The Greener, The Better

July 23, 2009
Airports show initiative in getting ahead of the environmental sustainability curve

Still lacking LEED building standards for industry-specific civil construction projects like those at airports, some airport officials have been taking the lead to improve the way environmental sustainability is incorporated into airport construction projects and operational practices. AIRPORT BUSINESS spoke with officials in Denver, Dallas, and Boston about the existing drivers for sustainability, specific strategies and practices related to environmental responsibility, green technologies, and the importance of relating sustainable efforts to the public.

LEED — Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design — is an internationally recognized green building certification system, providing third-party verification that a building or community was designed and built using strategies aimed at improving energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts. It is overseen by the U.S. Green Building Council.

The Transportation Research Board (TRB) conducted an airport sustainability practices survey in 2008 which revealed U.S. airports are implementing a number of initiatives that fit within the definition of sustainability practices. The board defined sustainability practices as airport practices implemented for the purpose of supporting one or more of the following components of sustainable development:

  • Protection of the environment; conservation of natural resources.
  • Social progress that recognizes the needs of all stakeholders.
  • Maintenance of high and stable levels of economic growth and employment.

Many airports are currently focusing on the first component, which relates to building and operating with a ‘green’ philosophy by incorporating technologies and practices designed to reduce energy, conserve resources, and ultimately limit an airport’s environmental footprint.

According to the survey, respondents from large and medium U.S. airports identified energy efficiency, carbon emissions reductions, and green building practices as keys areas of focus regarding sustainability during the next five years. The survey identified the barriers of implementing sustainability as funding, lack of management support, and the absence of an environmental culture in their organization.

Overall, the survey concludes that the airport industry appears to be moving toward more holistic sustainability approaches to their organizations, with most of the emphasis on environmental initiatives.

At Denver, sustainability with attitude
Denver International Airport’s (DIA) tagline ‘sustainability with attitude’ expresses the airport’s commitment and vigorous progression in recent years towards an environmental policy that promotes and encourages continual environmental performance improvement.

“Our environmental management system (EMS) for the airport is the start of all of things sustainable that have happened here since 2004,” says Janell Barrilleaux, director of environmental programs for the city of Denver. An environmental management system is a system that assists in identifying the parts of a business that if not done right, can cause damage to the environment. Once an EMS is in place, an airport builds its program for how it is going to comply with regulatory laws and protect the environment around those significant aspects of the business, relates Barrilleaux.

“When you get certified for the international standard for an EMS, it requires you to set targets for continual improvement that go beyond compliance,” says Barrilleaux.

“When we developed the system, we set sustainability goals. In 2004, you didn’t hear the word sustainability like you do now. I tell people we were doing sustainability before sustainability was cool, because we did it as part of our continual improvement program for our EMS.”

DIA was the first international airport in the U.S. to develop and implement a facility-wide EMS. The airport set targets for energy consumption, conservation, glycol recycling, and more.

Some of the airport’s target goals include maintaining a deicing fluid collection efficiency of 69 percent, and an increase in alternatively fueled light-duty vehicles to 70 percent.

“Everything we do has a sustainability component to it,” explains Barrilleaux. “It’s not really investing in sustainability projects, it’s looking at how you do business today, and looking at it through a sustainability lens.

“Whenever we embark on a new building project, we look at how we are going to design it, build it, and operate it to minimize the impact on the environment, reduce our costs where we can, and provide social benefit to the surrounding communities.”

DIA has two LEED accredited engineers at the airport who look at all construction plans and evaluate them for building in accordance with LEED Silver criteria, says Barrilleaux.

“Many of our individual specs for electrical and mechanical systems are embedded with technical specifications requirements that are consistent with LEED criteria,” says Barrilleaux.

“I would guess that at least 70 percent of what we do here, with respect to conserving resources and changing the way we do business, costs us nothing and saves us money. Clearly, when you talk about capital investment in equipment or materials, there is a cost; but when you look at the return on investment, in light of rising fuel, electricity, and utility costs, it does cost us money initially with the anticipation that it will save us money in the future.”

