Partnership: The airport as a sustainable city

What we really value is academia reaching out to help us pursue our sustainability agenda, says Jonas van Stekelenburg, innovation director at Climate-KIC partner Schiphol airport. 

‘We’ve been using the term airport city to describe Schiphol for 15 years,’ says Jonas van Stekelenburg, leader of the innovation unit at Amsterdam’s busy hub airport.‘What we have is a city without citizens, but with everything else in place, from shops to a hospital. You can even get married here.’

Jonas’s vision of the airport of the future has helped turn Schiphol into one of the top sites for business in the Netherlands. ‘This is where companies want to be,’ he says. It’s a vision that fed directly into 2012’s AirportNEXT conference, co-hosted with Climate-KIC, exploring new ideas for more sustainable airports.

With contributions from some 250 people representing business and civic interests, AirportNEXT looked at ways of helping the aviation industry lower its emissions profile by innovating in a wide range of areas, from biofuel technology to greener terminals. For Schiphol, climate optimisation means creating synergies between the vast array of on-site activities at Europe’s fourth busiest airport.

‘Schiphol,’ says Jonas, ‘is pursuing its sustainability agenda full force. In terms of innovation we’ve always been a world-beater. Look at our plans for a fleet of 30 electric buses, for example – unheard of anywhere else.’

With industry partners like KLM and Air France and university partners from within Climate-KIC, Schiphol holds regular innovation workshops exploring low carbon options and imperatives.

Open mindset

For Jonas, there’s real value in academia’s support for aviation’s sustainability ideals. ‘Because there’s a perception, wholly false, that we’re far more polluting than, say, shipping, it can be tough for academics to reach out to us. We applaud the open mindset that Climate-KIC brings to the search for solutions.’

Central to that mindset is transparency. Says Jonas:

‘We want Climate-KIC to tell people all about the challenges we face and the progress we’re making. It should be about the real story, the whole story.’

As a Climate-KIC partner, Schiphol benefits from an inspirational community that teams people of all ages and backgrounds. ‘What we’re doing is pretty new,’ says Jonas. ‘Yes, it’s about technical excellence. But at a more human level it’s also about doing your best to create good things.’