We aim to operate our airport in a safe, secure and environmentally sound manner that reduces our impact on the natural world. We do this by implementing our Sustainability Management Program (SMP) which is one of the initiatives listed within our Organizational Strategic Plan. The SMP sets goals and stand-alone strategies to be achieved by 2035 in seven programmatic areas including energy, water, waste, greenhouse gases and climate resilience, and biodiversity.
IN THIS SECTION:
- Achieving Carbon Neutrality
- Serving as Water Stewards
- Pursuing Energy Efficiency & Innovation
- On The Road to Clean, Accessible Transportation
- En Route to Zero Waste
- Protecting Biodiversity at the Airport
- Building Resilience for Future Climate Conditions
- Doing Our Part to Address Aircraft Noise
- Additional Social Key Performance Indicators
Achieving Carbon Neutrality
- Minimize the Authority’s direct operational impact on climate change (Sustainability Management Program, Climate Neutrality Plan)
- Minimize the Authority’s direct operational impact on local air quality (Sustainability Management Program, Climate Neutrality Plan)
- Help airport partners minimize their impact on climate change (Sustainability Management Program, Climate Neutrality Plan)
In 2020, San Diego International Airport (SAN) renewed its Carbon Neutrality certification with Airport Council International’s Airport Carbon Accreditation program. In 2019, SAN became the first airport in California, and second in North America, to achieve ACA Level 3+ “Carbon Neutrality” certification for airport-controlled emissions. Carbon neutrality, an accomplishment imperative to reducing our impact on climate change, is made possible by consistently measuring emissions performance, taking meaningful action to reduce emissions and environmental impact, and engaging with third parties to do the same.
Decrease in Authority’s direct GHG emissions in 2020 compared to 2019
In 2020, the Airport Authority’s direct GHG emissions decreased by 21 percent compared to 2019. This reduction in emissions can be attributed to a significant reduction in overall operations at the airport but also energy efficiency initiatives. When looking at total airport-wide emissions, which are predominantly outside of the Authority’s direct control, greenhouse gas emissions decreased by 54 percent, mainly due to fewer aircraft and ground transportation operations at SAN. With a 63 percent decrease in passengers in 2020 compared to 2019, emissions on a per-passenger basis increased 25 percent despite the significant reduction in total greenhouse gas emissions.
The Airport Authority aims to minimize the airport’s impact on local air quality and continues to monitor the region’s air quality using San Diego Air Pollution Control District (APCD) data. The Sherman Elementary School monitoring station, installed in 2019, will provide local data for the Airport into the future. In 2020, the local 8-hour concentration for ozone increased 21 percent because of an active fire season in the region and state. Also in 2020, the APCD submitted San Diego County’s portion of a State Implementation Plan that describes how the region will further reduce air pollutant emissions. The plan provided a general conformity budget for the airport of 1.756 tons per day of nitrogen oxides and 0.141 tons per day of volatile organic compounds. Through modeling analyses, the airport does not expect to exceed these limits in the future.
The Good Traveler Program, a carbon offset program that got its start at San Diego International Airport, is now partnering with Alaska Airlines. Serving more than 115 destinations, Alaska Airlines and its sister carrier, Horizon Air, now provide travelers with a tool to reduce their environmental footprint. By partnering with the Good Traveler Program, Alaska Airlines helps travelers balance out the environmental impact of their flight. To date, The Good Traveler has offset more than 667 million miles of travel and removed over 229 million pounds of carbon dioxide by investing in projects that keep greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere.
Serving as Water Stewards
- Reduce potable water use especially for non-potable purposes (Sustainability Management Program, Water Stewardship Plan)
- Collect or infiltrate 75% of the Airport property’s area stormwater (Sustainability Management Program, Water Stewardship Plan)
Fewer gallons of potable water used by the Authority in 2020 compared to 2019
SAN is committed to reducing water consumption, creatively utilizing onsite water resources, and improving stormwater quality. In 2020, the Airport used 37 million fewer gallons of potable water than the previous year, mainly due to a decline of passengers in the terminals. Therefore, the overall demand for facilities such as toilets, sinks, water fountains, and concession kitchens was reduced. While the significant reduction in passengers meant less water consumed overall, water use intensity, or water use per passenger, increased by 56 percent.
