The Sea-tac Experience

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport has kept busy on the environmental front for years, says director of aviation environmental programs Elizabeth Leavitt, who credits the State of Washington’s attitude regarding environmental issues as being key. Sustainability, energy conservation, recycling, wetlands mitigation — they’ve worked on it all.

“We’ve been doing a lot of good work over the last ten years, and we’ve actually decided to take this year to kind of step back and reassess where we’re going from here,” says Leavitt.

“But in the meantime we have kind of an unofficial plan that we’ve been working off of where we think the obvious environmental and cost-beneficial projects are.”

Leavitt, who is also vice chair of Airport Council International’s World Environmental Standing Committee, says that with the cost of fuel going up, sustainability projects are only getting more cost-effective.

Leavitt points to one Sea-Tac initiative that would provide preconditioned air (and eventually electrification) to aircraft at gates, allowing airlines to shut off their engines and auxiliary power units (APUs). At a cost of $31 million, she says, the project will pay for itself in a little over two years.

“I do think the country’s at a place in time when the whole convergence of climate change awareness and the price of fuel is going to make a lot of environmental projects that may have looked marginal really look cost-beneficial far earlier in the game,” comments Leavitt.

The airport has also dealt with a fair amount of wetlands mitigation recently. To make room for a new third runway to open later this year, Sea-Tac filled in 20 acres of wetlands. To mitigate, the airport is creating 113 in-basin acres near the airport, including planting 158,000 native plants, and an additional 65 acres off-site. Miller Creek, which runs through the airport, was also doubled in size and now includes a fish habitat.

Leavitt says most of the airport’s fleet runs on compressed natural gas or on hybrid electric vehicles, and energy consumption has been reduced on the airport by 25 percent. The airport also buys 25 percent of its power from green sources, and is exploring solar power.

The next target, Leavitt says, is airport concessions. She says the airport is trying to bring reps to the table to help concessionaires think about how to green their operation. One option being considered is to use only biodegradable food containers, so that all food service waste can be taken off for compost.

Tenant reactions are mixed. “They’re interested in knowing what we’re going to do to help them cover the cost of that,” Leavitt says. “But some of them have been really pleased that there’s a resource that they can avail themselves of to just do some really basic stuff that helps them save money and be more environmentally friendly in the process. It’s really figuring out a way to partner to the extent that there is an added cost — how do we share that burden.”

Upfront at IND

Indianapolis Airport Authority planned early on to be consistent with LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, making its new terminal more cost-effective at the outset. The authority worked to educate and train local companies and contractors about LEED for use in future projects. Other initiatives:

  • Re-use of old taxiway/roadway material as site fill;
  • Use of high-quality low-E shaded glass to lower air-conditioning/energy use;
  • Use of interior materials to lower the emission of volatile organic compounds;
  • Maximizing natural light;
  • Energy-reflective roof;
  • 90 percent of construction materials used came from within a 500-mile radius of the site.

How it helped Collin County

When Collin County Regional Airport in McKinney, TX needed to relocate its runway, a neighboring town had big plans. Located at the end of the existing runway, the town of Fairview hoped to persuade the airport to turn its new runway 15 degrees.

Molly Waller, environmental planner for consulting company Coffman Associates, headquartered near Kansas City, says environmentally, the town’s plans didn’t hold up. Having worked through the environmental assessment for the airport, Waller says the town’s plans would have impacted more wetlands, flood plain, and noise impacts — not to mention it involved a good deal of land acquisition.

“Through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process, we actually eliminated that alternative as not being reasonable,” says Waller.

The NEPA process seems new to many airports, Waller says, because historically FAA conducted most of an environmental review of a project in-house. But not anymore. “A lot of airports just aren’t really aware of the fact that before they do something on their airport, they have to have some sort of environmental review done,” she says.

“But over the past six weeks I’ve put together six categorical exclusion letters for airports that kind of got hit at the last minute. Even if a private developer is putting a hangar on your airport — if it’s changing that airport layout plan, it’s going to have to have some sort of NEPA done on it.”

“More attention’s being paid to the NEPA process,” comments Waller. “The FAA Airports Division recently released FAA Order 5050.4-B, which outlines the environmental requirements.”

At Collin County, the process actually helped ward off controversy from the Fairview community, which requested a legal review of the environmental assessment. The courts found the existing assessment to be legally sufficient. The town has since withdrawn its claim.

BOS initiatives
Airport, FBO on the sustainability track

The Massachusetts Port Authority recently launched a series of environmental initiatives to reduce the carbon footprint of its operations, enhance its environmental stewardship, and give customers options that can reduce their impact on the environment. At the same time, Boston Logan’s fixed base operator, Signature Flight Support, was awarded LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification for its new 19,800-square foot Executive Terminal.

Comments Massport CEO and executive director Thomas J. Kinton Jr., “We have already done a lot, but in an age of rising global temperatures and rising oil prices, we must do more.”

Boston recently opened its Terminal A, the world’s first airport terminal to be LEED-certified by the U.S. Green Building Council. Massport is planning to purchase renewable energy credits so that by the end of CY2009, all of the electricity the authority uses for its own operations will be offset through the purchase of those credits. The authority also will purchase additional renewable energy credits to offset other carbon emissions, such as those from Massport vehicles. This will allow the operations of the authority to be carbon neutral. It also will exceed the governor’s Leading by Example Executive Order to procure 15 percent of the authority’s electricity from renewable resources and beat, by two years, the goal of doing so by 2012.

The Signature FBO’s LEED-certified terminal was designed by SchenkelShultz Architecture of Orlando, a leading green designer. The firm, in conjunction with Chan Krieger Sieniewicz, Cambridge, MA, designed the two-story glass and metal-panel terminal and ground support equipment facilities. The facility incorporates sustainable architectural design features, environmentally friendly building products, energy-efficient systems, and sensitive construction practices.