The Greener, The Better

Airports show initiative in getting ahead of the environmental sustainability curve


Still lacking LEED building standards for industry-specific civil construction projects like those at airports, some airport officials have been taking the lead to improve the way environmental sustainability is incorporated into airport construction projects and operational practices. AIRPORT BUSINESS spoke with officials in Denver, Dallas, and Boston about the existing drivers for sustainability, specific strategies and practices related to environmental responsibility, green technologies, and the importance of relating sustainable efforts to the public.

LEED — Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design — is an internationally recognized green building certification system, providing third-party verification that a building or community was designed and built using strategies aimed at improving energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts. It is overseen by the U.S. Green Building Council.

The Transportation Research Board (TRB) conducted an airport sustainability practices survey in 2008 which revealed U.S. airports are implementing a number of initiatives that fit within the definition of sustainability practices. The board defined sustainability practices as airport practices implemented for the purpose of supporting one or more of the following components of sustainable development:

  • Protection of the environment; conservation of natural resources.
  • Social progress that recognizes the needs of all stakeholders.
  • Maintenance of high and stable levels of economic growth and employment.

Many airports are currently focusing on the first component, which relates to building and operating with a ‘green’ philosophy by incorporating technologies and practices designed to reduce energy, conserve resources, and ultimately limit an airport’s environmental footprint.

According to the survey, respondents from large and medium U.S. airports identified energy efficiency, carbon emissions reductions, and green building practices as keys areas of focus regarding sustainability during the next five years. The survey identified the barriers of implementing sustainability as funding, lack of management support, and the absence of an environmental culture in their organization.

Overall, the survey concludes that the airport industry appears to be moving toward more holistic sustainability approaches to their organizations, with most of the emphasis on environmental initiatives.

At Denver, sustainability with attitude
Denver International Airport’s (DIA) tagline ‘sustainability with attitude’ expresses the airport’s commitment and vigorous progression in recent years towards an environmental policy that promotes and encourages continual environmental performance improvement.

“Our environmental management system (EMS) for the airport is the start of all of things sustainable that have happened here since 2004,” says Janell Barrilleaux, director of environmental programs for the city of Denver. An environmental management system is a system that assists in identifying the parts of a business that if not done right, can cause damage to the environment. Once an EMS is in place, an airport builds its program for how it is going to comply with regulatory laws and protect the environment around those significant aspects of the business, relates Barrilleaux.

“When you get certified for the international standard for an EMS, it requires you to set targets for continual improvement that go beyond compliance,” says Barrilleaux.

“When we developed the system, we set sustainability goals. In 2004, you didn’t hear the word sustainability like you do now. I tell people we were doing sustainability before sustainability was cool, because we did it as part of our continual improvement program for our EMS.”

DIA was the first international airport in the U.S. to develop and implement a facility-wide EMS. The airport set targets for energy consumption, conservation, glycol recycling, and more.

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