Chicago Airports' Green Buildings Highlighted for Earth Week

April 19, 2016
The Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA) is celebrating Earth Week by shining the spotlight on many of the sustainability initiatives and accomplishments at O'Hare and Midway International Airports.

The Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA) is celebrating Earth Week by shining the spotlight on many of the sustainability initiatives and accomplishments at O'Hare and Midway International Airports. The CDA is committed to being a good neighbor by reducing its environmental impact on neighboring communities and promoting green practices to millions of passengers who travel through the airports. In the dynamic and constantly evolving landscape at Chicago's airports, the CDA has become a leader for building green.

LEEDing the Way

Over the last decade, the CDA has prioritized green building design and construction on all new airport facilities, including two air traffic control towers, two cargo buildings and a rental car business at O'Hare, as well as a consolidated rental car facility at Midway. In fact, six buildings constructed at Chicago's airports since 2008 have earned U.S. Green Building Council LEED certification and more than 300 projects from runways to terminals have been rated under the CDA Sustainable Airport Manual. The CDA's commitment to sustainable facilities has resulted in reduced emissions, energy usage and waste during construction and after buildings are opened.

FedEx Sort Building

A central element of many of the new green buildings erected at the airports has been the installation of a vegetated green roof. There are 15 structures at O'Hare and Midway with green roofs which together comprise more than eight acres of green roof coverage. The FedEx Sort Building that opened at O'Hare in 2010 has a green roof the size of over three football fields, making it one of the largest green roofs at an airport in the world. Vegetated roofs at airports are practical and cost effective; they increase the life span of the roof; reduce energy use, noise and air emissions; manage the quality and quantity of storm water. The newest green roof at O'Hare is on the base building of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) South Air Traffic Control Tower which opened last fall. The new tower was designed to achieve LEED Gold certification and also includes a geothermal energy system and many other sustainable features. The FAA North Air Traffic Control Tower built in 2008 was the first FAA tower to feature a green roof and the first to achieve U.S. Green Building Council LEED Silver certification.

Green from Top to Bottom

Midway's Consolidated Rental Car Facility is one of the best examples of an airport project that is green in its design, construction and operation as well as in its function to streamline operations and reduce vehicle traffic. The facility earned LEED Silver certification for its many environmentally friendly features including a green roof, solar panels, wind turbines, 100 percent LED lighting, a five-story green wall and an underground detention basin to manage and capture storm water for reuse in car washing. By consolidating the locations and operations of various car rental companies around the airport, the facility's most beneficial environmental impact for the Midway community is the reduction of vehicle congestion, traffic and emissions.

The Best is Yet to Come

The CDA is currently building a new consolidated rental car and public parking facility and extension to O'Hare's people mover system (Airport Transit System or ATS) on the northeast side of the airport. This multi-modal center will serve as a model for how to design and build a green airport facility. The rental car quick turn-around building will feature rainwater harvesting for irrigation and car-washing and a green roof. In moving rental car companies out of dispersed locations and by extending and creating a new people mover station, O'Hare will, for the first time, provide a major access point for travelers at the airport by enhancing ground transportation connectivity. These measures, as well as expanding the ATS vehicle fleet, will reduce vehicle traffic at terminal curbs and eliminate an estimated 1.3 million vehicle trips on terminal roadways each year, resulting in enough energy savings to power over 600 homes every year and in turn lessen O'Hare's environmental impact for all travelers and Chicagoans. The multi-modal facility and people mover extension are scheduled to open in late 2018.