Our environmental responsibility
As a State-owned company, Swedavia shall be a role model in sustainable development. We at Swedavia want to be proactive in reducing our environmental impact while continuously striving to create value for our stakeholders and bolster their faith in us.
Swedavia affects the environment through our use of resources, generation of waste, use of chemicals and efforts to address the problems associated with PFAS produced at some of our airports. Our airports are also designated as being of national interest under the Swedish Environmental Code.
Our zero vision
“In 2020, Swedavia reached our goal of no fossil carbon dioxide emissions from the airport operations we run under our own management”
Extensive work was key to our success in reaching zero fossil carbon dioxide emissions. We purchase green electricity to supply all our operations, our uninterruptible power supply runs on hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO), our vehicle fleet runs on HVO, fossil-free gas or green electricity, and we purchase bio LPG and biogas.
Read more about our work with our zero target, what more we are doing and what you can do to help the climate transition.
Expanded climate work
All of Swedavia’s airports are certified at level ACA 3+ under Airport Council International (ACI) Europe’s standards for the climate work of airports. This means that our airports continuously reduce fossil carbon dioxide emissions from their own operations, we offset the emissions that have not yet been reduced, and we help other operations at the airports to reduce their own emissions. At the end of 2020, we reached our goal of no fossil carbon dioxide emissions from the airport operations under our own management.
The next goal is for all the airports to achieve ACA 4+, which means including anti-skid treatment, de-icing agents and refrigerants in the measurements. We will also involve and collaborate with other companies and organisations with significant carbon dioxide emissions at the airports in order to reduce emissions together. In the long term, all operations at our airports will switch to renewable energy sources. This work is line with the IPCC’s scenario to limit global warming to 1.5⁰C above pre-industrial levels and with Swedavia’s strategy and goals for a proactive climate transition. Stockholm Arlanda Airport will be the first of our airports to be certified at this level in 2021.
You can read more about the programme here.
Swedavia has been a climate-neutral company since 2006. At the same time as we reduce our emissions, we also purchase certificates from projects in developing countries to achieve climate neutrality. The climate projects, approved by the UN, are known as Clean Development Mechanism or CDM projects and are also certified under the environment movement’s Gold Standard programme. The projects are aimed at reducing emissions in developing countries. In this way, Swedavia offsets the emissions we have not yet reduced through our own measures.
Swedavia's environmental permits
The environmental permits are business-critical and govern what Swedavia may do. At year-end 2020, Swedavia was responsible for eight airports whose operations are subject to a permit under Code. The Swedish Armed Forces is responsible for environmental permits for the other two, Luleå Airport and Ronneby Airport.
Swedavia’s main environmental impact is atmospheric emissions of greenhouse gases, mainly carbon dioxide. The biggest source of the company’s emissions is exhaust gases from vehicles and waste gas from operating terminals and other buildings. Another significant environmental impact is discharges to soil and water, mainly of oxygen-depleting substances from anti-skid treatment of runways and de-icing of aircraft. The vicinity of the airports is also affected by aviation noise as a result of airport operations.
Swedavia’s work with environmental permits in 2020
Stockholm Arlanda Airport’s environmental permit entered into force on May 25, 2015, and the airport placed the permit in service on January 1, 2016. The environmental permit includes a condition that requires an action plan to reduce atmospheric emissions of fossil carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter. The action plan shall include Swedavia’s operations and the operations of other companies and organisations at the airport as well as ground transport and air traffic. As a result of the condition that regulates flights over the densely populated areas of Upplands Väsby, regular straight approaches over these areas may now take place, but the airport must use other approach procedures to avoid them when possible, taking into consideration the airport’s capacity, air traffic service regulations, aviation safety and weather conditions.
In 2020, Swedavia applied for a modified permit in order to be able to use alternative approach procedures, for instance curved approaches, under the scope of the current permit, in order to avoid flying over densely populated areas of Upplands Väsby. The aim of the application is to reduce the noise load and shorten approaches, which also helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. On June 4, the Land and Environmental Court issued its decision on the postponed issue of surface water (U4) for Stockholm Arlanda Airport. As a result of the decision, Swedavia will study what treatment effects can be achieved for the airport’s surface water over a continued trial period of five winter seasons, beginning with the 2020/2021 winter season. The trial period study shall lead to proposals for final terms and conditions for surface water. During the year, ground was broken on a new heat production facility in Kolsta, west of Stockholm Arlanda Airport. The facility will run on renewable liquid fuel and supply renewable heat to the airport’s district heating network. The plan is for the facility to be placed in service in spring 2021. An application for a separate permit to dismantle aircraft has been submitted to the Environmental Permit Office, with a decision expected in spring 2021.
