The Sea-tac Experience

An ongoing program gets a reassessment

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.

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