Walk the Green Talk

Chicago Department of Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino shares airports can launch a successful green journey

Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA) Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino walks the green talk. From goats and llama lawn maintenance to green roofs, apiaries and environmentally friendly concessions and earth moving, the CDA, under her guidance, stays on sustainability’s bleeding edge.

Andolino admits she’s always looking for new ways to be green, both at work and at home. She recycles her grocery bags, uses energy efficient lighting, turns the water off while brushing her teeth, and washes her clothes at night—in cold water no less. “Being part of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s overall sustainability vision is something I take very seriously both at work and at home,” she says.

Airport Business recently talked sustainability with this innovative leader of two airports—Chicago O’Hare International Airport and Chicago Midway International Airport—both of which have led the way to greater airport sustainability nationally and abroad.


Q For many people, the word sustainability calls to mind bricks and mortar and green construction, but when you look at what the CDA is doing, it’s clear it’s far more than that. Can you talk about what sustainability means to airports?

A Most people think sustainability is only about green buildings and vertical construction. But how do you build a massive earthwork project in a sustainable manner? Runways are just thicker roads; they are a 3-foot cross-section of earth, asphalt and concrete. When we build roads we should think sustainability too; the use of warm mix asphalt, recycling aggregate, and minimizing the amount of dirt we haul offsite. If you think about all of the greenfield sites created to support new housing developments, commercial centers, industrial parks or office buildings, all of those projects had to have roads, storm water management systems, and water mains. But as everyone looked to build these structures in a sustainable manner, few were looking for those horizontal movements to be sustainable. That is starting to change.


Q What should an airport’s sustainability goals really be?

A Minimizing the impacts to your community and on the built environment. For me sustainability is like safety. It should be inherent. You wouldn’t say, ‘Oh you’re building a runway, will it be safe? It’s expected that you’re building that runway in the safest manner possible and that it’s going to meet all safety requirements. It should be the same with sustainability. Here, those two things go hand and hand in whatever we do. Safety is first and foremost, and sustainability is right up there with it.

Going above and beyond, that’s where I believe sustainability tries to push us. It pushes us to be good neighbors and to employ the best practices and technologies that give us the best return on investment (ROI).

But ROI can be evaluated in many ways. Is it the financial benefits? Is it the community buy-in and support? Is it the marketing and the goodwill and the accolades you get for going above and beyond? One of our initiatives truly reflects this concept. For our apiary we worked with an organization called Sweet Beginnings, with the North Lawndale Employment Network. This organization trains ex-offenders to cultivate and harvest honey. We brought 50 beehives out to undisturbed areas around the airport. Sweet Beginnings members harvest the honey and produce products from it. Our concessionaires and retailers use the honey and sell the products. This project hits the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit. It helps the bees, which are in jeopardy; it helps a disadvantaged population of workers; and it produces a product for profit.


Q How did you build a team that puts sustainability up there with safety?

This content continues onto the next page...

We Recommend