Stormwater harvesting and infiltration are important strategies in our water stewardship efforts, but both depend on the rainfall the airport campus receives. In 2020, there was a 49 percent reduction from the previous year in the amount of stormwater captured and reused at SAN due to less rainfall. Approximately 11 percent of the airport site drains to infiltration beds or capture cisterns but this amount is expected to significantly increase in the future through the New T1 development.
In 2020, stormwater quality exceedances occurred in 8 percent of the stormwater runoff samples, which is slightly higher than 2019 levels, but still significantly lower than the average annual percentage of 24 percent over the last nine years. In 2020 there were nine fuel spills, and three waste spills, totaling 95 gallons and representing a 43 percent decrease from the previous year. All spills were immediately cleaned up and there were no accidental discharges of spilled materials into the airport’s storm drain system. The Airport Authority remains committed to preventing, eliminating, and reducing the discharge of polluted stormwater into the surrounding environment and San Diego Bay and will do so by preventing and responding to spills, enforcing best management practices, and implementing its Stormwater Management Plan.
Stormwater capture and reuse systems allow the Airport Authority to meet regulatory requirements, reduce potable water consumption, and improve resilience to future climate and regulatory changes. In 2020, the construction of a three-million-gallon stormwater capture and reuse cistern was completed on the north side of campus. When fully functional, the system will collect approximately 16 million gallons of stormwater runoff annually from approximately 80 acres. A portion of that reused water is intended for washing rental cars at the Rental Car Center in the future. By capturing, treating, and reusing the rain that falls on parts of our airport campus, we do our part to help keep San Diego sustainable and resilient.
Pursuing Energy Efficiency & Innovation
- Reduce Energy Use – Promote a culture of energy efficiency and conservation through quantifiable metrics (Sustainability Management Program, Strategic Energy Plan)
- Reduce Cost for Energy – Achieve energy goals in a financially responsible and feasible way (Sustainability Management Program, Strategic Energy Plan)
- Reduce GHG Emissions – Use low carbon energy to achieve zero net GHG emissions in facility operations (Sustainability Management Program, Strategic Energy Plan)
- Increase Resiliency - Incorporate energy resilience into planning and operations while deploying a robust, innovative, and cost-effective energy program that fully supports Airport Operations (Sustainability Management Program, Strategic Energy Plan)
The San Diego County Regional Airport Authority uses its Strategic Energy Plan to rethink energy resource management and prepare for and accommodate passenger growth, infrastructure development, and a changing climate. Our energy independence, enhanced operational resilience, and carbon neutrality all depend on the airport’s commitment to energy efficiency and innovation.
Percentage of electricity consumed at the airport in 2020 that came from renewable sources
A reduction of energy consumption within the organization is key to reducing costs, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and increasing resilience. In 2020, total energy use and energy use intensity per square foot reduced by 15 percent. This reduction can be attributed to reduced flight operations and therefore less demand for pre-conditioned air, ground power, bag carousels and other terminal operations that are heavy users of electricity. Additionally, Airport Authority staff responded to fewer passengers by reducing escalator and infrastructure use, adjusting indoor temperatures in the terminals, and completing energy efficiency projects such as a chilled water optimization project at the Central Utility Plant and lighting retrofits in Terminal 2 East.
An important element in our Sustainability Management Program is the use of renewable energy. In 2020, 86 percent of the electricity consumed at the Airport came from renewable sources—the highest percentage to date. The percent of solar electricity generated on site increased by 3 percent in 2020 to represent 18 percent of San Diego International Airport’s (SAN) total electricity consumed. Using renewable energy to power the airport reduces the region’s dependence on fossil fuels and therefore reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, using onsite generated electricity reduces demand and stress on the regional power grid.
Deploying robust, innovative, and cost-effective energy infrastructure at San Diego International Airport will help us reach our goals. Throughout 2020 and 2021, the Airport Authority pursued the construction of a 2 MW /4 MWh battery energy storage system that will allow us to reduce peak demand charges and make the best use of the airport’s 5.5 MW of onsite solar PV. The system can store any excess solar electricity produced onsite during the day and can use the electricity later in the day when solar production is low and electricity demand is high. The system is also anticipated to charge during the night when energy costs are low, and discharge to reduce grid-delivered electricity demand at key parts of the day to reduce our energy bills. The battery energy storage system, which is anticipated to be online at the end of 2021, is described as a cost containment strategy within the Strategic Energy Plan.
