Texan by Nature is excited to recognize Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW Airport) as a 2021 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
Dallas Fort Worth International (DFW) Airport is one of the most frequently visited super hub airports in the world. Centered between owner cities Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas, DFW Airport also serves as a major job generator for the North Texas region by connecting people through business and leisure travel.
What is DFW Airport’s conservation and sustainability mission and why is it important to your culture?
Our sustainability mission focuses on protecting people and our natural resources. We are committed to conserving natural resources for future generations. We view our progress on sustainability as a journey, whereby we learn and improve over time. One vital discovery along our journey is that human behavior, actions, and decisions can directly and indirectly influence our ability to protect and conserve natural resources. In addition, developing more efficient operations allows us to reduce resource impacts while reducing costs. For example, saving more than 50% in energy costs over the past 15 years by switching to 100-percent renewable wind energy and incorporating other energy efficient and conservation measures resulted in a lower environmental footprint. Our successful track record of reducing emissions, lowering operating costs, driving economic value, and reducing social inequalities creates value for our stakeholders and has proven to be good for business.
The growth of the North Texas region creates competition for natural and physical resources and requires DFW Airport to manage its footprint. Committed to being a good neighbor, DFW constantly analyzes the impacts of its activities on the surrounding communities we serve. We want to become part of the solution and prove conservation and business performance do not need to compete. Businesses can achieve sustainability with a commitment to natural resource conservation.
DFW Airport closed out fiscal year 2020 as one of the busiest airports in the world during the pandemic. Our operations impact the lives of the millions of passengers that transition through our facility. As we emerge from the pandemic and return to pre-pandemic travel patterns, we realize this transition will require resiliency, innovation, and leadership. Sustainability is integral to these three elements.
How is conservation and sustainability a part of DFW Airport’s business strategy?
DFW’s view of sustainability is far-reaching, and our strategy must address the connections between the environment, economy, and people. Therefore, we mapped our corporate objectives to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) and distilled our strategies into six distinct focus areas: Climate Action, Energy Performance, Water & Biodiversity, Circular Economy, Equity, and Health & Wellness.
We are currently updating the 2014 Airport Sustainability Management Plan (SMP) in alignment with our new Strategic Plan. The SMP will impact all areas of operation and is informed by input from leaders across the organization. This new plan will ensure the integration of sustainability strategies with other business priorities and is expected to result in further cost savings and improved passenger and employee experiences.
DFW Airport is a complex, interconnected ecosystem. Our airfield and terminals lie at this ecosystem’s geographic and operational center, which relies on a vast network of transportation infrastructure, utilities, and communications to facilitate the flow of people and freight between air and land. All activities connecting air and land occur at an intersection of the natural and built environments, where both miles of runways and miles of forested streams can be found. We realize it is hard for stakeholders to understand the full impact of their decisions in such a complex ecosystem. Our approach was to create the first comprehensive airport digital twin, a virtual representation of our physical world. We can successfully study and visualize the interactions between people, infrastructure, and environment in the digital twin. We can also explore scenarios and ask “what-if” questions while testing policy and technology interventions. Our digital transformation efforts are accelerating our ability to solve complex problems.
What are DFW Airport’s short and long-term goals as they relate to conservation and sustainability?
“DFW Airport has been a leader in integrating sustainable practices into daily operations for decades and continues to see the positive impact this practice has on our community and our business. Our team is dedicated to continuing to find new ways of protecting DFW’s natural resources and ensuring the Airport is well-positioned for future success.
– Sean Donohue, DFW Airport’s Chief Executive Officer
DFW Airport’s new strategic plan focuses on the future, embraces innovation, improves technologies, and engages employees and stakeholders to create a more sustainable airport. In 2020, DFW reevaluated its material ESG issues and developed a set of six sustainability focus areas. While specific goals, metrics, and key performance indicators (KPIs) are still being defined for many focus areas, a key goal has been established for the Climate Action focus area. DFW Airport has committed to achieving Net Zero Carbon emissions by 2030, 20 years ahead of the IPCC target of 2050. The Airport is currently certified as carbon neutral and has reduced absolute carbon emissions by 79% since the baseline in 2010.
