loader image
Skip to content

Believe It or Not, Airports are Going Green

[RETHINK Retail] — Eco-friendly travelers may have a tough time on their hands when traveling. Bicycle rides and hybrid rental cars decrease air pollution once they reach their destinations. But in order to reach that national or international location, airports are a given — and reportedly the largest source of air pollution in the United States.

The National Bureau of Economic Research reports that Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) alone has the most carbon monoxide in all of California. Taxis, runways, shuttle buses and non-hybrid rental cars certainly add to the pollution problem. Slowly but surely though, some airports are trying to do their part to be more environmentally friendly. In turn, so are airport retail stores.


How airport culture has changed for the greener

Boston Logan International Airport (BOS), Denver International Airport (DIA), East Midlands Airport, England (EMA), San Francisco International Airport (SFO), Seattle-Tacoma Airport (SEA) and Zurich Airport, Switzerland (ZRH) have all been given credit for their earth-friendly business practices. This includes solar panels, wind turbines and aircraft plug-in power options. (The latter of which is so airplanes have the option to not run the auxiliary power units for lengthier times near the gate.)

With more examples of ways to decrease pollution and increase eco-friendly culture, green airports are setting trends. Airport retail stores and travelers now have the option to do several things that they could not do in past years. And this is more than just the usual go-tos of recycling paper, plastic and aluminum. DIA, which has the largest solar farm at a U.S. commercial airport, recycles everything from restaurant grease to glass.

SEA’s rewards-based recycling program has an electronic trash monitoring device that charges retailers for trash receptacle usage. Meanwhile, recycling is free. By default, this is making retailers a little more creative and a lot more observant about ways to decrease their trash expenses among employees and customers.

At SFO, biodegradable items are required for food vendors and all food waste must be recycled. With customer exposure to organic and sustainable ingredients, biodegradable tableware and compostable cups, this will be especially attractive to online and retail stores who have these kinds of products in stock to sell to airport retail stores.


How eco-friendly culture affects retail customers long term

In communities in which compost containers and recycling bins are uncommon, airports are yet another way to help introduce these options. And for those who are used to having these eco-friendly options in their neighborhoods, now they can keep a good habit going. With stricter policies in place for greener living at airports, customers can also learn why Smithsonian feels some recyclers are recycling all wrong.

For example, plastic bags (including #2 and #4) lead to jams in the recycling equipment. Green-friendly retailers in turn provide customers with 100 percent degradable bags. Although bottle caps are no longer necessary to remove for recycling, airport retailers who offer compostable cups eliminate excess plastic usage altogether. Retailers are making it easier for customers to not only recycle better but also to know what to recycle at all.

The Chicago Department of Aviation’s (CDA) Green Concessions Policy at Midway International Airport (MDW) and O’Hare International Airport (ORD) have designed a plan to eliminate petroleum-based plastic bags, and to only use hygiene products and cleaners that are environmentally friendly.

While airport restaurants appear to be more of a focus than airport retailers, considering it’s all in one location, it’s impossible for retail customers to not take note. Using another example from Chicago, ORD’s Aeroponi​c Garden, natural lighting and energy-efficient windows in certain spots clearly help the ambiance for shopping travelers as well. And the 70 new shopping centers and restaurants at MDW, guesstimated to be completed by 2020, are all required to qualify for Sustainable Airport Manual (SAM) certification.


What does the future of airport shopping look like?

Those first 24 episodes of “The Jetsons” cartoon certainly instigated the standard for where the future of technology and the 21st century would be. The verdict is still out on when retail shoppers will get their “The Jetsons” flying cars, but Slovakian startup AeroMobil is determined to create a car that transitions into an airplane.

Meanwhile, Jetpacks, technology that does everything from clean floors to deliver food, holograms, 3-D printed food, smart watches and shoes, moving floors and video calls are all easy to access. Depending on the airport, this entire “The Jetsons” checklist may be easy enough to find in the terminals.

But while a tech-savvy society continues to chase the next big thing in technology, it’s up to both businesses and everyday customers to create the same enthusiasm for the environment. The Journal of Marketing reports that people are more likely to recycle when they know what becomes of the recyclables, so the potential is there. Meanwhile Estée Lauder has managed to make more at airports globally than in U.S. department stores, all while earning almost 90 percent recycling rate in recent years. As long as retail businesses can find ways to be profitable and eco-conscious, the future of airport retail is looking greener every day.