In early 2020, Göteborg Landvetter Airport decided to place a new environmental permit in service for its operations and placed it in service on January 1, 2021. The previous permit had been issued in 2015 and 2016 and entered into force on June 5, 2017. Swedavia has been granted a deferment until June 30, 2023, to submit trial period reports concerning the postponed issues of flight paths (U1) and surface water (U2). With the new permit, the airport has a more modern permit with more efficient approach paths and will meet travel needs in the years ahead.
During the year, Visby Airport submitted findings from its study on one term in its permit concerning surface water (U5) and was granted an extended trail period for remaining issues concerning surface water (U2, U3, U4, U5 to the extent it pertains to further measures, U6 and U7) until August 31, 2021.
Malmö Airport has submitted a trial period report with proposals for final terms for pollutants in surface water (a decision is expected in the first half of 2021). Swedavia has been granted a deferment until July 1, 2021, to submit a trial period report on the remaining part of the postponed issue concerning cadmium in wastewater.
Bromma Stockholm Airport, Kiruna Airport, Umeå Airport and Åre Östersund Airport did not have any permit-related issues in 2020. The Swedish Armed Forces’ process for appealing the environmental permits at Ronneby Airport and Luleå Airport is ongoing.
The airport as a national interest
Under the Swedish Environmental Code, the State can identify a given area or given facility as being of importance to Sweden as a national interest. The term “national interest” can apply to vastly different interests such as nature conservation, cultural heritage, outdoor recreation, wind power, reindeer herding, mining and transport facilities.
All of Swedavia’s airports are of national interest for transport, which means that the airports shall be protected against measures that “can significantly hamper use” of the airports. The areas close to the airport are also included; these so-called influence areas are areas where tall buildings or settlements that are sensitive to noise can lead to restrictions on airport operations.
Swedavia expresses opinions in public consultations on new construction
Swedavia has no legal obligation to monitor a national interest; this is mainly the role of the municipalities and county administrative boards. However, in its role as property owner, Swedavia in many cases has an interest in expressing an opinion in zoning plan and building permit processes that include construction in the area of national interest or its influence areas. This is because buildings that are sensitive to noise or obstacles that are far too close to an airport are important in the permit procedure under the Swedish Environmental Code that all of Swedavia’s airports are regularly subject to.
Risk of restricting the airport’s operations
The permit procedure under the Swedish Environmental Code regulates what conditions an airport may run its operations. The permit procedure is a different process than that described above for how a national interest is decided, defined and monitored. However, in the procedure the court shall take into account the fact that the airport is a national interest. This means that some weight is given to the airport operations in the weighing of interests between the airport’s operations and any opposing interests.
In the event the national interest has not been taken into account in municipal zoning or buildings that are sensitive to noise have been constructed far too close to an airport, this entails a risk to the airport in the environmental permit procedure. The airport may, for example, be required to take measures to restrict noise for a larger number of buildings than was previously the case or have restrictions placed on its airport operations. In the longer term, the whole of the airport’s operations is in jeopardy if an area near the airport becomes densely populated since, under the Swedish Environmental Code, operations must be located in a suitable place.
Other environmental issues
Today, 100 per cent of the heating and electricity Swedavia uses comes from renewable sources that have net zero carbon dioxide emissions.
This applies to all of Swedavia’s energy use, which includes not just heating, electricity and cooling but also vehicle propellants and firefighting exercises.
Swedavia works continuously to reduce its energy use, and our goal is that it shall be reduced by two per cent annually compared to the average for the past four years. Two essential requirements for realising this goal are that we make continuous investments in new technology and that we optimise existing systems. By making operations more energy-efficient, we can reduce our environmental impact as well as our costs.
