Building on a LEED – sustainability ratings become the gold standard for new airport terminal projects

Building on a LEED – sustainability ratings become the gold standard for new airport terminal projects | LEED

New Delhi International's LEED Gold certified Terminal 3

Mon 18 Apr 2011 – Sustainability is now the name of the game in airport development programmes, says Emanuel Fleuti, Head of Environmental Services at Zurich Airport, but benchmarking it across airports is almost impossible as there is no one size fits all approach. However, many airports in Europe, Asia and the United States are seeking national and international green building labels for their projects, whether an office complex, a humble hangar or a new passenger terminal. Fleuti says such labels can add credibility with the public, users and investors. The US Green Building Council’s LEED environmental star rating has become the standard to which major new airport buildings must aspire. The new Terminal 3 at New Delhi’s Indira Ghandi International has just been awarded a Gold rating and the new Virgin America terminal at San Francisco International, which opened last week, is looking to become the first US airport terminal to achieve the same.


Sustainability has three main criteria to meet: environmental stewardship, economic prosperity and social responsibility, according to Khaled Naja, COO of the Chicago Department of Aviation, and is a “triple bottom line” for his organisation, he adds. In airport terms, Fleuti defines sustainability as reducing environmental impacts and resources demand, enhancing staff and public comfort, and minimising operating and maintenance costs while extending the lifetime of facilities.


He told delegates at an airport environment and sustainability conference held during the recent Passenger Terminal Expo in Copenhagen that there are many sustainability and environmental labels for buildings, and choosing the right one required a degree of pre-planning. Other questions that need to be asked by airports seeking a sustainability rating include:

  • What are the requirements, and can they be met?
  • At what additional investment costs?
  • Is there the commitment?
  • Are all the participants buying in?
  • Are we ready for it?


Zurich Airport’s operator Flughafen Zürich is in the process of developing a major new one billion Swiss Franc project called ‘The Circle’, a 200,000-square-metre building within walking distance of the airport. The futuristic building – construction is due to start in 2012 – will feature a number of different modules containing facilities such as hotels, offices, health services and an events venue. Energy efficiency will be a major focus for the building and Fleuti says the company will go for the voluntary Swiss energy standard Minergie but will also need to comply with national CO2 emissions reduction requirements.


As for an international green label, he says the project will opt for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) with an aspiration of achieving a Gold rating. Although it may be a long-term development, he cautions that around 40% of LEED points are gained during the pre-project phase and additional sustainability measures are most cost-efficient when made during the planning process.


Integrating the LEED process early in the planning phase is a lesson learned by the Port of Oakland, which operates Oakland International Airport, explains Anne Henry, Senior Aviation Project Manager. In December 2009, Oakland was the first US airport to achieve LEED Silver for its new Terminal 2. Since then, San Jose and Los Angeles International have been awarded LEED Silver certification for passenger terminal projects.


The common thread is that all these airports are in California, where there is a commitment to environmental sustainability at state level, and driven by strong airport management at the highest level. Matt Harris, Senior Director at the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, explains his CEO’s command that sustainability has to be a part of the organisation’s DNA.


“By that we mean it is not just an environmental issue but that in every process we do and in every practice or policy we make, we need to think about how the airport sustains itself over time,” he says. In 2010, the one-billion-dollar ‘Green Build’ expansion to Terminal 2 began at San Diego International and Harris says the airport authority is looking for LEED Silver “or better” certification for the terminal. The Green Build’s infrastructure has been designed for optimum efficiency in power and water usage, and construction will involve the use of environmentally sound materials and a recycling programme.


An exception to the US East/West Coast monopoly in focusing on airport sustainability issues is Chicago, where the Department of Aviation (CDA) – which operates O’Hare and Midway airports – has instituted a number of environmental initiatives, driven by the vision of its Commissioner, Rosie Andolino. The CDA has developed the Sustainable Airport Manual which governs all airport planning, design, construction, operating and maintenance functions, and has more than 200 contributors to its open system. “It guides us in everything we do, everyday,” says CDA COO Khaled Naja. A Sustainability Evaluation and Recommendation Team meets weekly to monitor initiatives, ideas and new green products.


