Soaring to New Heights: Phoenix Airports Lead the Way in Sustainability

Jinelle Crosser, ENV SP, LEED AP BD+C

Jinelle Crosser, ENV SP, LEED AP BD+C

Lauren Seydewitz, LEED AP BD+C

Lauren Seydewitz, LEED AP BD+C

In the dynamic landscape of modern aviation, sustainability is shaping the ethos of airports worldwide. The City of Phoenix Aviation Department has emerged as a leader for its commitment to advancing the sustainability efforts of its three airports, including Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, which was named the nation’s top large airport by the Wall Street Journal in 2023.

Seeking to continually bolster the success and strategic approach of its sustainability program, the City of Phoenix Aviation Department enlisted Gresham Smith to augment staff and serve as trusted advisors. Specifically, Gresham Smith is aiding in the advancement of their ambitious initiatives and goals, some of which include achieving 100% carbon-free energy by 2030, net zero carbon by 2040 and zero waste by 2050.

Within this advisory role, Gresham Smith facilitates regular meetings with the City of Phoenix Aviation Department‘s sustainability team and executive management to prioritize and advance near-term action items, while also guiding long-term efforts. Gresham Smith has provided programmatic support by developing a formalized approach for documenting accomplishments, summarizing progress toward goals and setting new objectives. To assist in the clear and concise communication of program initiatives, Gresham Smith also prepares engaging progress reports, presentations, and other resources which have helped build program support internally and raise awareness externally. Due to the wide range of program objectives, Gresham Smith’s specialized expertise has often been extended from the firm’s internal network of resources to provide timely input and support.

An example of their ambition, the City of Phoenix Aviation Department has achieved and maintained Level 4 — one of the highest levels — in the Airports Council International’s Airport Carbon Accreditation program, the only internationally recognized carbon management certificate program for airports. To qualify for Level 4, the City of Phoenix Aviation Department committed to achieving net zero carbon by 2040, nearly a decade ahead of its peers, and developed a roadmap identifying the exact trajectory and actions to get there. Gresham Smith’s knowledge of the program has been critical in ensuring that the robust requirements are met and certification is maintained by advising on the approach, collecting and processing data and providing materials to share their story.

As more airports plan for the future, pressure is mounting to become more sustainable through actions that result in meaningful impacts and long-term viability. The City of Phoenix Aviation Department is leading by example and participating in forums that are shaping the next generation of airports, demonstrating the use of fewer natural resources while serving as reliable transportation centers to connect — and build — communities.

Recently, the City of Phoenix Aviation Department was honored to host the American Association of Airport Executives’ Airports Going Green Conference, whose “Future Forward” focus highlighted the importance of the journey to sustainability — learning from the past, improving the present, and planning for the future. Gresham Smith served on the internal planning committee and moderated a panel session in which airport executives discussed how sustainability ambitions evolve from an idea to action and finally, to results. More specifically, they explored how to work closely with airport management, setting goals based on research and available data, effectively progressing ambitions, establishing dedicated teams for program implementation, and achieving real-world results that have had meaningful impact for airports and the environment. Involvement in Airports Going Green was a wonderful opportunity for both the City of Phoenix Aviation Department and Gresham Smith to demonstrate leadership and encourage action throughout the industry.

As airport operators examine their role in integrating sustainability, key investors and partners can be vital in the achievement of these goals. With this in mind, the City of Phoenix Aviation Department sought to develop a voluntary program to encourage sustainable business practices, resulting in Gresham Smith’s facilitation of the development of the Green Business Partner Program. Through the process, the firm provided technical expertise to identify practices aligning with each sustainability focus area, participated in online portal testing in close coordination with technology staff, and prepared promotional and instructional materials to assist in the program launch.

Gresham Smith’s partnership with the City of Phoenix Aviation Department has been driven by a shared passion for sustainability and commitment to excellence. We look forward to witnessing the enduring impact of our collaborative efforts as the airport continues to soar to new heights of sustainability.