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) is an umbrella term for a very large group of fluorinated organic compounds (more than 4,700) that are used in many products since they prevent the build-up of water, fat and dirt on surfaces. As a group, PFAS are chemicals produced and used in large volumes and encountered virtually anywhere in the environment. The substances are used for purposes such as firefighting foam, but also in many other products and businesses such as textiles, food packaging, beauty products, hydraulic oils and surface treatments. Two of the most closely studied PFAS compounds are PFOS and PFOA. Both are non-degradable (persistent) and can accumulate in humans and animals and have undesirable effects on people’s health and the environment. In Sweden, the potential impact of PFAS on the soil and water is estimated based on a total of eleven PFAS (PFAS-11), which include PFOS and PFOA.
Decontamination of fire engines and new firefighting foam
The firefighting foam AFFF, which contains PFAS, was used at Swedavia’s airports for many years. In 2008, a ban on firefighting exercises using foam containing PFAS was instituted, and in 2011 all fire engines were decontaminated when Swedavia replaced AFFF with a PFAS-free alternative (Moussol-FF 3/6).
Investigations and measures
Swedavia works actively with extensive investigation work on risk assessments and sampling of soil, surface water, groundwater and wastewater in order to map the presence of PFAS and their spread from Swedavia’s airports. In 2009, the five-year project RE-PATH (Risks and Effects of the dispersion of PFAS on Aquatic, Terrestrial and Human populations in the vicinity of International Airports) was launched, – co-funded by the foundation that runs IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute and Swedavia AB. The project is aimed at investigating and mapping the presence, spread and risks of PFAS at Stockholm Arlanda Airport and Göteborg Landvetter Airport.
At Malmö, Visby Göteborg Landvetter Airports, measures are being implemented to clean water that has elevated PFAS concentrations with activated coal. However, implementing such contamination measures is problematic since conventional post-treatment methods are often not suitable for PFAS. Swedavia is therefore working to contribute to increased knowledge and understanding about different methods for dealing with PFAS contamination. For example, Swedavia plays an active role in trials to decontaminate soil and developing various filter methods to remove PFAS from soil and water. At Stockholm Arlanda, pilot studies aimed at assessing methods that can be used to remove PFAS from soil and water are currently under way. These pilot studies comprise:
- soil decontamination
- thermal decomposition
- soil stabilisation
- stabilisation of groundwater plume
Swedavia also contributes on a continuing basis to research and various collaborative projects to increase knowledge about and experiences with PFAS.
More information about PFAS is available on the websites of the Swedish Food Agency, the Swedish Chemicals Agency and the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency.
PFAS in drinking water and food
Laws and regulations
PFAS in the environment
Waste and recycling
Swedavia shall improve its work with waste in accordance with the EU’s waste hierarchy and Swedish waste stage goals.
Swedavia’s waste work is measured using five key metrics:
- Total quantity of waste per passenger shall be reduced by 5% annually (excluding construction projects and hazardous waste).
- The share of food waste sorted from residual waste shall increase by 3% annually.
- At least 50% of waste shall be sorted for recycling or re-use, compared to residual waste.
- There shall be greater potential for the airports to handle sorted waste from aircraft.
- The share of material recycling or other material re-use of non-hazardous construction and demolition waste shall increase to 70%.
- Chemical products are used, for example, in vehicle maintenance, anti-skid treatment of runways, de-icing of aircraft, cleaning, and painting and repair work.
- Swedavia continuously aims to use chemical products with as limited an impact as possible on people’s health and the environment and is continuously phasing out products that contain specified substances, such as substances on the EU’s Candidate List. To prevent harmful products from being used in operations, all chemical products are assessed using Swedavia’s established criteria for chemicals. We also work to monitor the Group-wide range of products used. Information about all chemical products is collected in Swedavia’s Group-wide database.
- Proper handling of chemical products is also very important and an area that continuously requires employees’ engagement. One of the products used in large quantities at our airports is glycol. Glycol is needed for the de-icing of aircraft. If glycol ends up in the environment, it is highly degradable and has low toxicity, but breaking it down uses oxygen, which affects life in waterways, for instance. Used glycol is collected using special suction trucks and drains in the asphalt after de-icing. The collected glycol is then reused in special facilities, and a small amount is conveyed to ponds to begin degradation.
Swedavia owns not just the airports but also land in the vicinity. There are usually between 50 and 150 metres of grass strip along each side of the take-off and landing runways. The grass there is cut several times in the summer so that the height does not exceed 10–20 centimetres.
Areas that are free of obstacles are needed for aircraft approaches to an airport. A number of different species of flora and fauna flourish in this environment. Inventories have been made of the biodiversity at the airports and the surrounding environment, and a number of areas of national, regional and local interest have been identified.
