Sustainability; Best Practices

Industry seeks airport-specific guidelines; meanwhile, some get ahead of the curve

While LEED remains to be the source for rating sustainable initiatives at airports, industry members question whether or not an airport-specific association would be a better business tactic. The current evaluation systems for sustainable practices — if the practices are even recognized — vary on a site-to-site basis even though initiatives that were once considered environmentally friendly, but financially risky, are now a point of interest in terms of saving on the bottom line. As a result of fast-paced information sharing, airport managers no longer have to speculate and wait for the next conference to share statistical data. Now they have the ability to find quick answers to big decisions. It’s no longer a matter of when to go green or why? The question now is, how best to go green?

According to sources within the industry, the idea of airports “going green” is still in its early stages; however, as the industry continues on a path that calls for greater sustainability, the age of information is making it easier to share successful business practices.

“Airports in general are in their infancy,” says Jim Crites, executive vice president of operations for Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. “But airports are rapidly acquiring a keen understanding and appreciation for what we’re now starting to understand to be sustainability.”

According to Crites, airports are on a steep learning curve as a result of information sharing. By utilizing the Web and other mechanisms, airports are becoming more action-oriented now that it is easier to disseminate and take advantage of lessons learned at other locations.

Many airports’ current practices would be considered sustainable, says Cheryl Koshuta, chief environmental officer for the Port of Portland. The pitfall is coming as a result of the airports’ lack of recognition. Koshuta cites energy conservation measures — which many airports have been looking at implementing for years — as a cornerstone of a sustainable program that may not be recognized. According to Koshuta, sustainability is something that most airports are looking at or aware of, but most are trying to understand what it means to their business.

“The industry is in flux right now,” says Koshuta. “Because the [sustainability] concept is different for each airport, the program really needs to reflect the environmental and social conditions of that particular airport. There is no cookbook or checklist that would enable you to compare one [airport] against another, but it is definitely a trend that is beginning to gain momentum.

LEED — the right direction?
As of today, the closest thing to that airport checklist is the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building rating system from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). A facility can earn various levels of LEED certification by attaining a number of points based on the sustainability and performance of a building during its lifecycle.

According to Koshuta, the whole concept of the LEED standard is just one small segment, albeit an important one, in terms of what sustainability needs to be at airports. “The current LEED standard does not work well with airports,” says Koshuta. “There is definitely a need to look at a modification or specificity for airports.”

Koshuta states that one example of LEED criteria falling short concerns the points a facility can earn for density. “The [LEED] idea is to not encourage sprawl,” says Koshuta. “[Criterion] like that doesn’t really reflect the reality of what we’re trying to do at an airport.”

“I don’t think that airports were individually evaluated by the US Green Building Council when they came up with their system,” says Greta Hawvermale, assistant project director for the midfield terminal project at Indianapolis International Airport. “I think it is more geared to office buildings, so it has been challenging from an airport perspective to attain all the points that you really want.”

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