Interview with Brodie Akacich

August 9, 2023

“For me personally, the most important aspect of sustainability is collaboration with others. Whether it be within our own company or with our stakeholders, ultimately many stakeholders working together to deliver projects create meaningful change.”
– Brodie Akacich

New Zealand, a country known for its picturesque landscape, intriguing Maori culture, invincible national rugby team, and… hobbits :), has also gained its first Carbon Accredited airport last year. Entering the programme directly at Level 2, Christchurch Airport is home to many sustainable projects, that can serve for inspiration. Wait until you read about their Airport Fire Station apron trial of an asphalt mix made with recycled waste plastic! Brodie Akacich, Sustainability Manager at Christchurch Airport, will walk you through their ambitious Climate efforts.

On your website, you mention that your approach to sustainability is best captured by the Maori concept of Kaitiakitanga. Could you tell us more about it?

Christchurch International Airport Limited launched its Sustainability Strategy in March 2016. The strategy is centred around the Maori concept of kaitiakitanga – responsibility, care and guardianship.

We understand we have a duty to take responsible and prudent steps to protect the environment for future generations. That means we do all we can to minimise our use of natural resources and the impact our business has on the environment, while recognising the limitations that currently exist in the aviation industry.

We are the gateway to the South Island of New Zealand – “our place in the world” – so we strive to go beyond what is required by law and regulation, to enhance our place in the world, not because we should, but because we want to… and because a “do minimum” approach would see us missing opportunities that:

  • are good for our people
  • are good for the environment
  • help us build better relationships with key stakeholders
  • inspire others to become more sustainable

To ensure we are continually improving and holding ourselves accountable to this, we measure our use of natural resources and report these to our board and publicly in our annual report.

Tasked with this undertaking is our internal sustainability working group, which ensures sustainability is considered in all parts of our business.

We also invited sustainability experts from our external stakeholders to be part of an external working group which meets twice a year. Our work is presented to this group for critical review and feedback. It is also an opportunity to learn what is important to our stakeholders and identify opportunities to collaborate. Our aircraft ground power units and GSE electrical infrastructure projects are an example of this.

You became accredited directly at Level 2 Reduction. What is your flagship project directed at reducing CO₂ emissions?

Upon completion in 2013, our Integrated Terminal Project (ITP) provided Christchurch Airport with the opportunity to install new energy efficient infrastructure. This included a new check-in hall, food court, domestic departure lounge and integration of the existing regional and international terminals, with the aim of accommodating 40-50 years of passenger growth while limiting environmental impact. Our ITP Ground source heat pump system is saving ~550 tCO₂-e p.a.

Eager to lead innovation, we installed New Zealand’s first artesian sourced heat pump system responsible for the heating and cooling. This system draws groundwater (14°C) from the aquifer the airport sits above. That groundwater assists with cooling water in a cold-water loop (6°C) and extracting and discharging excessive heat from the heated water loop (40°C). The system is comprised of a series of closed loop water circuits, heat exchangers, chillers and heat pumps. All water abstracted is contained in its own loop to prevent contamination and is discharged at a maximum of 21°C.

However, the true benefits of this system were outcomes of a constant review process and capitalising on opportunities to improve it, or modify operational processes. This project was called the continuous commissioning programme and has enabled us to further reduce our emissions by ~1,800t or 31% since 2013.

Because of its innovative design and energy and carbon reduction achievements, this system has won many awards since completion:

  • 2017 Sustainable Business Network NZI Ricoh Efficiency Champion award
  • 2015 CIBSE Building Performance Awards – International Project of the Year
  • 2014 IPENZ NZ Engineering Excellence Awards – Building and Construction category winner
  • 2014 ACENZ INNOVATE NZ Awards – Gold Award of Excellence

In November 2018 we began the final stage of this project, to replicate this technology in our International Terminal Building (ITB). This project was originally planned for 2014, but heat plate exchanger technology available at the time was insufficient to achieve required heating temperatures and made the project unviable.

Recent improvements in this technology can now achieve the required temperatures so makes this project viable. The significance of this from a Sustainability perspective is huge.

This project allows us to decommission our two diesel and two LPG boilers, so eliminates our need for fossil fuels to heat our terminal. This will result in annual savings of $550,000 and a reduction of ~1,030tCO₂-e emissions or 25% of our current annual emissions.

New Zealand is an island state with very rich, natural habitat. Are you already feeling the impacts of the changing climate and if so, is this what motivates the airport to reduce its emissions?

The most notable Climate Change impact the South Island is observing is the retreat of our famous Glaciers. Studies show a trend of decreasing glacier ice volume where a 25% of this ice volume has been lost between 1977 to 2016.

Both Australian and New Zealand meteorological advice agencies are also recording record summer sea temperatures in the Tasman Sea (the sea that separates Australia and NZ) year on year, resulting in stronger Summer storms for both countries.

As a company, we believe in climate change and the threat it poses, therefore we’re committed to reducing our carbon footprint and encouraging our business partners to do the same. This is demonstrated in the way we do business and through the infrastructure we provide our partners.

Could you tell us more about the transition of your vehicle fleet to 100% electric?

We are continually looking at our operations and challenging ourselves to become greener. Energy use is a key focus for us and with the transport sector the fastest growing contributor to climate change, transitioning our vehicle fleet to electric is a sensible next step.