On The Road to Clean, Accessible Transportation
- Develop a plan for transportation to and at the airport that anticipates and responds to technological changes (Sustainability Management Program, Customer Strategy)
- Move Toward a Zero-Emission Fleet – Minimize the Airport’s reliance on fossil fuels for Authority fleet vehicles and equipment (Sustainability Management Program, Clean Transportation Plan)
- Provide Fueling Infrastructure for Low Emission vehicles – Provide enabling infrastructure for electric and other alternative fuel vehicles used by employees, passengers, and tenants (Sustainability Management Program, Clean Transportation Plan)
- Minimize Impact of Ground Transportation Operators – Incentivize adoption of low carbon strategies by ground transportation operators (Sustainability Management Program, Clean Transportation Plan)
- Support Emissions Reduction by Third Parties – Encourage and help propel reduction in air emissions from airline, tenant, contractor, and construction vehicles and equipment (Sustainability Management Program, Clean Transportation Plan)
Percentage of the Authority’s fleet powered by alternatively fuels
Additionally, the vehicles and transportation methods used to operate the airport by staff, tenants, and vendors also influence our environmental impact. The Airport Authority is pushing toward a zero-emission fleet for both our own vehicles and those of our third-party operators. This is to reduce the airport’s reliance on fossil fuels and to reduce carbon emissions. In 2020, nearly 70 percent of the Airport Authority’s fleet was alternatively fueled. Additionally, the Airport Authority’s equipment, such as off-road vehicles, was 44 percent alternative fuel. The 2020 Ground Support Equipment (GSE) Inventory showed that approximately 31 percent of the GSE at SAN, which is owned and operated by our airlines and their business partners, utilize low carbon fuels. To facilitate the further adoption of low carbon strategies, the Airport Authority and its partners are pursuing the possibility of renewable diesel for airside equipment while building out electric vehicle charging stations.
En Route to Zero Waste
- Reduce waste generation – Reduce the amount of material discarded per employee and passenger (Sustainability Management Program, Zero Waste Plan)
- Increase waste diverted from landfill – meet or exceed the city and state waste diversion targets and timeframes (Sustainability Management Program, Zero Waste Plan)
The Airport Authority aims to both reduce the amount of material discarded per employee and passenger and to increase the amount of material we divert from the landfill. In 2020, the total volume of solid waste material collected decreased by 58 percent, which roughly corresponds to the 64 percent decrease in passengers we served (0.61 pounds of landfilled waste per passenger). When including construction and demolition waste, the airport’s total diversion rate in 2020 was 85 percent. When not including construction and demolition waste, the airport’s total diversion rate in 2020 was 30 percent, which is a 2 percent increase from the prior year.
Percentage of total waste diverted from area landfills in 2020
Certified hazardous waste disposal increased in 2020 by 124 percent compared to the previous year, mostly due to a hydrant fueling line project that pulled burn ash out of the ground. This material was properly disposed of by transporting it to a special waste disposal site. The hydrant fueling line project will allow aircraft to fuel at their gates without the need for heavy-duty fuel trucks, and therefore, when completed, will reduce vehicle emissions associated with airport operations.
Protecting Biodiversity at the Airport
- Work with state and federal wildlife agencies to address operational growth and California Least Tern habitat management (Organizational Strategic Plan, Operations Strategy)
- Maintain wildlife in a manner that is compatible with Airport operations (Sustainability Management Program, Biodiversity Plan)
- Incorporate IPM techniques to control pest populations in a manner that promotes environmental stewardship, and public health and safety, while maintaining Airport Operations (Sustainability Management Program, Biodiversity Plan)
California Least Tern nests documented on the airfield in 2020
The San Diego County Regional Airport Authority strives to maintain wildlife in a manner that is compatible with airport operations by incorporating techniques to control pest populations, minimize most bird activity and protect local endangered species. In 2020, the Airport Authority decreased its use of chemical pesticides by 3.2 percent from 2019. At SAN, contractors utilize integrated pest management (IPM) techniques to prevent food, shelter and water from attracting unwanted critters. IPM techniques control pest populations in a manner that promotes environmental stewardship and public health and safety while maintaining airport operations. Additionally, in 2020 the number of wildlife strikes per 10,000 aircraft decreased by 34 percent. All new facilities will include bird deterrents to help reduce their presence onsite.
