires the organization to be nimble, and to be able to iterate, adapt, and innovate. While we set targets for two decades out, none of us know what the world will look like in ten or twenty years, or what the most pressing issues will be. Therefore, we need to recognize that though we are creating a strategy to achieve our goals, we may not have the answers today. To be successful requires ongoing tracking of the evolving landscape and both the willingness and ability to change course in response. We achieve this in part through the commitment of our leadership and through active partnerships with technical innovators such as the National Renewable Energy Lab. We are also part of a supportive community within the aviation industry in which we share challenges and solutions around sustainability in effort to improve the performance of the industry as a whole. This non-competitive, collaborative approach has been fruitful and will continue to move the needle for us and our peers in the industry.
Why is Texas an important home or base of operations for DFW?
Over 50 years ago, the Cities of Dallas and Fort Worth came together to build an airport that will serve the region. Today, DFW Airport is the second busiest airport in the world and one of the most connected. The Airport’s central location allows for easy access to multiple business centers across the globe. DFW is just a four-hour flight from either coast in the U.S. and has several international flights on over 16 international carriers and serves as a key gateway between Asian and Latin American travel and trade.
This is why DFW has committed to being a good steward of this public asset and serving as a key economic engine for the region. DFW is responsible for supporting over 634,000 regional jobs and over $38 billion in direct and indirect payroll. In 2023, DFW expects to welcome 80 million customers which would break a new record for the Airport. DFW Airport is proud to call Texas its home and is striving every day to deliver a memorable customer experience to all who travel through our doors.
“As North Texas expands, DFW Airport will face increased demands for flights and the airport facilities, infrastructure and energy needed to support them. We’re committed to meeting these demands responsibly, with significant investments in renewable energy, waste diversion and innovative technology. These actions prepare us for a more sustainable future, safeguarding our resources while enabling economic growth.”
– Sean Donohue, Chief Executive Officer.
Efforts include training in identification, evaluation and mitigation of wildlife hazards, and coordinating with energy department to mitigate wildlife attractions.
In an effort to reduce energy use and increase energy efficiency of major transportation hubs.
San Antonio, Texas
San Antonio, Texas
San Antonio, Texas
Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas