Toronto Pearson Helps Launch Eco-Business Zone

Author: 
Kimberly Kaiser
Published in: 
January-February
2011

Making an airport more sustainable is a huge task. Making the entire industrial/commercial area surrounding it is an even bigger undertaking; but it's a task officials at Toronto Pearson International Airport believe is worth the effort.




Facts & Figures

Project: Eco-Business Zone

Location: Area Surrounding Toronto Pearson Int'l Airport

Size: 12,000 hectares (29,640 acres)

Lead Participants: Toronto & Region Conservation Authority; Greater Toronto Airports Authority

Purpose: Help businesses surrounding airport reduce resource costs, uncover new business opportunities and address everyday operational challenges in a green & cost-effective manner.

In 2009, Partners in Project Green established an "eco-business zone" to help companies around Toronto Pearson International Airport make environmental improvements. The project's goal is to translate lofty environmental goals into practical, sustainable business strategies.

In addition to coordinating infrastructure projects to improve sustainability, Partners in Project Green provides consulting services, training, purchasing/procurement assistance and networking events. Programming is designed to help businesses reduce resource costs, uncover new business opportunities and address everyday operational challenges in a green and cost-effective manner.

The Toronto Pearson Eco-Business Zone encompasses 12,000 hectares (29,640 acres) and spans four municipalities (Toronto, Peel, Brampton and Mississauga). The area includes 12,500 companies that employ 350,000 people, making it Canada's largest employment area.

In 2009, 2,525 companies in the Pearson Eco-Business Zone reported implementing energy reduction programs to save a combined 5.4 megawatts of electricity and more than 3.6 million m3 of natural gas.

The project grew out of a more than decade-long partnership between the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) and the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA). About five years ago, both entities realized that although they had improved Toronto Pearson's watershed, it would make little difference if those upstream and downstream don't invest in similar improvements. After brainstorming and discussing, the idea for the Pearson Eco-Business Zone was born.

Preparing for Launch

TRCA approached the airports authority about creating an eco-business zone around the airport in a very preliminary stage of the process, recalls Toby Lennox, GTAA's vice president of corporate affairs and communications. The timing was fortuitous, Lennox explains, because the authority was just beginning to delve more seriously into the topic of airport sustainability.

"It was an opportunity," he relates, "because we know that a sustainability agenda is very difficult to do on your own. You need people; you need to work with other companies to get better ideas and resources. That's exactly what the eco-business zone evolved into: a network of businesses that surround the airport working together to share ideas to plot a new and more sustainable course both for their business and for the community's."

When presenting the concept, TRCA emphasized elements with high payback, such as energy, waste and water reduction, notes Chris Rickett, senior project manager for Partners in Project Green and TRCA.




The key to "selling sustainability" as a viable practice, he contends, is about stressing cost savings rather than environmental benefits. "If you walk into your CFO's office and say, 'I'm engaged in Partners in Project Green because I'm going to save the world.' They are going to say, 'Here is a donation for $20,000 to the World Wildlife Fund; go save the world.'

"If you say, 'We've got energy challenges; we've got consumption challenges; we've got waste disposal problems, and I can do two things for you: I can save money on our electric bill and, as a payoff you won't see on your balance sheet, I'm going to be saving the world,' the CFO will say 'I got it; let's do it.' "

"Basically what we were tasked to do was work with the business community to help them improve their financial and environmental performance by developing programs and projects that could help companies reduce their resource costs, identify new business opportunities through sustainability as well as really addressing those everyday operational challenges in a cost-effective and green manner," Rickett relates.

"The airport saw this not only as a way to encourage investment in sustainability in the surrounding business community, but really as an economic development tool to ensure the diversity and long-term sustainability of the economic base around the airport," he explains. "They realize the success of the airport and the success of the business community are intertwined. There's an environmental driver, but also a very big economic driver."

According to Lennox, it took about a year to get Partners in Project Green up and running. The airports authority and TRCA worked together to set goals and identify companies and municipalities to enlist. In 2009, their efforts were recognized with an Environmental Achievement Award from Airports Council International - North America, in the newly created category of innovative/special projects.

Pearson Eco-Business Zone participants range from very large enterprises - such as the airport and Molson-Coors - to a six-employee company that makes marine rope. A call center run by LoyaltyOne (a customer rewards company) received gold-level certification for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design from the U.S. Green Building Council. Although the company located in the area years before the eco-zone was developed, it was eager to support the project.

"I think it's a tremendous thing," says Debbie Baxter, vice president of corporate sustainability and facilities management /chief sustainability officer for LoyaltyOne. "We believe that one of the ways we can solve the environmental challenges we have is for business leaders to get around boardroom tables and share their successes and share the things that they have tried and to brainstorm about what possible solutions are available. The eco-business zone is a tremendous example of that - where business leaders that have geography in common get together on a periodic basis."

Learning how other businesses are succeeding in their environmental efforts is a key part of regular Pearson Eco-Business Zone meetings, says Baxter.