SAN’s southeast side of the runway serves as one of the region’s protected nesting areas for the endangered California Least Tern (CLT). Each year, the California Least Tern chooses to return to SAN to lay eggs and raise its chicks. The Airport Authority remains committed to working with state and federal wildlife agencies to preserve and protect this habitat and the small endangered species that call it home. In 2020, the amount of CLT habitat preserved and actively managed by the Airport Authority remained the same. In 2020, SAN documented a total of six nests, a low amount throught to reflect the impacts of regionwide stressors like a lack of small fish prey.
Building Resilience for Future Climate Conditions
- Reduce risks associated with climate change to ensure business continuity and to maintain a quality passenger experience (Sustainability Management Program, Climate Resilience Plan)
- Integrate Climate resilience into Airport Operations and development decisions (Sustainability Management Program, Climate Resilience Plan)
The San Diego County Regional Airport Authority is working to integrate climate resilience into airport operations and development decisions to reduce risk and ensure business continuity. The Airport Authority’s Climate Resilience Plan provides the authority’s strategy for achieving uninterrupted business continuity in future climate conditions. The plan builds off existing initiatives ranging from improving stormwater drainage and collaborating with regional stakeholders to exploring large-scale coastal flood protection strategies. All capital projects are reviewed to ensure their resilience for future climate conditions.
Doing Our Part to Address Aircraft Noise
- Continue to focus on programs to reduce noise impacts (Organizational Strategic Plan, Community Strategy)
For more than 30 years, the Airport Authority has had a Noise Compatibility Program known as “Part 150” (a reference to the section of the Code of Federal Regulations on which it’s based) which guides the Airport Authority’s Quieter Home Program and various other efforts to minimize aircraft noise in 10 noise-impacted San Diego communities. The Part 150 studies typically consist of two primary components: (1) the Noise Exposure Map report which contains detailed information regarding existing and five-year future aircraft noise exposure, and (2) the Noise Compatibility Program which includes recommendations to reduce aircraft noise impacts based on evaluations of noise abatement and noise mitigation options/programs applicable to an airport.
To update the Study, the Airport Authority conducted 14 public meetings which included input from the community, the Airport Noise Advisory Committee (ANAC), and Technical and Citizen Advisory Committee (TCAC) members. More than 30 alternatives were evaluated with 17 recommendations presented as feasible since they did not impact safety or create any new noise impacts.
ANAC accepted the Part 150 Study Update on May 5, 2021 and forwarded it to the Airport Authority Board of Directors, which authorized Airport Authority President and CEO Kim Becker to submit it to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for review. If the updates are approved by the FAA, SAN may receive federal funding to help the Airport Authority implement the Noise Compatibility Program and its associated noise mitigation and abatement programs.
In 2020, the Airport Authority invested $14.2 million to insulate nearby residences from aircraft noise through the Quieter Home Program. This community investment was made possible in part through FAA grants awarded to the Airport Authority. On September 1, 2020, SAN was awarded $18 million in two airport safety and infrastructure grants through the FAA for noise mitigation measures.
Public meetings held to gather input on the Part 150 noise study
The $18 million in grants marks the largest annual amount given to SAN by the FAA for the Quieter Home Program. Primarily, the funds will go towards sound-insulating approximately 200 to 400 homes per year, depending on the size of the home, in the areas most impacted by aircraft noise. For the first time since implementing the Quieter Home Program, the Airport Authority will also start a non-residential program to sound insulate noise-sensitive properties such as schools and places of worship.
Yes, we compost!
Wondering where all of SAN's food scraps end up? We compost approximately 350 tons of food waste per year. Learn about how the airport reduces greenhouse gas emissions and diverts waste from entering the landfill by composting.