Enhancing Capacity & Sustainability

Damon Fordham

Sustainability planning and management for airports is not a new concept. That said, as airports undertake projects to enhance capacity, many are realizing quantifiable benefits—including cost savings—by incorporating sustainability into their projects. 

Sustainability efforts on their own, independent of other projects, have a range of documented benefits, including:

  • Increased Revenue: Airports can generate renewable energy on unused land or roof space.
  • Social Capital: Leadership in sustainability improves relationships with community members and other stakeholders.
  • Regulatory Cooperation: A proactive approach to environmental stewardship can facilitate environmental approvals and permitting.
  • Facilitating Innovation: Sustainability projects in one area can spark innovations in other areas, such as streamlining operations or encouraging employee well-being.

Damon Fordham  

Damon Fordham is a principal within the Sustainable Transportation Practice at Cadmus Group. The firm has extensive experience supporting sustainability projects for various organizations, including airports and other state, local and federal transportation agencies. This article was based on research conducted by Cadmus for the Airport Cooperative Research Program (ACRP) Synthesis 93, Sustainability’s Role in Enhancing Airport Capacity.

By including sustainability with capacity-enhancement projects, airports can also realize dramatic cost savings. Savings can result from reduced operating costs, reduced maintenance costs, increased employee retention and productivity, increased reuse or conservation of resources, and avoided environmental mitigation costs. 

First-Hand Examples

San Diego International Airport (SAN) has been a leader in sustainability efforts for several years. In 2013, SAN completed its Green Build, which expanded and updated several aspects of Terminal 2.

As part of that project, SAN incorporated photovoltaic solar panels to produce renewable energy. It also maximized energy efficiency and reduced water and energy consumption. 

In 2014, SAN became the first airport terminal in the world to achieve platinum-level Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. It also earned the Envision Platinum Award from the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure. In total, SAN’s Green Build project has won 41 awards for achievements in areas such as small disadvantaged business outreach, sustainability, public relations and construction.

Read more about the project at: san.org/Airport-Projects/The-Green-Build 

Chicago became the first city in the United States to issue sustainability guidelines for an airport when the Chicago Department of Aviation released its Sustainable Design Manual in 2003. O’Hare International Airport (ORD) put the guidelines into practice during the relocation of a FedEx facility to make room for a new runway as part of its comprehensive airfield modernization program. 

The new FedEx building is LEED gold certified and features a 175,000-square-foot green roof—the largest green roof at a U.S. airport as of 2017. The result? The facility has saved 30% in heating, ventilation and air conditioning costs compared with the previous facility. 

That’s not all ORD is doing. Currently, it is implementing green construction, a variety of vegetated roofs, sustainability efforts within the terminals, resource conservation and much more. A recent mandate requires that all new gates use preconditioned air and 400 Hz power, to shift away from auxiliary power units and ground power units that produce diesel and Jet A emissions.

Read about efforts at Chicago’s airports here:  flychicago.com/community/environment/Pages/default.aspx 

Beyond these examples, there are many other ways to incorporate sustainability into capacity-enhancing projects, and many different strategies for leveraging the benefits of sustainability that can be tailored to individual airports.

Getting Started

Combining sustainability with capacity-enhancement yields valuable benefits. Don’t know where to begin? Consider the following:

  • Incorporating sustainability initiatives into projects in the early planning stages can save money from a lifecycle cost perspective, sometimes with a very short payback. 
  • Benchmarking sustainability performance allows airport operators to quantify their performance and track improvements. Using an independent third party to establish a benchmark can help compare performance with peer airports and other industries. 
  • Forging collaborative and lasting relationships with airport stakeholders can inform innovative sustainability solutions and generate buy-in for capacity-enhancing projects. 
  • Strong executive direction and a culture of sustainability, supported by meaningful sustainability policies, can lead to the successful integration of sustainability in capacity-enhancing projects. 


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