The civil aviation industry in India has been one of the fastest growing industries in the country in recent years. India is currently the world’s third largest domestic civil aviation market and expected to become the largest in the next 10 to 15 years. The number of passengers carried by domestic airlines during 2017 was 117.1 million, registering a growth of 17.31 per cent compared to 2016. During FY16, international passenger traffic increased by 7.72 per cent. All of these figures are expected to steadily rise in the next decades.

Airports in India are managed and maintained by the Airports Authority of India (AAI) under the ministry of civil aviation. The biggest ones are typically operated under a public-private partnership model (PPP) and come under the ambit of the CSR Act of 2013. We take a look at the CSR and sustainability initiatives of a few of the country’s well-known airports.

Delhi Airport

Better known as Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA), Delhi Airport is run and managed by the GMR Group. Its CSR work closely follows that of GMR Varalakshmi Foundation (GMRVF), the CSR arm of the GMR Group which seeks to develop social infrastructure and improve the quality of life of communities around the locations where the group has a presence. The foundation focuses on education, health, hygiene and sanitation, community development, and empowerment and livelihoods.

Delhi International Airport Ltd (DIAL) began its CSR activities in 2006 under the aegis of GMRVF, with similar interests in education, health and livelihood. It currently works in Mehram Nagar (a community near the airport) and Savda Ghevra (community resettled from airport encroachments), apart from running a residential vocational training centre.

For education, it runs three Bala Badis (child-care centres) at Savda Ghevra and one in Mehram Nagar covering over 120 children. Recreational activities and food are provided in these centres. It provides support to government schools in the form of teaching, learning materials and school kits. It has also set up a children’s creativity centre, a library, and a programme specifically targeted at young girls who have dropped out of schools. In FY17, DIAL supported GMRVF in improving quality of education for more than 4,900 children in Badrinath (Uttarakhand), Srikakulam (Andhra Pradesh), Shahdol (Madhya Pradesh), and Bengaluru through providing computer education in 22 government schools, para-teachers in 48 schools, and remedial and tuition classes for slow learners. On health, a full-fledged dispensary has been set up in Savda, with health camps organised in both areas.

Livelihood being a major point of focus for the foundation, DIAL had started the Centre for Empowerment and Livelihoods Delhi (CEL-D) in September 2009 to train young people from poor and marginalised communities in vocational skills. This includes training in electrical, refrigeration and air conditioning work, computers, air-cargo handling, cleaning maintenance and facility support, health therapy, apparel designing, etc. Most of these programmes are delivered in partnership with companies like Schneider Electric, Voltas and CELEBI. The training centres are residential and have state-of-the-art facilities equipped with classrooms, workshops, kitchens, dormitories, libraries and seminar halls. So far, nearly 4,000 youth have been trained in different trades, with a settlement rate of more than 90 per cent. DIAL also worked with GMRVF in 2016–17 to impart employability training to more than 5,800 youth and women, with a settlement rate of 75 per cent, through 11 vocational training centres in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka.

DIAL runs a stitching and tailoring centre that are marketed through the so-called Empower Shop located at the car parking, opposite Terminal 3 of IGIA. Another noteworthy initiative is the community-based rehabilitation programme that is helping around 200 differently-abled people in Savda Ghevra through Samarth, a resource centre providing institutional services like special education, after-school learning support, and basic physiotherapeutic care.

On environment, DIAL focuses on natural resource conservation and pollution prevention as part of its overall environment sustainable management strategy. All aspects and impacts due to its services and operations are assessed by the framework of ISO 14001:2004 Environment Management Systems (EMS). Environmental factors such as noise, air quality, water and waste management, green building, etc., are addressed through multiple projects and process improvements. For instance, DIAL has installed a 7.84 MW solar power plant at IGIA and is the first airport in India to do so within its premises.

In FY17, Delhi Airport achieved the twin distinctions of being the first in Asia-Pacific region to achieve carbon-neutral accreditation and the first in the world to adopt the green building monitoring platform system ARC. IGIA Terminal 3 has been awarded LEED GOLD rating from Indian Green Building Council (IGBC), making it one of the largest green buildings in the world.

Mumbai Airport

Mumbai International Airport Pvt. Ltd’s (MIAL) CSR policy document spells out the following areas for its CSR activities: training to promote nationally recognised sports, healthcare, education, protection of art and culture, gender equality and empowering women, environmental sustainability, and slum development. These are taken up directly or through GVK foundation, GVK Airport Foundation, or GVK EMRI (Emergency Management and Research Institute), in and around the areas where the company, subsidiaries and associates operate, though this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule. The organisation has a list of economic, social and environmental targets that are listed in its annual report, which is in accordance with the Comprehensive option of the GRI G4 Guidelines.

