Texan by Nature is excited to recognize Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) as a 2022 TxN 20 honoree for their leadership in conservation and sustainability. DFW’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 Airport (DFW) is one of the most frequently visited superhub 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 your conservation and sustainability mission and why is it important to your culture?
Sustainability is not only a mission for Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) or just an objective for our future; it is embedded in our everyday approach to how we operate as a business, as an employer, and as a member of our community. We are committed to ongoing sustainability leadership within the aviation sector and beyond. As a hub for global travel and a major economic engine in the state of Texas, we recognize that our impact reaches far beyond the boundaries of the DFW airport campus. Further, it’s clear that climate change is a global issue that requires urgent action.
Sustainability and conservation initiatives are the responsibility of every employee at DFW and touch all aspects of the business. Therefore, DFW takes an enterprise-wide approach to implementation. Sustainability drives innovation, and it is one of the ways that we achieve our core mission of discovering new ways to care for our customers, inspiring our employees, and strengthening our communities to create an exceptional Airport experience. Every day.
Doing business in a rapidly growing region, we recognize the limitations of our natural resources and the importance of partnering with our neighbors. As we analyze the impacts of our activities on the surrounding communities we serve, we want to become part of the solution and prove that conservation and business performance do not need to compete. Sustainability cannot be achieved without a commitment to natural resource conservation.
Building off of DFW’s long-standing commitment to sustainability, we are introducing our Sustainability North Stars, part of our new Sustainability Management Plan. These six areas of focus support our ability to effectively and efficiently maximize our sustainability impact. Each North Star is driven by specific strategies toward an overarching goal:
How is conservation and sustainability a part of DFW Airport’s business strategy?
When DFW became the first carbon-neutral airport in North America and the largest in the world, we established a leadership position in influencing climate action within the region. We continue to solidify our leadership globally, and we are pushing the boundaries of what is possible in advancing a “net positive” impact on our people and for our planet. Moreover, we are proving that doing so is also good for business. We carried this mindset into our business strategy for infrastructure improvements.
In 2021, DFW completed or made progress on many critical projects that significantly impact airport operations and gate availability and that allow the Airport to plan for future resiliency, as highlighted in our ESG report. DFW’s investment in these infrastructure projects created jobs and business opportunities. These projects reinforced DFW’s position as an industry leader by using innovative design methods for infrastructure projects, saving time and money, and creating better efficiencies with little impact on customers. The projects were completed using a variety of sustainable design solutions and technologies, including a focus on energy performance and circularity, that are aimed at increasing the speed of operation and increasing sustainability.
DFW Airport opened its first-ever Integrated Operations Center in April 2021. The facility provides best-in-class operational efficiency with a focus on customer service through operational excellence. Environmentally friendly design strategies and energy-efficient systems were central to the design of the facility. The one-story building is low and horizontal, like the surrounding landscape, which is native to the Texas prairie and low-maintenance. Efficient system designs included variable refrigerant flow systems to efficiently heat and cool the environment, a displacement system for the large, shared floor space that results in lower energy consumption by the HVAC system, a super-insulated building envelope rated for EF5 tornado resistance, and indoor environmental quality sensors, and dynamic glass to maximize daylight, control glare and dramatically reduce heat loads.
What are DFW Airport’s short and long-term goals as they relate to conservation and sustainability?
DFW takes a broad view of sustainability, 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. Each of these focus areas has an overarching goal and is underpinned by supporting strategies to achieve the goal. Below are a few examples
Who in DFW Airport is leading your conservation and sustainability efforts, and what are some examples of employee engagement in conservation and sustainability at DFW Airport?
ESG issues are interwoven across DFW’s business, and the Airport takes an enterprise-wide approach to sustainability integration. DFW’s Environmental Affairs department has staff-level oversight for the strategy and activities that protect DFW’s natural systems, including land, water, and air, and responsibility for compliance with environmental regulations. Additionally, a team of more than 2,000 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. Sustainability is a key approach in DFW’s new 2021-2024 Strategic Plan, along with diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I), innovation, and digital transformation.
Internally, we rely on partnerships with departments across the Airport as we evolve our sustainability efforts. Our Energy, Transportation, and Asset Management (ETAM) department plays an integral role in advancing resource conservation. ETAM was an early adopter of water and energy conservation solutions and today is an organizational champion for many of our key initiatives. Our Commercial Development (CD) department has been a vital advocate for developing our Tree Conservation Plan and supporting our Water & Biodiversity focus area. Our Environmental Affairs Department (EAD) has strengthened employee and community engagement in environmental education by organizing DFW’s annual Earth Day event. EAD’s staff of scientists and engineers collaborated to produce various content, such as videos, science experiments, art activities, and activity kits. In addition, the virtual event embraced Citizen Science, or public participation in scientific research, to contribute meaningful data about the ecosystem and increase curiosity for the natural world.
Our Communications and Marketing team is a tremendous partner in the advancement of our conservation efforts. Effective storytelling is essential to our success. By helping employees, customers, and the public understand how their behaviors positively or negatively impact the environment; we garner more significant support for our initiatives. The Communications and Marketing team helps us tell stories in a compelling way and drive action. Our annual Environmental, Social & Governance reports are a great example of their work.
Finally, DFW has formed strategic partnerships with several prominent external entities, including the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Coca-Cola, Neste, the University of North Texas, Avfuel Corporation, 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, research, and introduce sustainable mobility alternatives.
