From Sea To Shining Sea: Greener Airports Across The Nation

It’s no secret that air travel itself comes with a fairly hefty ecological tab. (In fact, according to the carbon offset service TerraPass, one round-trip direct flight from San Francisco to New York City racks up over 2,000 pounds of greenhouse gases.) But increasingly, airports themselves are taking measures to decrease the carbon footprint of their day-to-day operations, if not the amount of fuel expended in the course of a cross-country flight.

This efforts, largely, have taken two forms: LEED certification and solar power (and, in some cases, both).

SFO Terminal 2

SFO Terminal 2

One the of the highest-profile cases of green building certification is San Francisco International Airport’s new Terminal 2, which gained LEED Gold certification last spring, just in time for its first commercial flight. Built to house Virgin America’s Bay Area operations, SFO’s $383 million renovation of Terminal 2 was the first LEED-registered airport project, and one of the first airport terminals in the world to gain green building certification through the U.S. Green Building Council. Its green features include natural daylighting, improved ventilation, composting and recycling receptacles, low-flow water fixtures, and energy-efficient lighting and machinery. The building was constructed with sustainable building materials, including terrazzo flooring with recycled glass chips, recycled-content carpet and structural steel.

This is Virgin America we’re talking about, though, so the gee-whiz doesn’t end there: Terminal 2 also features a food court featuring local, organic vendors and producers — including restaurants by noted Bay Area chefs — more computer connections, a free “hydration station” for refilling bottles with tap water (post-security), and a kids’ play area.

SFO’s Terminal 2 LEED Gold certification came hot on the heels of Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC)’s LEED Silver certification for its brand-new Terminal B, making the regional trend in California pretty clear.

Winnipeg terminal

image via Pelli Clarke Pelli

In the South, we’ve seen both the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) in Georgia and the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport (CHA) in Tennessee take LEED certification, the former at the Silver level for its new Maynard H. Jackson International Terminal, the latter at the Platinum for its corporate flight center terminal facility. ATL’s green terminal gained certification for its focus on energy efficiency, water conservation and healthy indoor air quality, among other green features. Its low-flow water fixtures alone are expected to save ATL up to 40,000 gallons of water a year.

Susan DeFreitas has covered all manner of green technology for EarthTechling since 2009. She is a graduate of Prescott College for the Liberal Arts and the Environment, and has a background in marketing green businesses. Her work on green living has been featured in Yes! Magazine, the Utne Reader and Natural Home.