Airport Sustainability: Something Worth Noticing on Your Next Trip
Leslie Jonsson, PE, LEED AP BD+C, CSBA
Associate, Mechanical Engineer
As I touched down in unseasonably warm summertime Seattle, stirring from cross-country flight induced semi-consciousness, my thoughts solidified… not on sustainability and global warming but instead on something different and intriguing – airplane cooling. Little did I know, the two were related.
We (Mazzetti) have a long-standing reputation for designing high-performing, highly sustainable healthcare facilities across the country. However, many people may not be fully aware of our similar work in Aviation. (The hub of this work located in the Emerald City.)
I was traveling to Seattle to present an AIA session on “Designing for Sustainable Behavior” and to meet with our Sustainability core team. As I disembarked the plane, instead of being in “preparation mode” as I usually would be, all I could think about was the plane getting colder after we landed. Why did the plane get colder? Why would the pilot land and then blast the air-conditioning? And, in a city that’s considered fairly “green”, wouldn’t running the jet engines at the gate, be counter-efficient?! I’d never experienced anything like it before.
Then as I walked to the downtown train noticed the signs explaining “pre-conditioned air” or PC Air. Seattle Tacoma International Airport (SeaTac) is the largest airport to implement this at-the-gate ventilation system. When a plane lands, conditioned air is blown into the plane so the jet can get fresh air without running its engines. The results — improved air quality, reduced noise, increased energy efficiency, and lower energy costs for airlines (which can equate to lower rates for passengers!).
“Our region expects this from us,” said SeaTac Project Manager Ken Warren. “Our customers and our airlines expect us to do everything we can to protect air quality.”
In fact, the annual GHG emission reduction is equivalent to taking 8,000 cars off the road. (Yes, you read it correctly — taking 8,000 cars off the road!) The Pre-Conditioned Air Project won first place in ASHRAE’s 2015 International Tech Awards.
I made it to our office in North Seattle and had the opportunity to talk with Leslie Jonsson, a Mechanical PE well-versed in SeaTac projects. Leslie is passionate about sustainability and always has been a “voice” for sustainability well before it was “cool”. (BTW, Leslie’s career is truly inspirational – check out more here.)
Leslie reminded me that Mazzetti has worked with SeaTac Airport for 30+ years. Naturally, I asked about sustainability at the airport. I instantly saw the excited twinkle in Leslie’s eyes. Most recently, Mazzetti was a mechanical sustainability consultant on the significant North Satellite Modernization Project, the expansion and renovation of a 45yr-old facility. (Groundbreaking began in February 2017 and the first five new gates were opened earlier this year, with more opening later this year. More details here.)
The expansion is targeting LEED silver. Mazzetti is managing the LEED credits for indoor air quality (mechanical) and for water efficiency. Interesting initiatives includes a rainwater harvesting system, capturing 2/3 of roof rain water, serving 42% of toilets and urinals, and a green wall, for which, Mazzetti designed the plumbing.
The rainwater harvesting system is only a part of the story as the facility is also committed to water conservation through the use of low flow fixtures. As participating members of building water systems risk management, our designs balance the risk and sustainability factors (which often conflict).
As I waved goodbye to my Seattle colleagues, I looked forward to returning to SeaTac with a new appreciation. As a Benefit Corporation we’re accountable to drive environmental benefit… As I stepped on the plane, I felt thankful to better understand how that extends to aviation.
Given the upcoming holiday weekend, you may find yourself venturing through a nearby airport… Perhaps you might be more cognizant of the visible and audible sustainable elements… Perhaps you’ll have a greater appreciation of the “behind-the-scenes” work to make it all happen. ‘
Do you have an airport sustainability story? We’d love to hear it — share here.