The FedEx facility at Chicago O’Hare has four acres (1.6 hectares) of green (or vegetated) roof, the biggest such continuous coverage at any airport in the world and the airport was the first to have an FAA control tower with a green roof. In all, there are 12 green roofs at O’Hare and Midway totalling 232,534 square feet (21,600 sq.m)


CDA has its own ‘Airports Going Green’ website and has organised two conferences under the same name.


Last week, the new T2 terminal opened at San Francisco International and is the new home of Virgin America. Although it will have to wait another six months to find out, the airline is expecting T2 to become the first LEED Gold certified airport terminal in the US. Design elements include large-scale natural light, ventilation systems that require 20% less energy and a reclaimed water re-use programme. Contractors recycled 90% of construction debris from T2. Passengers will find ‘Hydration Stations’ past security that will allow them to fill bottles with drinking water and can take advantage of organic food catering outlets.


With a LEED Silver already in the bag for its corporate headquarters, the airline’s additional investment in sustainable design for its T2 office spaces and ‘Virgin Village teammate lounge’ is aimed at achieving the highest possible LEED Platinum certified status.


A few weeks ago, Air Transat’s headquarters at Montreal Trudeau International Airport became the first building in Canada to obtain the coveted Platinum certification. To qualify, buildings do not necessarily have to be new and the Air Transat award was in the ‘existing buildings’ category as it was originally erected in 2004.


“We are exceedingly proud to have obtained this certification, because it recognises the many efforts we have made to improve our environmental performance,” announced the airline’s President and CEO, Allen Graham. “These efforts have included reducing our energy consumption by 10% and our water use by 40% over the past few years. We have also implemented a waste management system that emphasises composting as well as recycling of metal, glass, plastic and paper. Moreover, our adoption of a green procurements policy has prompted suppliers to offer a wider range of more environmentally friendly products. This certification is the result of painstaking teamwork and is an incentive for us all to continue in the same direction.”


Surprisingly, the first airport to achieve LEED Silver was not in the United States but in India, where Rajiv Gandhi International Airport at Hyderabad was awarded the certification in September 2008. Earlier this month, the new Terminal 3 at New Delhi’s Indira Ghandi International Airport – the eighth largest terminal in the world – went one better when it was awarded LEED Gold by the Indian Green Building Congress, the local chapter of the US Green Building Council. The award recognised the terminal’s sustainability, water efficiency and rain harvesting, energy conservation, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality and innovative design.


“In contrast to the traditional master planning process, we adopted a proactive approach towards environment friendliness,” said IP Rao, CEO of Delhi International Aiport Limited. “T3 is designed to be a national model for passenger-friendly and environmentally responsible airport facilities.”


Other airports in Asia have taken a different route to sustainability certification, although measuring similar criteria. Singapore’s Changi Airport, for example, opted for the national Building Construction Authority’s Green Mark, achieving Gold status in October 2009 for the new Terminal 3.


Although chasing certifications such as LEED can be costly, smaller airports can still undertake sustainability initiatives, although they may require outside funding support. Started in May 2010, the Federal Aviation Administration’s Airport Sustainable Master Plan Pilot Program now has 10 participating airports in different regions in the US. The size of the airports range from Denver International down to Allegheny County Airport in Pennsylvania. All the airports are required to define and measure specific sustainable goals that are relevant to them, such as local air quality, noise or socio-economic issues.


Another tool for US airports looking to develop a sustainable strategy is the Sustainable Aviation Guidance Alliance (SAGA), a broad coalition of aviation interests formed in 2008 to assist airport operators of all sizes in planning, implementing and maintaining a sustainability programme. The objective of SAGA is to consolidate existing sustainable guidelines and practices into a comprehensive, searchable resource that can be tailored to the requirements of individual airports.




Passenger Terminal Expo

US Green Building Council - LEED

Zurich Airport – The Circle

Chicago Department of Aviation – Airports Going Green

Sky Gardens – Green Roofs

Port of Oakland – LEED Silver for Oakland International

San Diego County Regional Airport Authority – The Green Build

Virgin America – SFO T2

BCA Green Mark Scheme

FAA – Airport Sustainability

Sustainable Aviation Guidance Alliance



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