San Diego International Airport’s “It” Factor

The oceanside airport puts the finishing touches on a $907 million project that showcases exactly why green is in fashion for airport construction and operations


Nearly a decade before green became the new “it” factor in the construction and building operations world, San Diego International Airport (SAN) President/CEO Thella Bowens remarked that sustainability needed to become part of the organization’s DNA.

Today, as this oceanside airport puts the finishing touches on the largest improvement project in its 85-year history, it’s safe to say sustainable DNA flows readily through the facility as it works with nature rather than against it.

The $907 million Green Build, which opened in August, features 10 new gates, a tighter and more efficient security system, a state-of-the-art baggage system, easier airport access and a revamped shopping hub at Terminal 2 West. Largely billed as a means of expanding airport operations, creating jobs and improving the passenger experience, the new construction has at its core an impressive environmentally friendly design that will boost sustainability and cut operations costs throughout its life.

In fact, going green might very well nab this project, four years in the making, the gold—LEED Gold. Bowens points out the airport’s sustainability policy mandates that every facility the airport builds or renovates attain at least a Silver LEED rating from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), she then adds the Green Build project likely exceeded this goal.

“It now looks like we will get at least a Gold rating,” she explains. “But we won’t hear from the USGBC until mid-2014.”

When this recognition comes their way, San Diego will join the elite company of the few airports in the nation holding Gold certification. But as notable as this achievement is, it’s important to note this is not the first time the airport has attained this recognition. Its long-standing sustainability commitment has nabbed LEED Gold for the airport authority’s facilities management building and the airport’s receiving and distribution facility. What’s more, in the near future, the airport will bring on a fixed-based operation facility that is expected to achieve Platinum certification.

All of this is possible because of a sustainability commitment that runs from the top down, says Bryan Enarson, San Diego International Airport vice president of development. “As a public agency we have a responsibility to be good stewards of the environment,” he says. “Doing things where you use recycled materials, lower water usage, and conserve energy all play into improving and helping the environment.”

 

Easy Being Green

The push to green this airport, situated on 661 acres just two miles northwest of San Diego’s downtown, actually began long before the airport embarked on its latest construction journey, reports Paul Manasjan, environmental affairs director at San Diego County Regional Airport Authority.

“We realized years ago that airports are very much in the public eye and we needed to take a leadership role in reducing our carbon footprint,” he says.

However, simply deciding to become more sustainable wasn’t enough. As Manasjan explains the airport authority needed to first define what it meant for an airport to be sustainable. The resulting definition took the three-legged stool concept of traditional sustainability, where one leg represents environmental responsibility; another, social factors; and the third, economic considerations; and added a fourth leg defined as operational. The resulting acronym, EONS, which stands for Economic Viability, Operational Excellence, Natural Resource Conservation and Social Responsibility, is designed to guide the airport along its sustainable path.

Airport officials then developed strategies to incorporate the EONS concept into their facilities. They joined the San Diego Regional Sustainability Partnership, educated management and senior staff on the need for greater sustainability, then developed a sustainability policy.

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