Abby Baughman

The Dallas-Fort Worth Airport became the first carbon-neutral airport in 2016. In order for DFW to call itself carbon neutral, it needed to be approved by the Airport Carbon Accreditation Program, which sets standards for airports and carbon neutrality.

First, the airport must evaluate its emissions, which includes everything in the airport, except the jets because DFW does not own them. Then, the airport must reduce its emissions as much as possible. A business that is carbon neutral absorbs more carbon dioxide than it emits, by utilizing carbon offsets, which are a type of taxes.

Carbon sinks are parts of nature that absorb carbon dioxide like oceans and forests. However, there are not enough carbon sinks to offset global carbon emissions. According to the International Energy Agency, 36 billion tons of carbon were emitted in 2020. However, natural carbon sinks like oceans and trees only absorb 11 billion tons of carbon.

“I would say that achieving carbon neutrality garnered DFW sustainability and environmental programs international recognition,” Sustainability Program Manager of DFW, Sarah Xynomic, said. “Being in the environmental department ourselves, I realize the importance of some of the different programs and initiatives we had. But achieving carbon neutrality, which is this internationally recognized certification that brought attention, that put a spotlight on the airport, and it drove an expectation for us to continue tackling major environmental and sustainability challenges.” 

The aviation sector represents about 2 percent or 3 percent of greenhouse gas emissions globally. Of that 2 percent, aircraft produce 98 percent of it, while airports are responsible for the remaining 2 percent.

“Airports are a smaller piece of the global puzzle,” Assistant Vice President of Environmental of DFW, Sandra Lancaster, said. “However, aviation is constantly in the news as a source of emissions in the US, and we [want to] lessen that.”

In order for DFW to cut its emissions to 35,000 tons, changes everywhere in the airport had to be made. To reduce both carbon emissions and waste, DFW works to recycle oil from restaurants like McDonald’s or Chick-fil-A. Their cooking oil is recycled and collected, instead of getting thrown away, to be used as the base material to make renewable diesel and jet fuel or sustainable aviation fuel.

“Reusing oil has two benefits, it’s a renewable fuel, but it also helps with our zero waste goal,” Xynomic said. “So we’re taking that waste material and making it something useful. We are looking to see if there are other waste products we have at the airport that could one day be used to make renewable fuel that could be used here.”

DFW is under constant maintenance and construction to keep up with its 80 million annual passengers. Construction produces a lot of waste, and transportation of materials produces a lot of carbon, so DFW reuses material. For example, if they are removing old concrete they crush it up to be reused as the base for a different project.

“We have a lot of projects where the waste from one product became something we needed on another product,” Lancaster said. “We are saving money because we don’t have to pay to haul it off and then pay to bring in new [material]. And we’re reducing our impact on the environment because we’re not sending material to a landfill; we’re actually reusing it and repurposing it. Ninety-eight percent of our construction material was able to be repurposed.”

In order to reduce waste, DFW did a waste audit. They found that 25 percent of their trash was food waste. DFW partnered with Turn, a company that specializes in food waste. Turn works to help DFW create compost. 

“Turn collects compost for the restaurants that we’ve onboarded so far,” Xynomic said. “They collect it every day, and then that’s taken to help local organic farms or composting facilities and community gardens. [Turn] also helps educate the restaurant staff on what can be thrown in the compost bin. But one of our early efforts to target waste reduction from those restaurants is giving them to participate in our compost program. It’s free to the restaurants, so they don’t have to pay to reduce their waste.” 

        In order to eliminate a large percentage of carbon emissions, DFW switched all of their buses and cars to electric. Additionally, 100 percent of their electricity comes from windmills.

“We have an increasing need for electricity as we’re buying electric buses or electric cars for our own fleet,” Xynomic said. “What happens once we add electric aircraft to the mix one day? That’s a huge demand for electricity. We’re partnering with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory because they’re going to help us analyze what the future demands are going to be and how we can prepare.”

DFW is planning to achieve zero waste. Zero waste is defined as keeping 90 percent of materials used out of landfills and instead reused.

“So we’re not just thinking about how we are reducing emissions,” Xynomic said. “We’re also thinking about how we can use energy more efficiently and optimize our use of it. So conserving energy, using it wisely. As you’re keeping products and goods in motion, you’re not just using it and sending it to a landfill, and keeping items in circulation.”

For a company to be net zero, they must offset the amount of carbon they release themselves rather than paying for that. The aviation goal of net zero emissions is 2050. However, DFW wants to achieve net zero emissions by 2030.

“We do plan to plant more trees, but that is not that alone is not enough,” Xynomic said. “To really have an impact, we are going to need to find a way to store it permanently. There are a couple of different ways you could do that. [carbon] can be stored underground, but that is very expensive. Another option is building materials. Carbon can be stored in building products like carpet tiles or concrete. So we’re hoping that over the next few years, some of these different technologies that are really promising are something that we can do on our own and that the costs come down because the technology is further developed.”

ESD is not carbon neutral and is not currently planning to be. However, the school still tries to decrease its emissions as much as possible.

“I’m not aware of a policy to be carbon neutral,” Director of Facilities, Jay Michael, said. “However, we try to be energy efficient with our mechanical systems on campus. We try to emphasize ways to reduce use of transportation for deliveries like we bulk purchase items and encourage different departments at school to combine their resources to order similar things such as paper, for example. We use a lot of paper at school, right? Well, we try to get the three different schools to organize a bulk delivery so that Staples doesn’t have three drivers a week coming to deliver the same product.”

ESD’s biggest carbon emissions is the air conditioning according to Michael. On a national level, according to the New York Times, the United States produces 100 million tons of carbon dioxide by use of air conditioning, and air conditioning makes up 6 percent of all electricity used.

“Our air conditioning systems are the biggest energy users on campus,” Michael said. “It would be really energy efficient, to keep our temperature at 78 degrees. However, it would be uncomfortable and students wouldn’t be able to focus and learn. So we’ve got to keep trying to keep those temperatures at 68 to 70 degrees. When we’re not here on the weekends, we kick our air conditioning up to 80 degrees or we turn them off.”

SAGE Dining Services is introducing a program called USAGE. USAGE will be used to determine the amount of food waste being produced, so they can try to lower it. Sage also uses the produce, like basil and lettuce, grown at ESD gardens.

“I personally think [USAGE is] beneficial because no one wants to see food thrown in the trash,” SAGE Service Manager, Rebecca Compton, said. “Our team works very hard to produce great food and want to see everyone enjoy it. We can improve by making sure we don’t over produce and by cooking in smaller batches, which is something we already practice. I believe reducing food waste is a joint endeavor. If, as a community, we can be mindful of what goes in the trash, we can reduce our overall waste together.”

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