DFW Airport has several programs that contribute to the Airport’s Zero Waste Initiative:
Who at DFW Airport is leading your conservation and sustainability efforts and what are some examples of employee engagement in conservation and sustainability at your company?
Environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) issues are interwoven across DFW Airport’s business, and the Airport takes an enterprise-wide approach to sustainability integration. Our Environmental Affairs department has staff-level oversight for the strategy and activities that protect the Airport’s natural systems, including land, water, and air, and responsibility for compliance with environmental regulations. Additionally, a team of 2,048 employees works directly for the Board to advance ESG initiatives. A cross-functional team of executive leaders and employee resource group officers make up the Diversity Leadership Council to promote diversity leadership and inclusive culture for all employees. The incorporation of sustainability best practices was listed as a strategic objective in DFW Airport’s 2016-2020 Strategic Plan, and it will be one of four points of emphasis in our next Strategic Plan, highlighted along with diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), innovation, and digital transformation.
Internally, we rely on partnerships with departments across the Airport as we evolve our sustainability efforts:
Finally, DFW has formed strategic partnerships with several prominent external entities, including the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Coca-Cola, Neste, and the Dallas Fort Worth Clean Cities Coalition, to advance innovative approaches to sustainability. These partnerships are helping us advance artificial intelligence to optimize building operations, incorporate sustainable aviation fuel, and research and introduce sustainable mobility alternatives.
What conservation and sustainability programs and projects does DFW Airport lead and participate in?
DFW Airport works closely with state and federal partners such as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), U.S. Department of Agriculture, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to monitor and safely disperse wildlife. Airport employees and tenants are engaged in maintaining the balance of safety and biodiversity and receive annual customized wildlife management training, with 956 employees having completed the training in 2020. Additionally, about 23% of DFW Airport’s 17,000+ acre land area is covered by tree canopy. We recently drafted a Tree Conservation Plan to protect vegetation and established a goal of zero net loss of tree canopy for future development. Learn more about how DFW Airport scientists study the value of urban forests and tree cover in Texas in this video.
DFW Airport prioritizes reducing potable water use and has partnered with neighboring cities to create a reclaimed water delivery system. This system has reduced potable water use by more than 100 million gallons per year since 2010. The Airport’s new Green Building Standards require new facilities to include water use reduction strategies, such as installing efficient plumbing fixtures and drought-tolerant landscaping. Furthermore, DFW Airport maintains a watershed program to monitor the health of watersheds through the routine sampling of water quality data and participates in the Trinity River Authority Clean Rivers Program.
On the waste reduction and diversion front, as part of our Zero Waste Initiative, we are working to transform our business into a circular economy through responsible sourcing, consumption, and reuse of products. Construction waste has been an early focus of our initiative because high waste generation volumes in North Texas have stressed local landfills. We want to do our part to help preserve landfill capacity in the region and find efficiencies that will optimize our operations. We recycle waste from construction projects, such as concrete debris. For example, the entry drive for our new Department of Public Safety (DPS) Headquarters was constructed using aggregate generated from crushed slabs from the Runway 17C-35C rehabilitation project, which diverted over 99% of its waste away from landfills.
DFW Airport is also looking to reduce energy use by incorporating active efficiency measures. For example, we upgraded terminal ramp (i.e., tarmac) lighting to energy efficient LED technology. The new LED fixtures replaced mercury-containing high-pressure sodium lights. The new LED fixtures provide higher quality lighting for pilots and ramp workers and eliminate the need to dispose of hazardous materials. Glare shields were also installed to improve night-time visibility in addition to a new control system that allows for adjustments of light levels based on nearby activity. The ramp lighting project saves an estimated 4.4 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity per year, an amount equivalent to the annual electricity use of 540 average U.S. homes. The new LED fixtures and control system provide an estimated 75% reduction in energy use compared to the previous fixtures. The Airport also partners with the Texas A&M Energy Systems Laboratory to adopt continuous commissioning to make its HVAC systems more efficient.