These inventories have been incorporated into the development plan of each airport in order to guarantee that consideration is given to areas with a high level of biodiversity.
Read more: Interview with Magnus Persson, environmental advisory expert
Noise from the airports
The work to reduce aviation noise is carried out mostly at the bigger airports, where the issue is most relevant.
Swedavia’s goal is for the noise load around the airports to be experienced as acceptable relative to aviation’s benefits to society. We make regular noise calculations and measurements to guarantee that we are within the range set by the airports’ environmental permits.
Swedavia’s work to reduce its noise impact also means that, among other measures, we sound-insulate nearby buildings, give preferred treatment to airlines that use aircraft that produce less noise and promote green flights.
Quiet aircraft pay less
Aircraft engines make increasingly less noise thanks to advances in the aircraft fleet. Swedavia is driving this development by having aircraft that make more noise pay a higher take-off charge at its airports. Planes that previously made the most noise have also been banned at EU airports since 2002.
Curved and green approaches at the airports
To the extent possible, Swedavia tries to ensure that flight paths are routed around densely populated areas. To reduce noise and atmospheric emissions, Swedavia also works to increase the number of curved and green approaches at the airports.
Using a curved approach, aircraft can avoid flying over densely populated areas in their approach. Trials using curved approaches are being carried out at a number of Swedavia’s airports. To carry out curved approaches, approval is needed from the Swedish Transport Agency.
Green approaches, which are carried out at Swedavia’s airports, reduce noise by having the aircraft descend continuously from its cruising altitude to the landing runway. As a result, almost no engine thrust is needed, which saves fuel and reduces emissions.
Ongoing dialogue with neighbours
Our collaboration with neighbours and municipalities around the airports with the highest noise levels is important, and as a result building planning and the management of building permits take into account forecast noise curves, known as influence area curves. We maintain an ongoing dialogue with our neighbours, and surveys show that the environmental issues given highest priority are the climate, followed by noise.
The most exposed buildings are sound-insulated
To reduce noise for buildings with the greatest exposure to noise, we sound-insulate these residences. Some 15,000 residents are exposed to aviation noise above the ACI’s noise rating index of FBN 55 dB(A) from Swedavia’s airports. About 90 per cent of those with such an exposure live near Bromma Stockholm Airport or Stockholm Arlanda Airport.
Water – goal to reduce impact on the water environment
To maintain good water quality and reduce our impact on the water environment, Swedavia works to continuously monitor the chemicals used, collect as much of those used as possible, for example, in de-icing, and optimise water treatment. Measurements are taken on a regular basis, and overall target figures are set for the oxygen content in outgoing surface water and the amount/concentration of cadmium in outgoing wastewater.
Impact on water
Most discharges to water take place in winter when aircraft are de-iced and runways are treated with an anti-skid agent for aviation safety reasons. Snow and ice on aircraft wings and stabilisers can greatly impair the aircraft’s performance and in the worst case cause an accident. Therefore, aircraft are de-iced prior to take-off with a mixture of propylene glycol and warm water.
To prevent skidding on take-off and landing runways, field equipment, primarily ploughs and sweepers, is used. When this is not enough, an anti-skid agent must be used to melt the ice. For about a year, the preferred substance has been potassium formate, which has far better environmental properties than its predecessor, urea. The use of potassium formate has reduced the negative impact on surface water; for instance, the result has been a reduced risk of eutrophication, or nutrient enrichment.
Environmental impact of de-icing agents/ant-skid treatment
Both propylene glycol and potassium formate as such have low toxicity and break down easily in nature. The problem is that a lot of oxygen is needed to break them down, so the compounds can cause a lack of oxygen in waterways if large quantities are discharged. It could also lead to the microorganisms used in biological treatment being overwhelmed at the treatment facility.
In winter, most of the glycol that runs off the aircraft is suctioned up after de-icing by special recovery vehicles. The glycol collected is recycled to some extent as new glycol, is broken down for the production of biogas or serves as a source of coal in the treatment facility’s nitrogen purification process.
The glycol not suctioned up eventually ends up in the surface water system together with the anti-skid agent used on the runways. At a number of the airports, surface water is conveyed to treatment or equalisation ponds, where it is processed before it reaches the waterways. Surface water is also treated in grease separators, and there are control programmes to safeguard the quality of the outgoing water.