Sustainability as a Guiding Principle

One of the world’s busiest airports aims to be a leader in sustainability

By Scott Morrissey, Senior Vice President for Sustainability | Denver International Airport (DEN)

Like many large airports, Denver International Airport’s scale and activity levels present a number of sustainability opportunities. By defining “Sustainability and Resiliency” as one of four guiding principles within our “Vision 100” Strategic Plan, DEN has developed a framework to consider the impact of all business decisions in a sustainability context and to demonstrate our values to the communities we serve. Vision 100 represents a significant moment in DEN’s history, as we prepare our facilities for 100 million annual passengers within the next few years.

While sustainability has long been a top priority for Denver International Airport, under the leadership of CEO Phil Washington, we have continued to strategically advance our aim to be one of the most sustainable airports in the world.

Environmental Management System

DEN’s sustainability performance starts with our ISO 14001-certified Environmental Management System (EMS), which has been in place since 2004 and provides a strong foundation for performance through proactive planning for all environmental risks and opportunities. The EMS contains annual goals, strategies and procedures across seven objectives (Air Quality and Climate, Energy, Land Protection, Sustainable Development, Waste Reduction, Water Quality and Water Use), and builds accountability through annual internal and external audits and a commitment to continuous improvement.

Planning for Growth

DEN is already one of the world’s busiest airports and hosted nearly 78 million passengers in 2023. We know that sustainable growth can present challenges; as airports grow, their environmental impacts tend to grow at a similar pace.

We have made a commitment to our community that we will work to decouple environmental impacts from growth as we progress on long-term goals like net zero emissions by 2040 and are already making progress with a scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions reduction that nearly matches the almost 50% increase in passengers since 2013.

There’s no clearer sign of DEN’s growth than the 39 new gates that have opened since late 2020. As with all DEN construction, the new gates were designed and constructed to the United States Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold standard. Although the certification process is not complete, we expect at least one of the new concourse expansion projects will ultimately be certified at LEED Platinum. These projects will join DEN’s existing high-performance building portfolio that includes a LEED Silver Data Center, LEED Gold Concourse C West expansion, LEED Gold Fire Station 35 and LEED Platinum airport-owned Westin hotel, which sits directly above an electric commuter rail that opened in 2016 and transports passengers to and from downtown Denver.

Energy Performance Contract

Although it is exciting to open sustainable new facilities, DEN also recognizes that we have millions of existing square feet that we need to bring to a similar level of efficiency.  In 2022, DEN kicked off an $83 million Energy Performance Contract that is the largest efficiency project in Colorado history and is projected to reduce DEN’s overall energy use by 20%, water use by 30% and greenhouse gas emissions by 30,000 metric tons annually through lighting upgrades, restroom water improvements and a new Energy Management Controls System. To DEN’s goal of decoupling growth from environmental impacts, our efficient new construction and EPC project have already allowed DEN to recognize a water use reduction of more than 100 million gallons from 2022-23.

Solar Energy

In addition to energy efficiency, DEN is also well-known for its commitment to renewable energy. In 2008, it became one of the first airports to host a large-scale solar photovoltaic array, a highly visible two-megawatt (MW) system on Peña Boulevard, the main access road to the airport. Since then, several other solar projects have been constructed on DEN property, totaling more than 35 MW of generation over 150 acres with another 13 MW solar array scheduled to be energized later this year. DEN has also diversified our solar portfolio, with rooftop arrays, “Community Solar Gardens,” subscriptions to utility-owned projects and a solar-powered battery energy storage system coming online this summer that will provide backup power and microgrid controls for our inter-concourse train system.


At facilities as complex as airports, waste reduction takes many forms. In addition to municipal solid waste diversion activities like airport-wide recycling, composting and donation programs, DEN also has comprehensive programs to proactively manage unique waste streams like aircraft deicing fluid.

For a cold-weather airport like DEN, aircraft deicing is critical to maintaining safety, efficiency and reliability during the winter months. To mitigate the risks associated with deicing activities, DEN maintains a robust stormwater management system that collects an average of 70 percent of the deicing fluid applied to aircraft during each winter season. Once collected, DEN has a newly reconstructed on-site glycol recycling facility that can reclaim the spent propylene glycol to a standard that it can be blended back into deicing fluid and reapplied to aircraft in a closed loop. What could have been a significant environmental liability is turned into a commodity that reduces the emissions associated with manufacturing and transporting new deicing fluid, localizes and strengthens supplies and reduces costs throughout the value chain.


DEN is lucky to be part of an extremely collaborative aviation sustainability community, with so many airports willing to share best practices and lessons learned as they take sustainability to greater heights in response to unique community priorities. Denver is a community focused on sustainability, and as a municipally owned and operated airport, DEN actively participates in the sustainability programs championed by the administration of Mayor Mike Johnston. In an effort to be more transparent with our community and other stakeholders, DEN released our first-ever Environmental, Social and Governance report last year, which details our progress toward meeting Denver’s ambitious sustainability goals. This combination of top-down and bottom-up support puts DEN in a unique position to promote sustainability as a key business value that will drive airport success long into the future.


Scott Morrissey
Senior Vice President of Sustainability
Denver International Airport

Scott Morrissey is the Senior Vice President for Sustainability at Denver International Airport. In this role, he is responsible for developing and improving systems that support the cost-effective achievement of DEN’s sustainability goals through strategic management of the Environmental, Energy Management, and Noise teams.