To date, DIA has tracked a $1.7 million cost avoidance through on-site deicing fluid recycling; $110,000 in savings for solid waste recycling; and a gasoline and diesel use reduction that saved more than $160,000 in 2008. Initiatives for 2009 include an organics pilot program; testing of a new hydrogen system in gasoline vehicles; and the replacement of gasoline only vehicles with dual gas/electric or gas/compressed natural gas (CNG) hybrids.

DIA continues to develop and implement sustainability programs, including a 7.5-acre solar farm installed last year, and participation in the Global Reporting Initiative and Sustainable Guidelines for Airports program (GRI).

The GRI airports sector supplement development provides an international framework where organizations and businesses can report their performance against specific sustainability targets, says Barrilleaux. “It establishes a baseline, the G3 guidelines. GRI has developed indicators that are specific to airports so we can report what the community needs to know about our sustainability programs,” she says.

“By the end of 2010, we will have helped develop the international indicator parameters that airports across the world can report their sustainability performance against.”

The solar farm consists of more than 9,200 panels that generate more than three million kilowatt hours of electricity per year. Designed and built by WorldWater & Solar Technologies, the solar array expanse cost $13 million, but will reduce the airport’s carbon emissions by as much as five million pounds per year, according to airport officials.

DIA is also involved in the revision of the City of Chicago’s Sustainable Design manual, relates Barrilleaux, and airports will be able to utilize that document as a guide towards their own sustainability initiatives or programs.

“We are interested in sharing our strategies with other businesses; airports have been doing a lot of great things, we just haven’t been promoting them enough,” says Barrilleaux.

“We need to share our story with the community; that’s why we started sending out press releases ... to educate our business partners and the flying community about what we are doing here. Transparency is important, and we need to tell people what we are doing well.”

Massport’s Mission
Like DIA, Boston Logan Inter-national Airport also follows an EMS policy and has developed its own sustainability guidelines, according to Catherine Wetherell, Massport’s deputy director of capital programs and environmental affairs. The airport authority has also worked very closely with Chicago’s O’Hare on its sustainability guidelines.

“Chicago’s guidelines primarily relate to airfield projects and horizontal work,” says Wetherell. “Our guidelines are more heavily related to vertical work, such as facility construction; and we are on a working group with O’Hare and a few other airports to expand Chicago’s sustainability manual to include sustainable strategies for vertical construction.

“We are looking forward to partnering with Chicago, and seeing if we can incorporate some of their successes with sustainable horizontal construction, and also sharing some of our successes on the vertical with them.

“That’s one of the great things about airports; there is so much resource sharing. We don’t really compete directly, so there’s no disincentive to sharing good environmental strategies and information. We are learning from each other’s mistakes,” explains Wetherell.

Sustainability is core to Massport’s mission, says Wetherell. “We are committed to LEED certification; and Logan’s terminal A, completed in 2005, was the first LEED-certified airport terminal in the world. Some sustainable features of that project include a reflective roof, natural daylighting, and water and energy conservation technologies.”

Additional sustainability initiatives at Logan include a landside CNG facility and a CNG bus fleet which has logged more than 13 million clean miles on CNG. The airport also works with the taxi companies of Boston in terms of encouraging hybrid vehicles. Wetherell says the airport offers a preferred parking program for people who drive hybrid vehicles in its parking garages.

“We have also located 20 micro wind turbines on our Logan office center building,” says Wetherell. “We are currently looking for other applications for the micro turbines as well.

“Regarding some of our projects that are in the planning phase, we have a real strong commitment to installing renewable energy resources.

“We are currently trying to partner with some of our state agencies in terms of developing solar power. We have committed the use of solar panel technology for our terminal B parking garage, which will offset about 2.5 percent of the load for that facility, and is expected to be installed by the end of this year.”

