Interview with Joffrey Maï

August 7, 2023

“Although air transport as a whole doesn’t represent more than 2-3% of the total global CO₂ emissions, at VINCI Airports we are convinced that climate change is one of the major challenges we must face. ”

– Joffrey Maï

First of all, let me congratulate you on the new project in the Dominican Republic. I read yesterday that VINCI Airports have succeeded at installing new photovoltaic parks there.

Thank you! I was actually planning to talk to you about it in the context of Airport Carbon Accreditation. We have just inaugurated photovoltaic power plants at our La Isabela Airport in Santo Domingo and Puerto Plata and Baharona Airports in the Dominican Republic. We are also planning to expand the installation of these plants at other airports in the region. These are fairly large installations with a total power up to 2 megawatts-peak. In the end, with all these parks, we should reach a solar power generation of 6 megawatts-peak. This power will produce the equivalent of more than 24 % of AERODOM total electricity consumption. In addition, these new panels are configured on auto-consumption, which means that the energy produced will mostly be used directly by the airport.

What was the genesis of this idea to go towards solar power generation in the Dominican Republic? Did it come from the airports themselves or was it conceived at the headquarters of VINCI?

This project was a result of the strategy defined by VINCI Airports, following the acquisition of AERODOM, but its implementation was managed locally by the teams who had already identified the potential. It also falls perfectly within the implementation of the environmental policy of VINCI Airports called AirPact. You need to know that the electricity produced locally comes mainly from fuel, so this project reduces the carbon footprint of our airports there significantly. It comes as an additional advantage – it reduces our airports’ dependence on the local grid, which is not very reliable.

Is it a regular practice for you to include an environmental strategy in every business plan when acquiring an airport?

Automatically when we acquire a new airport, we include the implementation of AirPact in the business plan. Either the airport in question already has developed their work on environment, and then we look at how to improve it, or there is nothing, and we need to build it from scratch following our policy. The choice to engage in the Airport Carbon Accreditation programme is a good example. Some airports that enter our group already have an environmental management system in place, but no such accreditation. By default, we include in our financial model the costs of accreditation, verification, improvement of energy reporting and so on. Moreover, in terms of investment, we carry out feasibility studies during the bidding phase, to see whether investing in renewable energy is for our favor. We’ve been applying this approach for about 2 years now. These feasibility models allow us to calculate the dimensions of an auto-consumption-based photovoltaic plants, to evaluate the rate of energy production, and to calculate whether the financial investment is profitable. Where the electricity is very carbon-intensive and the cost of energy is high, we usually include the investment in photovoltaic plants in the business plan at the time of the call for tender.

At the moment, 33 airports in your group participate in Airport Carbon Accreditation – a significant number. They are located all over the world: France, Portugal, Japan, the Dominican Republic, Cambodia … are there some countries that better facilitate your work on climate on a regulatory level?

Although air transport as a whole doesn’t represent more than 2-3% of the total global CO₂ emissions, at VINCI Airports we are convinced that climate change is one of the major challenges we must face. Getting all our airports on board with the Airport Carbon Accreditation programme is a testament to this voluntary commitment. To be clear, we do not adhere to this programme to meet regulatory requirements, but by conviction and bottom-up commitment.
In terms of existence of a regulatory framework, in the European Union there is the ETS Directive which imposes a real effort to reduce CO₂ emissions via the CO₂ emissions trading system. In France, we have the Article 45 of the energy transition law for green growth, which requires operators of the 11 largest French airports (including Nantes Atlantique and Lyon Saint-Exupéry) to adopt a program of actions to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs).

Outside of the EU, there are other regulatory mechanisms that can lead to reductions in CO₂ emissions. For example, in Serbia and Japan, national regulations on energy efficiency impose reductions in energy consumption, which leads to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions as well.

As you can see, this regulatory landscape is quite disparate, whereas our approach is global. It is inconceivable for us not to act now and implement climate change mitigation actions in all parts of the world where our airports are located.

How do you manage the work on environment within such a large network?

When I began to work at VINCI Airports in 2014, I was appointed with the mission of defining the environmental policy for the entire group. I asked myself the question: how could we engage all our airports in a common approach to the environmental performance? At the time, the group counted only 23 airports, but was already quite widespread, with 10 airports in France, 10 in Portugal and 3 in Cambodia, as well as quite varied in terms of traffic, ranging from less than 100,000 to 18 million passengers a year. It was therefore necessary to identify strategic areas for the entire group, which could motivate all of them. We have decided to work on 4 main axes by 2020: the reduction of our energy intensity, the adherence of all our airports to the Airport Carbon Accreditation programme, the protection of biodiversity, and the ISO 14001 certification. The subject of energy and carbon emissions is particularly challenging, because each airport – regardless of its size and location – needs energy to operate and therefore emits CO₂. This is also a topic that relates to all our airports because greenhouse gas emissions have a global effect on the planet.

In our organization we manage environment by identifying priority topics, considering the measures to meet them and then implementing them in the simplest possible way.

A program like Airport Carbon Accreditation has a clear advantage to us, namely its structured approach. The programme empowers us to organize theimplementation of carbon management, by proposing a carbon footprint benchmark, defining a framework for audits, and sharing guidelines and good practices on how to achieve reduction of CO₂. The use of a standardized and international framework allows for an easy implementation at all our airports.
To develop a bit more on the environmental management of such a vast network, we found a way to engage the entire VINCI Airports network in our environmental approach. We have created with our training academy, the VINCI Airports Academy, a set of training & awareness-building modules for our airports with a focus on environment. These modules make it possible for us to be on the same page with all our staff, regardless of where they’re based, or what their role is. We offer a training module for top management, a training module for environmental managers, and finally a module for raising awareness of good airport environmental practices for all personnel and our partners. We have created a multilingual training and awareness package, enabling us to deploy good environmental practices around the world.

