Beyond zero: Activating triple zero airports

Erin Cooke, Sustainability & Environmental Policy Director and Anthony Bernheim, Healthy & Resilient Buildings Program Manager, San Francisco International Airport

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Abstract: San Francisco International Airport (SFO) was the first airport to adopt a triple zero goal — zero energy, zero carbon and zero waste — in 2016. Five years in, this ambition is actively being implemented by subject matter expert ambassadors across campus. Airport staff and partners have co-created delivery plans, operationalised strategies and reported results on activating net zero and decarbonised buildings, doubling onsite renewables, procuring all-electric shuttle buses and light-duty vehicles, delivering sustainable aviation fuel to all aircraft, eliminating single-use plastics and so many more ‘zero’ gains. SFO staff have taken up the mantle by introducing new ideas and approaches, as well as seeking out a variety of thirdparty certifications to demonstrate our continued commitment to the health of our planet, passengers and employees. This is just the beginning. The path to zero is high-impact, highly collaborative work that requires the partnership of our design and construction teams, airlines, business partners, individuals and, most importantly, a global network of airports who have the aspiration AND passion for new and unexpected ways of incorporating sustainability into the way we work, how we develop our facilities and how we operate as our direct means to abate the climate crisis. Outlined herein is SFO’s path to zero, with the intention of defining a joint roadmap for airport partners to team up to ensure we each serve an active role in supporting the health of our communities, workforce and shared, but threatened, planet.


Keywords: Climate change; guiding principles; zero net energy; zero carbon; zero waste; decarbonisation


Erin Cooke has dedicated her career to mitigating climate change by building more sustainable communities and campuses. She currently works as San Francisco International Airport’s (SFO’s) first Sustainability Director, where she brokers and implements net zero investments across SFO’s US$7.4bn capital programme. Since joining SFO, Erin has led the airport to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 41 per cent, operationalise its first zero net energy building, ban plastic food ware and water bottles and become the global leader in Sustainable Aviation Fuel deliveries. Erin also serves on the Board of Directors of the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI) and the ACI World Environment Standing Committee (WeNSC). Prior to SFO, Erin was the City of Cupertino’s first Sustainability Manager, where she drafted the City’s first Climate Action Plan and launched a community choice energy programme (Silicon Valley Clean Energy). Erin also worked on the climate teams at the Conservation Law Foundation, NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies and the National Park Service. She is a LEED AP and holds an MPA from Columbia University, BS and a BA from the University of Massachusetts and is the proud mama of Izzy and Graham.


Anthony Bernheim FAIA, LEED Fellow, is a visionary and respected leader in smart, energy efficient, high performance building. Beginning as early as the 1980s, he has devoted his career to pioneering the impact of buildings on global health, indoor environmental quality and human health. He has a record of designing and implementing a holistic approach and process to sustainability, contributing to improving human health, comfort and wellness in the built environment and global health. He is currently the Healthy & Resilient Buildings Program Manager, Planning, Design, & Construction, at San Francisco International Airport. Anthony has a history of public service, having served as a member of the US Green Building Council (USGBC) Board of Directors (both National and Northern California) in diverse capacities and on key committees since 2003. In 2020, he received the Airports Going Green Award recognising ‘Leadership in Development Practices for High Performance Buildings, Representing Outstanding Achievement in Pursuit of Sustainability within the Aviation Industry’.


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