“We have found that the steps we have taken along our sustainability journey are not just good for our people and our planet but also good for our business, furthermore, as we have taken a leadership role regarding sustainability within our industry, we have prioritized working with our partners and other airports so everyone can achieve their sustainability goals.”
–Sean Donohue, DFW Airport’s Chief Executive Officer.
What conservation and sustainability programs and projects does DFW Airport lead and participate in?
In September 2021, DFW received its first delivery of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), making DFW the first airport in the U.S. to test a collaborative, circular economy project for aviation powered by SAF, which encompasses the collection of used cooking oil as feedstock to fuel burn. The successful delivery – completed in partnership with DFW Corporate Aviation, Neste and Avfuel Corporation – demonstrated the commercial and technical viability of SAF while showcasing the potential to close the loop at DFW by providing raw material for the production of renewable fuels.
DFW continued its strategic partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). In 2021, DFW embarked on a pilot project to construct a digital twin of Terminal D. NREL developed predictive analytics that will be integrated into the digital twin to improve HVAC system operation and reduce peak power and overall energy consumption. DFW also partnered with NREL to begin a risk and resilience assessment of the Airport’s key infrastructure, including energy, water, transportation, and communication systems.
DFW 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. DFW’s two wildlife biologists perform on- and off-airfield inspections to identify and mitigate hazardous wildlife attractants; train airfield staff in identification, evaluation and mitigation of wildlife hazards; and work with numerous departments to mitigate wildlife hazards to aviation.
DFW’s approach to managing water consumption in its operations includes the use of reclaimed water in place of potable water. This benefits the North Texas region by reducing strain on potable water supplies. In 2021, DFW used close to 124 million gallons of reclaimed water, which constituted approximately 10 percent of the Airport’s overall water usage. Stormwater runoff from the Central Terminal Area (CTA) is directed to Trigg Lake, where the DFW manages a Water Rights Permit, allowing for the use of water from the lake to be used for irrigating Bear Creek Golf Course. In the future, DFW aims to enhance water quality monitoring through installation of sensors at existing and planned water monitoring stations to collect real-time data, which will allow for more accurate assessments of the health of receiving water bodies.
In March 2021, DFW implemented a composting program to collect food waste and transport it to local farms and compost facilities, diverting it from landfills. Since the program’s inception, more than nine tons of food waste has been collected. DFW’s internal goal for the year was to complete two food waste projects. In 2021, DFW exceeded this goal by onboarding 15 concessionaires from two terminals to the composting program, and the Airport anticipates expanding the program to additional concessions locations in the coming months.
How do you see the future of conservation and sustainability evolving, and what role will DFW Airport play in that progress?
DFW anticipates an increased focus on regeneration and restoration of ecosystem services. The restoration takes a step beyond preservation by prioritizing improvements in ecosystem function. The value that 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, gray 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, essential for monarch survival, but increasingly unavailable due to urbanization.
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 to tackle more complex challenges.
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.
At DFW International Airport, we have taken a leadership role regarding sustainability. We have embraced this role within our industry, working with our partners and other airports to achieve our sustainability goals and help our partners achieve theirs. We must not only do our part but also work in partnership with governments, businesses, and investors along this journey.
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 multiple 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. The return on investment in terms of sustainability impacts can thus 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’s ESG practices. In 2018, DFW Airport broadened its investor base by extending outreach and marketing to include international investors. International investors were very focused on and impressed by DFW’s sustainability efforts and comprehensive approach to ESG. In a taxable bond transaction in 2019, DFW received $467 million in orders from investors internationally and (even after adjusting for credit ratings) issued at the lowest yield spreads of any other airport in the two years prior.
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?
Cultivating strong connections, both internally and externally, is key to the pursuit of our sustainability goals. 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. Employee engagement is critical to DFW achieving its vision and mission through the implementation of its strategic plan. In 2019, DFW partnered with Gallup to ensure that engagement is threaded into DFW’s cultural DNA. To accomplish this, a strategy rooted in quantitative feedback from employees helps DFW measure what impacts engagement the most and leverages behaviors, actions, and tools that help managers and employees achieve desired business results. In 2021, DFW added a Culture of Inclusion Index to its survey to create a benchmark that will help inform organization-wide efforts around inclusion. DFW ranked in the 82nd percentile among other companies that participated in the Culture of Inclusion Index for the first time.
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 plans to continue leveraging strategic partnerships and advancing responsible business practices to advance the Airport’s overall sustainability and conservation aspirations. In 2021, DFW was able to demonstrate the commercial and technical viability of Sustainable Airline Fuels while showcasing the potential to close the loop at DFW by providing raw material for the production of renewable fuels through a partnership with DFW Corporate Aviation, Neste and Avfuel corporation.
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 is one of the most connected airports globally, thanks to our central location – the Airport connects 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 and specifically within the North Texas region.
On the economic front, DFW 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 DFW leaders. For example, DFW recently organized a virtual Texas Conference for Women, with 300 women employees at DFW and other Texas leaders participating.
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, DFW 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, Nestle, the University of North Texas, Avfuel Corporation, and the Dallas Fort Worth Clean Cities Coalition, to advance innovative approaches to sustainability.
As a result, since 2010, the Texas electric grid (ERCOT) has increased from 8% renewables to over 20%.
Waste collected from DFW’s food waste program is transported to local farms and compost facilities. 15 concessionaires from two terminals have been onboarded to the composting program, and the Airport anticipates expanding the program to additional concessions locations in the coming months.
DFW Airport, Texas
San Antonio, Texas
San Antonio, Texas
San Antonio, Texas