Sustainability in Aviation, Part II

In this installment we’ll look at the practices that comprise sustainable operations, whether in aviation or other sectors.

The mechanism of determining the practices that constitute sustainability, assessing ratings, and issuing recognition of sustainability in all types of building projects is through the auspices of the LEED program, which is the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification program.   Developed by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC), LEED is the acknowledged benchmark system for the recognition of green building projects in the US. It is also becoming increasingly used globally, with nearly 80,000 projects in 160 countries participating in the progam.

LEED is the rating and certification program for all types of buildings, homes, and communities that guides their design, construction, operation, and maintenance. Remodel, renovation, and retrofit projects can also fall under the aegis of LEED certification. LEED projects earn points in nine categories that address key aspects of green building: Integrative Process, Location & Transportation, Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy & Atmosphere, Materials & Resources, Indoor Environmental Quality, Innovation, and Regional Priority. Based on the total number of points, a project can earn one of four ratings: Certified, Silver, Gold, or Platinum.

USGBC periodically updates and upgrades the program criteria as new research data are reported and technology advances come online. In this way, currency of both knowledge and application are assured. The Green Building Council was established in 1993 and now comprises tens of thousands of member organizations which include builders and environmentalists, corporations and nonprofits, elected officials and citizens, and teachers and students. Its mission is to promote sustainability in the building and construction industry, and through LEED, it provides the education, credentialing, and assessment tools to do so.

The philosophy of USGBC, and the broader concept of sustainability, is that creating homes and buildings that complement the environment gives people better, brighter, and healthier spaces to live, work, and play, and also enhances communities. Studies have shown that greater building efficiency offers economic, social, and environmental win-wins. Furthermore, a commitment to green building has the potential to generate many jobs: there is also an education and credentialing program for professionals who desire a career in the field.

The LEED program has been around for sixteen years and serves as a guide for building projects above ground. A similarly-structured program called Envision was introduced in 2012 as the result of a collaboration between the Zofnass Program for Sustainable Infrastructure at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University and the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI). ISI was founded by the American Council of Engineering Companies, American Public Works Association, and the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Not surprisingly, there are a number of direct parallels between the two programs. Whereas LEED pertains to buildings or structures above ground and occupied or used by people, Envision is a sustainability assessment, rating, and certification system which applies to civil infrastructure – roads, bridges, pipelines, railways, airports, dams, levees, landfills, water treatment plants, and more. And, like LEED, participants and credentialed professionals can include those from trade and professional associations, public sector agencies, and academia.

Sustainability criteria in the Envision program are divided into five sections: Quality of life, Leadership, Resource Allocation, Natural World, and Climate and Risk. Recognition and awards are derived from cumulative scores over all five areas. Nearly 150 engineering and architectural firms are listed as Envision Qualified and nine projects have garnered awards, according to the ISI website. The first award went to the William Jack Hernandez Sport Fish Hatchery in Anchorage AK, in 2013.

HDR, Inc., is an Omaha-based engineering, architectural, environmental, and construction services company that has been involved in the LEED program from the beginning. By using a methodology they refer to as Sustainable Return On Investment (SROI), HDR takes the LEED and Envision programs to the next level. Similar to the basic financial concept of ROI (Return On Investment), SROI assigns a monetary value to ALL costs and benefits incorporated into sustainable projects including direct and indirect cash expenditures as well as non-cash costs and benefits such as those associated with social and environmental aspects.  

By leveraging the SROI, the total value of a project can be optimized to arrive at the best possible business case for approval or funding. And as with LEED, the Envision program’s goals are to provide win-win scenarios for all economic, social, and environmental considerations.

There has also been, in this author’s view, a growing awareness on the part of airport managers that there is a need to reach out and try to be better neighbors in the communities in which they are located.  What does this mean, and why should airports be concerned about this? Well, when airports communicate proactively with citizens and elected officials and display responsiveness to the concerns of the community regarding noise, pollution, traffic impacts, and expansion plans, host communities perceive a sense of engagement on the part of the airport. , and hopefully they come to consider the local airport as an integral and beneficial part of the community rather than a nuisance to be tolerated at best, or even worse, an adversary.

In the next installment we’ll look at companies leading the way by following LEED and Envision best practices. We’ll also look at how the Colorado Division of Aeronautics has been faring since the rollout of its Sustainable Airport Guide earlier this year.

Mike Straka, PhD
HN Staff Writer & Technical Support
Immediate Past Chairman, Colorado Aviation Business Association

1. US Green Building Council/LEED website.
2. Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure website.
3. HDR, Inc. website.