Aiming High

Toronto Pearson's goal is to reduce its green house gas emissions to 20% below 2006 levels by 2020, reports Lennox. Last year, the airport relamped airside red obstruction lights with newer, more efficient LED units to help achieve its ambitious target. Early this year, it will replace high-pressure sodium fixtures in the Terminal 3 parking garage with LED fixtures to continue the effort. Buying the new bulbs in bulk through Partners in Project Green helped reduce costs, notes Lennox.

On a larger scale, the airport is considering an alternative energy initiative - thanks in part to the geothermal project already in operation at its eco-zone neighbor, Lange Transportation. "We're learning from them what the pluses and minuses are of this," says Lennox.

On a practical level, Lennox notes, they are talking to colleagues about the challenge of making sustainability models part of their business strategy. "It drives me crazy when people talk about green initiatives and they associate it with pictures of little girls blowing petals off a daisy in a field," he explains. "It's not about that; it's about making sure that you engage your business in a way that sustainability is talking about the bottom line," Lennox says.

Although changing institutional mindsets is challenging, it helps to have companies like Bayer to cite as examples. "They have a fantastic sustainability agenda that they've engrained right into their company," he relates. "We're able to take what the lessons they've learned and embed them into our company."

According to Lennox, airports should be leaders in sustainability - especially in Canada.

"We employ a huge number of people; we have a huge responsibility to the public," he explains. "Our industry is one that everyone relies on, and yet we're very acutely aware of the impact we have. Being part of Partners in Project Green is showing that we're committed to it, and it's a public statement as well."

Selling Sustainability

The key to "selling sustainability" as a viable practice, he contends, is about stressing cost savings rather than environmental benefits. "If you walk into your CFO's office and say, 'I'm engaged in Partners in Project Green because I'm going to save the world.' They are going to say, 'Here is a donation for $20,000 to the World Wildlife Fund; go save the world.'

"If you say, 'We've got energy challenges; we've got consumption challenges; we've got waste disposal problems, and I can do two things for you: I can save money on our electric bill and, as a payoff you won't see on your balance sheet, I'm going to be saving the world,' the CFO will say 'I got it; let's do it.' "




The underground stormwater treatment facility built by the Greater Toronto Airport Authority is among the most advanced systems in the aviation industry.

Lennox stresses this is the way it's got to be: "The only way that it's going to be sustainable and stay sustainable is if people equate sustainability with their bottom line. The advantage is we've saved tens of thousands, if not millions of dollars, by reducing our energy consumption."

Changing Procedures

Participating in Earth Hour, an event in March that urged people worldwide to turn off all lights for one hour, proved to be a tremendous learning experience for Toronto Pearson. As the first North American airport to participate, officials initially viewed Earth Hour from a public relations standpoint. But it quickly turned the airport into a laboratory, recalls Lennox.

"We started doing things like reducing lighting, reducing heating, just to see how people would react," he explains." As a result and by working with Partners in Project Green, we've been able to reduce the amount of energy we use by turning off our architectural lighting. The amount of lighting we use in our terminals has been reduced because we just use passive solar lighting. We figured out when and how we can start reducing the use of elevators and escalators and we just tried to see if people would notice."




The Pearson Eco-Business Zone encompasses more than 12,000 hectares of industrial and commercial land surrounding Toronto Pearson International Airport.

The event did, however, include some missteps. For example, the bridge between the parking structure and terminal became a very dark tunnel when the lights were turned off. On the positive side, the hour-long experiment helped Toronto Pearson eliminate excess lighting over the long-term. According to Lennox, changes that went largely unnoticed by airport visitors saved 47,000 megawatt hours. "In terms of dollars, that's huge," he comments.

While Lennox would love to claim a large victory like installing Canada's largest wind farm, he says the airport has learned that staggering progress can be made in small steps, such as installing motion detectors that automatically turn lights off in areas not used at night.

"Start being smart," he advises. "If everyone in Canada put a power bar on their television set and turned the power bar off, the amount of savings we'd have would be absolutely phenomenal. The same thing applies to an airport; it's little, relatively mundane, steps that you've got to take to realize the big things."

The airport has already begun to realize tangible savings. Toronto Pearson saved 3.6 million cubic meters of natural gas during the first year of changes, reports Lennox. A big challenge, he notes, was working with the utilities companies to ensure the savings were being tracked properly.

Managing the airport's waste stream is proving to be the biggest challenge. "We were stunned to find the amount of waste (in this area) that goes straight to the landfill and is not being either reduced, reused or recycled," he stresses.

Lennox was particularly surprised to learn that some companies' waste removal costs exceed their energy costs. "That's because they don't think about it," he reasons. "A company comes and hauls it away; you don't think in different terms."

Community Support

Lennox says response from the community has been great - a noteworthy condition with four separate municipalities involved. While the eco-business zone can't solve everyone's problems, it does create a context to address everyone's issues, he explains. As it does, it's garnering press coverage for the airport.

"It's a good news story, but it's not finished yet," says Lennox. "It will be a better news story if we are successful."

Having Toronto Pearson at the center of eco-zone is a great advantage, says Baxter of Loyalty One. "The airport is a natural hub of commercial activity," she explains. "Companies locate near the airport to either be a provider or supplier, or to take advantage of the services provided near the airport. For an airport to be the driving force behind this type of eco-zone is a tremendous accomplishment, especially with some of the negative connotations about their impact on the environment."

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