Chicago airport authority outlines comprehensive plan to meet ambitious environmental targets

Chicago airport authority outlines comprehensive plan to meet ambitious environmental targets | Chicago O'Hare,Chicago Department of Aviation,Andolino,O'Hare

(photo: CDA)

Fri 18 Jan 2013 - The Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA) has issued a report – entitled ‘A Sustainable Path’ – that details how it intends to meet a number of environmental targets by 2015 at the city’s two major commercial airports, O’Hare and Midway. The targets include significant savings in energy consumption, a far better recycling record on waste and the introduction of low-emission vehicles. The initiative is part of the citywide ‘Sustainable Chicago 2015’ announced by Chicago Mayor and former White House Chief-of-Staff, Rahm Emanuel. Through its contribution to the agenda’s wide-ranging goals, the CDA aims to establish the two airports as industry leaders in sustainability. It has already introduced a number of innovative environmental initiatives, such as the implementation of eight acres (3.2ha) of green roof space at O’Hare, the most of any US airport.


In her preface to the report, CDA Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino said the department had “fully embraced sustainability”. She added: “Going green at Chicago’s airports is part of our core mission and is embedded into the culture at the CDA.”


The department is able to draw on a track record of sustainable airport innovation in pursuit of its new goals. In 2003, when planning a significant expansion of O’Hare, the CDA created the Sustainable Design Manual (SDM), which developed sustainability guidelines for airport design and construction. In 2010, this was expanded to cover areas such as operations, maintenance and services in a best practice document called the Sustainable Airport Manual (SAM). The SAM has since been adopted by a number of airports, both in the US and internationally.


The guidelines from the SAM have now been consolidated and added to in the CDA’s sustainability objectives for 2015. Specifically, the targets in the report focus on five areas: energy, natural resources, waste, ground transportation and community.


The document contains ambitious targets for reductions in some key areas in the next three years. At both O’Hare and Midway, the CDA has set 2015 targets to cut energy consumption by 15%, the amount of waste sent to landfill reduced to 50% and to introduce low-emissions vehicles across 20% of its ground fleet.


To help achieve these goals, the CDA is planning some significant and highly visible infrastructure projects. It hopes to install 52 acres (21ha) of photovoltaic cells at O’Hare, providing enough solar energy to power either the airport’s transit system, 10% of the airport’s lighting or its main parking lot. It also wants to construct Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs) at both airports. These would take waste from the airports, their tenants and the airlines using them and would ensure that as little of it as possible goes to landfill by employing recycling, composting and the conversion of grease into biodiesel.


Not all the changes are quite so high profile. The CDA has already made savings of $600,000 annually simply by optimising the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems in Terminal 5 and the airport administration building at O’Hare. It also plans to work towards the replacement of polystyrene in food packaging with materials that are more recyclable or compostable.


Throughout the report, the CDA stresses the need for a balance between environmental initiatives and the continued economic competitiveness of its airports. It claims that the recent expansion of O’Hare has added 195,000 jobs and $18 billion to the local economy. O’Hare and Midway handled 85 million passengers in 2011, and O’Hare is the world’s second largest airport in terms of aircraft movements, with nearly 880,000 annually.


“As our airports continue to evolve and grow, so too will their efficiency and economic output,” said Andolino in the report. “We will keep challenging ourselves and capitalise on opportunities to make our airports even greener; and we will strive to lead by example in the global aviation industry and beyond.”


Despite the initiatives outlined by the CDA, it admits that meeting its sustainability goals presents a serious challenge. For example, the report says that a “fundamental shift” in the CDA’s handling of waste is needed if it is to meet its goal of reducing the amount of waste sent to landfill to 50% by 2015 and 75% by 2020. According to the figures provided in the report for 2012, only 9% of the airport’s waste was diverted from landfill for that year.


This is the second annual sustainability report issued by the CDA, and the first issued since Mayor Emanuel announced his Sustainable Chicago 2015 Action Agenda last year.



Chicago Department of Aviation’s annual sustainability report for 2012
Sustainable Chicago 2015 Action Agenda



Article by Edward Donaldson-Balan



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