Schiphol Amsterdam Airport has just celebrated its 100th anniversary. Today, thousands of aircraft fly millions of passengers from Schiphol to countless destinations all over the world every day of every week. This makes Schiphol one of the top twenty busiest airports in the world. But even more importantly, Schipol is also one of the leading airports in sustainability in the aviation sector – a sustainability based on the principles of the Circular Economy.

Schiphol’s CEO, Jos Nijhuis, believes that all airports share a responsibility to connect. In his words, “We connect cities to countries. Products to services. Goods to consumers. We are the engine of the economy. But the idea of 'connection' has other dimensions: prosperity to wellbeing. Profit to value. People to experiences. Culture to science. Vision to ideas. We call that “Connecting to complete”. It means making our airports and our businesses sustainable, not doing something today that will endanger our world tomorrow.”

This vision has proven to be quite difficult to implement, considering the fact that airports are still responsible for high CO2 and fine particle emissions. Airports also consume large quantities of energy, water and raw materials. But Jos believes that following circular economy principles will not only lead the aviation sector to seek a more sustainable path, it will also yield greater benefits and business opportunities, as circular economy principles combine green ideals with corporate insights.

“I fail to understand airports that do not aim for the highest achievable sustainable targets, or those that aren't prepared to go the extra mile. Do they want to go out of business?” said Jos Nijhuis about his opinion on its competition. “We must collectively raise the levels of our ambition!”

Schiphol airport is already reducing its CO2 emissions. It uses smart on-and-off switches for lights and air conditioning, and they have eight locations that use heat-cold storage technology, as well as a experimental field with 30,000 square feet of solar panels. They have switched to LED lighting in all of their terminals and parking garages, as well as airside.

Another circular example is the new system implemented in one departure lounge. Philips have created a new product called 'lighting as a service'. Philips remains the owner of the 'hardware' and will recycle the bulbs and fixtures at the end of their useful life, while Schiphol only pays for the light they use.

Furthermore, Schiphol has just launched a pilot project with the company Vanderlande to create 99% recyclable baggage conveyors. The conveyors have a 7-year life cycle and will be reused to create new ones that are also 60% more energy-efficient.

Schiphol have also created the Mainport Innovation Fund in partnership with KLM, Rabobank, Delft University of Technology, and Dutch railways and harbours. Through this fund, Schiphol is investing in start-ups and companies that offer sustainable solutions in the fields of mobility, safety and logistics. One of their latest investments is in a Dutch start-up called Undagrid, whose technology makes it possible to track non-motorised vehicles in real time at ultra-low cost. This means that Schiphol now requires fewer vehicles because it optimises the ones they already have, which has enabled them to considerably reduce their expenses at the same time as making the airport safer.

Safety is also the reason Schiphol grows flax and elephant grass around the airport, but these crops also serve as biological resources; flaxseed is ground into oil, which is then used by a Dutch paint factory to produce natural paints. In fact, Schiphol used this paint for part of their new parking garage!

Schiphol has also recently produced brand new bio-based benches made of flax and elephant grass, and invested in electric transport. There are 35 electric buses that operate passenger transport services airside, and as many as 167 electric Tesla taxis now operate at Schiphol.

The piers are being renovated and new taxiways built, and Schiphol reuses the residual materials for follow-on projects. For example, the concrete rubble from the old platform around Pier C was reused to create the foundations of the new platform around Pier C and the Sierra taxiway. This has been extremely cost-effective and led to great savings.

“Sometimes, being circular is rather simple. It simply means being smart and economical”, said Jos about his success on the Circular Economy path.