To realise its sustainability goals, MIAL has set up greenhouse gases (GHG) accounting and management, a GHG policy and energy policy, and implementation of an energy management system. Implementation of noise and ambient air quality monitoring system, recycling of food waste and water, and operating as a silent airport are some of the other green initiatives. All of this paid dividends when, in 2017, Mumbai Airport received the Level 3+ carbon-neutrality certification by Airports Council International (ACI), the global authority of international airports. This is the highest level of environmental achievement available to airports in the areas of GHG management. In 2016, it was the first Brownfield (which means projects and sites that are modified or upgraded) airport to receive the GreenCo Gold rating, helped in part by one of India’s largest airport gardens at Terminal 2.

By 2016, the airport achieved a 9 per cent reduction in direct energy consumption as compared to 2012–14; 48 per cent reduction in water consumption per million; 39 per cent decrease in direct emissions per million persons (pax); and 21 per cent increase in the amount of non-hazardous waste recycled (all figures, except the first, are benchmarked against 2013–14 numbers). A 1,060 kWp solar power plant has been installed at T1, with further expansion in the works. The total GHG emissions (Scope 1 and Scope 2) during FY15 and FY16 were 109,516 tCO2e and 109,006 tCO2e, respectively – a slight decrease, which means there’s potential to reduce it further. While there have been improvements in waste disposal and water treatment, these can be expanded as well.

In 2015–16, MIAL spent Rs 3.98 million on community initiatives. The main areas of CSR work are: education, vocational skills, environment sustainability, and health. In education, the flagship programme is SHILP (Supplementary Holistic and Interactive Learning Program) to help primary school students from underprivileged sections of the society. The pilot project covered 1 school with 50 participants. Going ahead, it will be extended to 4 schools, covering 200 students. The other initiative is being done in partnership with Aseema Charitable Trust to impart quality education in MCGM (Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai) schools at primary and middle level. The programme also focuses on the overall personality development and health of the child.

For vocational skills, MIAL has collaborated with DEEDS Public Charitable Trust to support vocational training programmes that include tailoring courses and basic English literacy classes for students in deaf schools in Mumbai. There’s no data on the number of students who have benefited. The other project is helping young people participate in Jagriti Yatra, which is a 15-day-long national train journey across the length and breadth of India. This was started in 2013 and since then MIAL has supported 12 such youngsters.

Environment programmes include LED lamp distribution in the tribal community of Sanjay Gandhi National Park and tree-planting drives. Health interventions are HIV awareness sessions, blood testing and donation camps, eye checkup camps for taxi drivers, and immunisation drives. Compared to its many sustainability achievements and corresponding data, CSR doesn’t seem to be a priority for MIAL.

Bangalore Airport

Bangalore International Airport Limited’s (BIAL) CSR activities are in the areas of rural development, watershed management, education, healthcare, sports, and protecting cultural heritage. It runs a sustained engagement model with 18 non-profits and other organisations from the surrounding areas of the airport. On education, it has constructed and renovated five panchayat government schools around the airport. It has also constructed 13 blocks of toilets as part of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Road safety weeks and health camps are organised for the airport taxi drivers, while blood-donation camps and tree-planting drives have also been taken up. Hasiru Habba is the initiative to celebrate the benefits of conserving the environment and is co-supported by a group of local NGOs. The company spent Rs 5.52 crore on CSR in 2016–17, that being 2 per cent of its profits.

As part of its sustainability initiatives, multiple solar power projects were commissioned during FY17 – for example, the 503kW rooftop solar power installation on six buildings and 2.5MW ground-mounted solar power installation. Energy conservation measures such as air conditioning improvement works and water conservation have been taken up though details are sparse. While there are policy documents on almost every environmental aspect, progress reports or even basic data is missing. The international airport has received the LEED Gold rating from Indian Green Building Council for energy-efficient, eco-friendly, and sustainable terminal building design.

Hyderabad Airport

The Rajiv Gandhi International Airport (RGIA) in Hyderabad is operated and managed by the GMR Group. The CSR activities for GHIAL (GMR Hyderabad International Airport Limited) are conducted through GMRVF. As expected, the areas of intervention are the same as the Foundation’s, taken up in 5 villages around the airport, while other extension services are spread in more than 20 villages.

GHIAL has adopted seven government schools to assist on infrastructure requirements (such as setting up IBM Kidsmart centres) and improve the level of learning through teacher support, training, etc. It has also adopted all government anganwadis (pre-schools) in the neighbouring villages to work with 300 younger students every year and has set up community libraries. The GMR Chinmaya Vidyalaya, an English-medium CBSE school run by the airport, has a Gifted Children scheme for meritorious students from poor families in neighbouring villages. Overall, more than 12,000 students have been positively impacted through these programmes.

