LEED and Airport Projects: Sustainability Is Taking Off in the Aviation World

Each contractor involved in an airport project might be addressing only one part of the whole, but reaching an overall LEED certification requires everyone to participate in detailed record-keeping to keep the effort on track.
By Tommy Linstroth
February 18, 2020

When it comes to the value of sustainability and seeking green certification for construction projects, the sky is the limit. This is even more the case when it comes to large institutional projects, such as airport construction and renovations.

From an environmental perspective, airports and other transportation facilities are massive consumers of water and energy, as well as generators of waste and emissions, according to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). On the financial side, the operating costs of these types of huge facilities, which are open 24/7, 365 days a year, are immense. Anything that can be done on the front end to implement efficiencies offers a huge payback and dividends down the road.

Airports are built for the long haul, and the oldest operating airports in the United States are now more than 100 years old. Given the lifespans of the facilities, designing sustainability into airport projects at the outset offers substantial long-term benefits.

Clear Communication

The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green construction certification is a great roadmap for airport sustainability initiatives; however, the biggest challenge of managing the LEED certification process is the complexity of the projects as a whole and the sheer number of individuals involved. Airport projects can go on for 5 to 10 years with high jobsite turnover occurring in that time frame.

With the sheer number of subcontractors coming on board during the life of the project and the hundreds of different materials being used, it’s a challenge to track and ensure that LEED-compliant products and procedures are being used. It’s vital to implement the correct strategies and record-keeping procedures at the start, because nobody wants to go through years of effort and end up without a certification because everything can’t be verified.

Consistent Strategies

With the turnover and so many different hands involved in airport projects, it's really tough to succeed without clear practices and policies to reach sustainability goals. Because of the long duration of these projects, if a contractor finds out it’s been doing something wrong or incorrectly after the fact, there's no way to go back and fix it. Having a management system in place that can clearly be communicated to all of the various project team members, especially in the case of turnover, is of critical importance to help ensure it’s going to hit their overall goals.

Logistical Challenges

Working on an airport project isn’t easy to start with. When looking at operations at LaGuardia or San Francisco International Airport, it’s clear that renovations do not occur in isolation. General construction teams are already facing the challenge of reconfiguring terminals and runways and parking arrangements, while millions of people each year are using the facilities.

When you throw sustainability goals into the mix, it's just one more logistical challenge that is added on to an already very complex project type. So, obviously, managing that process is extremely critical. This comes back to the need for all involved parties to have consistent strategies and verifiable practices in place.

Given their scale, airport projects can involve dozens of contracting businesses. One of those contractors alone might have 10 separate teams working within the larger project just because it's so complicated. And so, when all of that is rolled up into one LEED certification or whatever green standard is being pursued, it's almost like 10 mini-projects that need to be coordinated all at once.

Meeting sustainability goals over the length of the project requires that all the stakeholders—from the controlling airport authority down to the contractors and subcontractors—share clearly communicated goals. The key is preventing sustainability goals from falling down the priority list and not being addressed until it's too late.

As always, it requires planning, planning and more planning to help ensure the success of such a massive project, whether that success is defined by sustainability, meeting a green construction standard or any other goal.

Summing It Up

Each individual construction company involved in an airport project might be addressing only one part of the whole, but reaching an overall LEED certification requires everyone to participate in detailed record-keeping to keep the effort on track. Despite the complexities and effort, building sustainability into airports and other large institutional projects pays off in ways that benefit everyone through cleaner, healthier facilities with less environmental impact and a long-term reduction in operating costs.

by Tommy Linstroth
Tommy Linstroth is founder and CEO of Green Badger, a leading SaaS provider simplifying sustainability and ESG in the built industry.

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