Wetherell says that Massport has long been supportive of demonstration projects and partnering with other agencies in getting grant money. “Quite honestly, I think people understand the value of sustainability. Some customers are demanding greener facilities, or for those types of assets to become important in decisionmaking,” she says.

Going Green in Dallas
“We started getting into the green business pretty heavily when the city was toying with the idea of making all buildings that were more than 10,000 square feet required to be LEED Silver certified,” says Dr. Steven Peacock, environmental manager for the aviation department of the city of Dallas.

“When we started building the new terminal and tower facilities at Dallas Executive Airport, it was very much from the ground up, a LEED-qualified building, and was completed in 2006,” says Peacock. “We put in 20,000-gallon underground storage tanks to collect stormwater; the building also has various awnings around it which allows for efficient stormwater collection.

Those kinds of things are what we are looking at with the modernization project at Love Field.”

Recent environmentally sustainable initiatives at Dallas Love Field include an extensive recycling program of more than 20 different categories of material; solar-powered pumps at maintenance fueling stations; conversion of more than 250 high intensity lights to compact fluorescent bulbs, resulting in more than $70,000 in energy savings each year; and more than 90 percent of the airport’s ground support equipment is currently electrically powered.

“One big project at Love Field we are undertaking is the conversion of all our taxiway and edge lighting to Siemen’s LED technology,” explains Peacock. “It is a little more expensive, but the amperage is minuscule, and we anticipate a considerable amount of energy savings.”

Regarding the Love Field modernization project, the new terminal will have a tremendous amount of natural lighting — almost all of the north part of the terminal and the concourse will be glass, says Peacock.

“We were considering a green roof but we decided to go with the highly reflective ‘cool’ roof,” he says. The cool roof area will be a total of 375,605 square feet, on top of which will be a planned solar installation.

Cool roofs are made with material that reflect the sun’s rays, drastically reducing a facility’s roof surface temperature. According to Peacock, solar systems being considered for the modernization project include solar louvers, a system which costs nearly $1 million, but with tax credits and rebates can be reduced to less than half of that.

The modernization program is expected to be complete in 2014 at a cost of some $515 million, not including an automated people mover.

O’Hare Shows Airports How To ‘Get Green’

The ‘Getting to Green with New Construction Projects’ session at this year’s annual AAAE convention in Philadelphia featured a presentation by City of Chicago Department of Aviation commissioner Rosemarie Andolino. The O’Hare Modernization Program (OMP) team is seen as leading the effort to standardize best practices and lessons learned regarding environmental sustainability at airports. By sharing their own success, and by soliciting information from like-minded environmentally conscious airport operators, the OMP teams look to create sustainable design guidelines for use across the industry.

“We are committed to employing the most progressive and most innovative sustainable design measures in the industry,” says Andolino.

“We unveiled our OMP sustainable design (SD) manual in 2003; since then, we have been invited to share our information with other cities and airports across the nation and around the world who have sought our assistance in how they too can incorporate sustainable design initiatives, especially in flatwork [airfield construction].”

The SD manual is distributed to all of the OMP’s design and construction contractors, as well as any team member working on the program, so that it can be implemented from day one.

Andolino says the best way to not allow sustainability to cost more money is to incorporate it from the beginning. “We have developed a rating system along with the manual as a way to measure our successes,” she says. “The rating system is very similar to the LEED rating system, and it recognizes our designers and contractors for their accomplishments.”

“In my new role as aviation commissioner, I see an opportunity to build on our airport’s existing green initiatives for operations and maintenance. I look forward to learning from other airports and incorporating further sustainability measures into our program, including more LED lighting and energy-efficient equipment, expanding our recycling and water conservation efforts, and creating a green concession program. These efforts will support long-term cost savings for the city as well as for the airlines.

“We are currently assembling a select group of industry experts to update our sustainable design manual, which will incorporate best practices and lessons learned during phase one of the OMP. The new manual will also include advances in technology as well as relevant updates from the next generation of LEED standards.