DFW Airport is also engaged in internal and external stakeholder welfare initiatives – the Airport spent $226 million with small, disadvantaged, minority- and women-owned business enterprises in 2020. Additionally, Airport Concessions Disadvantaged Business Enterprises generated $122 million in revenue, and DFW Airport employees collectively logged 3,429 of volunteer work during the past year. The Airport has taken steps to combat racism and bias through its Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), maintain fair hiring practices, and offer many learning and development opportunities for members of its workforce.
How do you see the future of conservation and sustainability evolving, and what role will DFW Airport play in that progress?
Historically, we viewed conservation as using fewer resources or doing more with less. However, we strategically shifted from the traditional “do no harm” approach to a “do more good” mindset. As a result, our approach to conservation today includes an emphasis on restorative actions, ultimately resulting in a net positive impact on the environment.
DFW Airport anticipates an increased focus on regeneration and restoration of ecosystem services. Restoration takes a step beyond preservation by prioritizing improvements in ecosystem function. The value intact and well-functioning ecosystems provide us is extraordinary. We want to demonstrate how the pursuit of restoration goals and nature-based solutions can provide tangible economic value. DFW Airport represents an island of biodiversity within a highly urbanized and fragmented region, making our land an essential target for conservation and restoration. Staff regularly encounter fauna such as North American river otters, bobcats, little green herons, grey foxes, beavers, ospreys, and more. Our region also represents an important migratory corridor for monarch butterflies. In addition, DFW Airport supports a large variety of native wildflowers, such as milkweed, which is essential to the survival of monarchs but also increasingly unavailable due to urbanization. Preserving this diversity in flora benefits not only monarchs but other pollinators as well. Pollinators provide critical ecosystem services, including the facilitation of food production and agriculture. They also play a crucial role in plant reproduction, supporting the continuation of plant communities that capture and store carbon, purify our air, protect our soil, and provide natural stormwater treatment.
Becoming the first North American airport to achieve Carbon Neutral operations in 2016 was important because it enabled us to recognize the connection between improved operational efficiencies and a lower environmental footprint. In 2020, DFW became the first global airport to achieve the new Level 4+ in Airports Council International’s (ACI) Airport Carbon Accreditation (ACA) program. It also made a bold statement to the world that we care about how our business impacts the financial bottom line and how we take care of our customers, our employees, our business partners, and the surrounding communities that we serve. Now, our achievements have created an expectation for DFW Airport to tackle more complex challenges.
How does DFW Airport quantify investment and return on conservation and sustainability?
To quantify the return on investment from a conservation and sustainability perspective, we track various metrics across various areas of focus. We have established baseline performance levels across several elements, including ecosystem services, tree canopy cover, acreage of natural resources, water consumption, water quality, energy consumption, carbon emissions, renewable energy production, and waste diversion rates across several waste streams. Using this baseline, we can set performance targets to achieve improvements over time. We then track the set of metrics to monitor our progress. Thus, the return on investment in terms of sustainability impacts can be quantified on an ongoing basis.
Frequently, there are financial returns achieved by the strategies we implement to achieve conservation and sustainability performance targets. At times, the business case relies on a longer-term return; however, cost savings through operational efficiencies often begin immediately and will pay off over the long term, not only financially, but through reduced environmental impacts. An example of such an investment is our planned electric central utility plant, significantly reducing our natural gas consumption. Once constructed and operational, the electric plant will deliver immediate environmental and air quality returns and reduce operational costs.
Investors have also taken note of DFW Airport’s ESG practices. Beginning in 2018, DFW Airport management extended outreach and marketed the Airport’s name and credit institutional investors internationally to broaden the Airport’s investor base. During these trips, international investors were focused on and impressed by DFW’s sustainability efforts and comprehensive approach to ESG. International investors have demonstrated interest in the Airport’s taxable bond transactions, evident with bond orders submitted. During the airport’s bond transaction, order volume tends to drive yields lower, directly affecting the Airport’s financing costs positively. DFW Airport will continue to shine the spotlight on its sustainability commitment and the outcomes achieved.