In May 2018, Christchurch Airport was the first business in the South Island to sign up to a global initiative – EV100 – committing to transitioning its vehicle fleet to 100% electric. We began by changing our corporate office vehicle fleet of nine vehicles to EVs and two of our operations vehicles to Plug-in Hybrids. Ten specialist utility vehicles performing airfield, fire or passenger shuttle services remain in our fleet while we await suitable electric alternatives to become available in New Zealand.

What amount of CO₂ will be reduced thanks to this project? Could you tell us what percent of overall reduction does this represent?

In just over six months, our EV fleet has saved us ~2,500L of fuel and reduced our emissions by ~6.6tCO₂-e, that’s about 1 tonne of carbon a month. Our current EV replacement programme is scheduled over three years and will save us ~104tCO₂-e p.a. once complete.

Are you working with your business partners on climate-related initiatives as well?

Yes. We believe in the importance of working with our partners to address Climate Change. As a company, we believe in Climate Change and the potential impacts a 1.5⁰C or 2⁰C warmer earth pose. We are therefore members of the New Zealand Climate Leaders Coalition and one of the 76 signatories to the 2017 Climate Change Statement.

Beyond this, the most significant way we work with our business partners to reduce their carbon emissions is through the provision of ground power on our aprons. Currently three of our domestic aerobridges and our Multiple Apron Ramp System (MARS) stand which services our daily A380 service, are equipped with ground power, reducing on-ground emissions of that aircraft by ~1150tCO₂-e p.a.

This is also a key motivator behind the aircraft ground power units that are in the process of being installed on all of our aerobridges. By utilising New Zealand’s national electricity grid (which is ~85% renewable) we can reduce the need for aircraft to operate their Auxiliary Power Units and reduce the emissions from aircraft on standby up to 99%.

In 2018, we partnered with our long-term airfield construction partner Fulton Hogan to conduct a trial of an asphalt mix made with recycled waste plastic incorporated into the bitumen binder of the asphalt. Half of our fire station apron has been paved with PlastiPhalt®, a proprietary asphaltic product developed and manufactured by Fulton Hogan. Approximately 250 tonnes of PlastiPhalt® was laid, using 3100 four-litre plastic oil containers which would formerly have gone to landfill.

In addition to this, we work closely with our waste contractor Waste Management Limited to maximise diversion from landfill opportunities. This partnership has seen our annual landfill diversion rate increase from <35% to 47% since 2014.

Sustainability is also part of our procurement processes, with tailored questions requiring respondents to outline their sustainability policies and how we can work together to achieve better sustainability outcomes.

Are you investing in renewable energy?

The New Zealand grid network is ~85% renewable, thanks to hydro, wind and geothermal energy generation.

Christchurch Airport continues to investigate opportunities to include onsite renewable energy generation into our energy mix with options such as solar, wind, biogas and hydrogen investigated to date.

This work will continue to be assessed against three key criteria:
1. Sustainability – ability to reduce emissions and supply our airport with clean power

2. Resilience and reliability – ability to provide power year-round and withstand a variety of weather conditions, ranging from strong winds and heat waves to snow and hail, and able to withstand the force of the infamous earthquakes which Canterbury has become familiar with in recent years.

3. Financial viability of proposal – can the project pay for itself?

How did you learn about the programme?

The ACI Airport Carbon Accreditation programme has become well known and promoted in airport environmental/sustainability forums. I first became aware of the programme through conversations with other Environmental Management practitioners at an annual environment forum in Brisbane in 2013.

Could you name the benefits that Christchurch Airport gets from being part of Airport Carbon Accreditation?

The key benefit Christchurch Airport receives from the programme is the opportunity to learn about the efforts of other airports around the globe to reduce carbon emissions in our industry.

Aviation is a global network, and achieving level 2 of Airport Carbon Accreditation allows our efforts “at the bottom of the world” to be recognised by, and contribute to, a globally recognised carbon accreditation and reporting programme.

We look forward to continued promotion of the programme so that more of the travelling public recognise the certification and what it stands for.

What’s the most important aspect of sustainability to you personally?

For me personally, the most important aspect of sustainability is collaboration with others.  Whether it be within our own company or with our stakeholders, ultimately many stakeholders working together to deliver projects create meaningful change.

A key project for me was the delivery of our EV activation strategy last year. This strategy set a pathway and options for transitioning our existing vehicle fleet to EV alternatives over three years. It not only focused on carbon savings, but also included safety improvements and better utilisation techniques, allowing us to reduce our fleet size without negatively impacting availability of vehicles. It also included non-ownership options to address short-term high demands for vehicles through a shared fleet of EVs based at several nodes in Christchurch, including the airport.

This change has reduced our carbon emissions, increased the safety rating of our fleet overall (due to the ever-increasing safety standards of new vehicles) and provided our staff with a new and innovative vehicle fleet they can be proud to showcase during their daily duties or to business clients.

Importantly, it is a project where we can share our learnings with other likeminded businesses. Using the data we’ve gathered from this project, we can demonstrate the benefits of having an EV fleet and share this information across the business to promote engagement for Sustainability. It also demonstrates our Sustainability Strategy is more than a document on the shelf, that it is part of how we live and a potent example of how we make a difference to our place in the world.

Brodie Akacich is the Sustainability Manager at Christchurch Airport where he is responsible for sustainability strategy implementation and execution. Originally from Townsville in Australia, Brodie started his professional career performing ecological research and regulatory roles before moving into the aviation sector in 2009 and diversifying his skillset to include sustainability.
In 2014, Brodie moved to Christchurch to take up the role of Environmental Manager at Christchurch Airport, which in 2017 evolved into his current role.