We also leverage the breadth of our network by capitalizing and sharing best practices across the group. For instance, it was thanks to the feedback from our ANA airports in Portugal, accredited since 2010, that we were able, in 2015 in full COP21 in Paris, to accredit all 10 French airports and 3 Cambodian airports at once.
Each new airport that enters our network benefits from the group’s know-how, which plays an accelerating role in the accreditation process. For example, AERODOM, which manages our 6 airports in the Dominican Republic, joined our network in April 2016, and then managed to achieve Airport Carbon Accreditation in January 2018, so finally in a very short time. Another very good example was Japan. Kansaï Airports which joined the group in 2016, obtained their accreditation directly at Level 2 in November 2016, becoming the first Japanese airports to join the programme.

Wow, that’s very fast.

Yes, indeed. In Japan, the teams working on the accreditation have been very efficient. But this is also a very good example of the capacity we have at VINCI Airports to share best practices and to go fast towards getting certified by Airport Carbon Accreditation in any country.

Let’s talk a bit about these good practices. We started our interview by mentioning the solar project in the Dominican Republic, do you have any other renewable energy projects among your airports? For example, wind turbines?

We have small wind turbines at Kansaï Airport in Japan, but not a full wind farm yet. But as I mentioned already, the opportunity to install renewable or low-carbon energy systems is systematically studied for all our new development projects. Before the solar parks in the Dominican Republic, the energy produced by the photovoltaic plants present at some of our airports, such as Porto or Kansaï, came back to the local electricity grid. The novelty concerning the solar installations in the Dominican Republic is their configuration on self-consumption, allowing us to produce and consume completely clean energy on site. And this is only the beginning, we will continue the installation of photovoltaic panels at other Dominican airports we own. In Salvador, Brazil, we have also added a plan for a 3 Megawatt-peak photovoltaic into our bid.

Another project we support at Kansaï Airport is a hydrogen station. It has been operational since 2015 and has been used to refuel fuel cell vehicles. In 2017, Kansaï successfully tested a fuel cell bus refueled by this H2 station. Another hydrogen station is installed at Cargo and is used to refuel trucks running on hydrogen.
At Belgrade Airport in Serbia, we have planned the construction of a photovoltaic plant of 1 Megawatt. Electricity is expensive there and very carbon-intensive. There is also the need for heating as well as cooling, we have also planned to deploy a trigeneration system, that will help reduce the airport’s carbon footprint.



What is it?

It’s a system that produces electrical energy from natural gas. The energy produced by this system is less carbon-intensive, than the one available through the local electricity mix. We also have other projects to examine, such as the possibility of implementing a system based on geothermal energy. But for now the establishment of photovoltaic parks is our flagship project in terms of renewable energy.

Do you collect all the figures concerning the production of clean energy for the entire group?

Yes, of course. We have been monitoring this for 100% of our network since 2014. These figures are part of the environmental section in our activity report. Our airports are also required to send us the data on the capacity of renewable energy systems. We also follow closely the rate of production of green energy. Since the installation of photovoltaic farms for self-consumption is a very recent project, we will have the figures indicating GHG emission reductions brought about by these projects by the end of 2018. We have not yet quantified the ROIs, but that’s something we’re going to do next year.

Within VINCI Airports, you have so far one carbon-neutral airport. Lyon Saint-Exupéry Airport has reached Level 3+ in 2017. Do you have ambitions for other airports to follow in their footsteps?

In fact, the successful accreditation of Lyon Saint-Exupéry at Level 3+ was one of the first initiatives of VINCI Airports, after Aéroports de Lyon entered our group. We had seen straight away that it was possible to achieve carbon neutrality at LYS and we pushed for it to be done quickly.

As stated in our environmental strategy, we plan to get all our airports on board with Airport Carbon Accreditation. We are committed to reach and maintain Level 1 for all the airports by 2020 and that already implies a lot of work given all our new acquisitions. Through AirPact, we are also working to reduce our energy consumption and setting up Environmental Management Systems covering the energy and carbon aspects. So, naturally, we should be able to go to Level 2, and it is likely that in the near future, other airports will reach Level 3 or 3+ and join Lyon Saint-Exupéry on the list of carbon neutral airports.

What is your personal vision on carbon neutrality?

In my past life, I’ve worked in Morocco on a project aiming to build a carbon neutral car factory. I was working on the registration of the Clean Development Mechanism project in connection with the Kyoto Protocol, so I’m quite familiar with the mechanism that has to be followed to get the project registered, which then gives way to the creation of verified carbon credits. That’s why I think that in order to achieve carbon neutrality, carbon offsetting is a good system. Ultimately, it amounts to investing indirectly in emission reduction projects that, without this external contribution, would not have been implemented naturally. The question that arises is how to compensate? I think the choice of compensation projects is really essential.

At VINCI Airports, we will always be vigilant about the origin of the carbon credits that are used to compensate: the country of origin of these credits, how these carbon credits have been recognized, what is the added value in the country where the project has been set up, etc. For Lyon Saint-Exupéry, the compensation was made by supporting the project “New Lao Stove” led by the NGO GERES in Cambodia, which consists of distributing improved domestic cooking stoves. I think that the compensation process helps to stimulate climate action. Climate change is a global issue, so if we do the compensation by investing in cleaner technologies elsewhere in the world, that’s a good thing.

To end also on a personal note, could you tell us what do you like most about your work?

I like that my work involves playing a concrete role in reducing the impact of our network of airports on the environment, in the long term. I am very proud of our work, and the fact that with our strategy, we are able to put in place tangible and visible measures that would probably not have been launched without us.