What is the one lesson that DFW Airport has learned from your conservation and sustainability efforts that others can take back and think about applying within their own space?
As we continue to pursue our sustainability goals in the years to come, we know we will only be successful if we continue to make a concerted effort to engage stakeholders internally and externally and leverage strategic partnerships. Over the years, we have been most successful when internal stakeholders are broadly aware of and aligned with our sustainability objectives. Implementing sustainability strategies throughout our organization cannot be achieved simply by one office or group of individuals. Success requires clear understanding and buy-in at all levels, from executive decision-makers to front-line employees who champion our targets and implement our programs.
Furthermore, we have realized the importance of external partnerships in achieving our sustainability goals, leveraging external organizations whose visions align with ours for the region’s sustainable future. DFW Airport plans to continue leveraging strategic partnerships and advancing responsible business practices to advance the Airport’s overall sustainability and conservation aspirations. We also realize that it is essential to take action, drive tangible change, and ask tough questions – and that prompts us to listen to our various stakeholder groups for feedback consistently.
Why is Texas an important home or base of operations for DFW Airport?
Texas gives us a platform from which we can influence the nation and the world. DFW Airport is one of the most connected airports globally, thanks to its central location, connecting passengers from North Texas to 198 local and 74 international destinations. The Airport drives economic vitality, creates business and employment opportunities, and makes significant contributions to environmental impact reduction initiatives in Texas, specifically within the North Texas region.
On the economic front, DFW Airport partners with North Texas Leaders and Executives Advocating Diversity (LEAD) to attract diverse talent in the region – the Airport hosts networking events to share job opportunities with LEAD candidates and assist with exposure to the Airport’s leaders. For example, we recently organized a virtual Texas Conference for Women, with 300 women employees at DFW Airport and other Texas leaders participating. Additionally, the Airport is heavily involved in recovery efforts from COVID-19 in the North Texas region. In 2020, DFW Airport was recognized as the “Healthiest Employer in Texas,” and the Texan Asian American Contractors Association of Texas (AACATX) has recognized the Airport as its “2020 Partner of the Year”.
On the environmental front, DFW Airport is greening the state’s electric grid by purchasing 100% renewable electricity from Texas wind farms, directly benefiting local economies. As a result, since 2010, the Texas electric grid (ERCOT) has increased from 8% renewables to over 20%. Additionally, the Airport works closely with the Dallas Fort Worth Clean Cities Coalition, housed within the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG), to advance regional sustainability initiatives. The Regional Transportation Council and NCTCOG facilitated a strategic funding partnership with the Texas Department of Transportation, which contributed $3.5M towards purchasing four new electric airside buses.
Learn more about DFW Airport’s conservation and sustainability efforts here.
Additionally, DFW has formed strategic partnerships with several prominent external entities, including the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Coca-Cola, Neste, and the Dallas Fort Worth Clean Cities Coalition, to advance innovative approaches to sustainability.
In FY 2020, DFW achieved 99% diversion of waste from landfills for all construction projects, resulting in more than $25M in savings. Over 1.1 million tons of construction waste has already been diverted from landfills in FY 2021 to date (July 2021).
6,500+ lbs of food waste has been diverted from seven terminal restaurants since March 2021.
A program to recycle 100% of the waste cooking oil generated by over 50 restaurants in terminals, resulting in over 627,000 pounds of waste cooking oil recycled and used as a feedstock to generate renewable fuels.
DFW’s reclaimed water delivery system has reduced potable water use by more than 100 million gallons per year since 2010.
Terminal ramp lighting was updated to adaptive LED lighting to reduce glare and improve ramp safety, saving 4.4 million kWh per year.
About 23% of DFW Airport’s 17,000+ acre land area is covered by tree canopy. A Tree Conservation Plan was recently drafted to protect vegetation and established a goal of zero net loss of tree canopy for future development.
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