On healthcare, mobile medical units, free clinics, medical and eye camps, and health checkups are provided regularly. A noteworthy initiative is the supplementary nutrition centres set up for pregnant and lactating women in two villages, offering daily food supplements to cover deficiencies in calories, iron, folic acid, etc., along with health-awareness sessions. More than 1,000 women have benefited to date and hopefully the project will be expanded in terms of both reach and scope.

Like DIAL, Hyderabad Airport also runs residential vocational training centres for young people from underprivileged backgrounds. It has trained more than 2,800 candidates with a job placement rate of 80 per cent. Being a greenfield airport with plenty of requirements for entry-level technicians and other staff, more than 800 candidates were placed in suitable jobs at the airport as electricians, AC technicians, computer operators, parking attendants, etc.

The EMPOWER (Enabling Marketing of Products of Women Entrepreneurs) initiative is targeted at women wherein tailoring and stitching training sessions are conducted, post which some participants are provided specialised training for making jute products, uniform stitching, bag making, chocolate making, etc. Marketing support is also given through two shops at Hyderabad and Delhi airports.

In FY17, GHIAL commissioned a 5MW solar power plant to meet 15 to 20 per cent of the airport’s energy requirements. It had managed to reduce 3,405.85 tCO2e of its Scope 1 and 2 carbon emissions in 2016, compared to the previous year. The airport has achieved energy savings of 3.97million kWh in the last four years and reduced its carbon footprint by about 3,331 tons per annum. The rainwater net recharge is estimated at 1.729 million cubic metres per annum. It was awarded the Carbon Neutral Level 3+ certification by the Airports Council – the first airport in its category within the Asia-Pacific region to achieve this status, and the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA) Chairman’s ‘Order of Merit’ for its focus on environmental sustainability and for being the first airport in Asia-Pacific in its category to become carbon-neutral.

Some of the other green measures taken are conversion of all light sources within the buildings, roads and airport infrastructure into energy-efficient LED lighting, upgrading conventional split AC units to inverter units, reduction of aircraft noise and emission levels through best practices like single-engine taxi, etc. Other steps like ‘effective implementation of the reduce-reuse-recycle principle in overall water usage, efficient rainwater harvesting and groundwater recharging, and efficient solid-waste management processes’ are mentioned but the details have been omitted.

Cochin Airport

As per the CSR policy outlined in its official document, the CSR focus areas are to be in education, water and irrigation, health, social empowerment, and environment. However, in FY17, it spent its entire CSR fund of Rs 400 lakh on the Suchitwa Mission, which is a Kerala state government project on sanitation and solid and liquid waste management.

Cochin airport touts itself as the world’s first airport to be fully powered by solar energy since 2015. Eight solar installations for a total capacity of 23.2 MWp have been completed, apparently saving 14,500 Mt of CO2 in 2016–17. Energy-efficient motors, chillers and lighting have helped reduce its carbon emissions further. In the same year, it spent Rs 30 lakh towards capital expenditure on energy-conservation measures. However, compared to the previous year, the amount of electricity purchased saw an increase.

CB view

While researching for this particular piece, this author didn’t have high hopes for a data windfall. For instance, both Chennai and Kolkata airports don’t even have their own websites. While information on CSR is close to non-existent, sustainability efforts are given more importance, perhaps due to the fact that it makes more sense from a PR and branding perspective to promote airports as green and ecofriendly with XYZ prestigious awards and certificates as concrete evidence. However, one wouldn’t want to be so cynical as to accord that as the sole reason for their environmental initiatives. Globally, the aviation sector is a major contributor towards carbon emissions and it is imperative that airports do more than their fair share to bring down these levels. Plus, as they run 24×7, energy-saving measures are critical. It would be better, though, if they have well-laid-out short- and long-term plans on sustainability, with proper benchmarking, targets and milestones. Taking cue from airports such as the ones in Oslo, Toronto and Galapagos would be the smart thing to do. There’s a dire need to improve data reporting, preferably adhering to the GRI guidelines.

CSR seems to be something that these airports are forced to do by regulations and, unsurprisingly, information on these activities is even less than that for sustainability. While focusing on the areas around the airport makes complete sense, one would like to see them invest for the long-term upliftment of the locals, rather than simply fix the infrastructure of a school. Providing support to the students from an early age right through college, helping blue-collar workers in the airports to up-skill to managerial roles, training women for in-demand jobs, building clinics and hospitals for their health care, and taking care of other basic infrastructural needs (clean drinking water, sanitation, etc.) are some of the ways in which these airports can make better use of their CSR funds.

As of today, India is not a signatory to the UN-backed Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA). Airports would do well to fill this leadership gap and show the sustainable way towards an ecofriendly and green aviation future. But this should not be at the cost of neglecting their CSR duties towards the locals as well as the community at large. As the best-in-class companies have shown, both can and should happen in tandem.