O’Hare soars to top of green movement

By The Columbia Chronicle

As city officials seek to improve energy and emissions policies downtown, O’Hare International Airport is setting its own national and international benchmarks for

environmental consciousness.

At the fifth annual Airports Going Green Conference, held Nov. 5–7 at the Westin River North Hotel, 320 N. Dearborn St., O’Hare was recognized for its promotion of clean energy use and its plan to implement energy-efficient cargo lines.

During the conference, Mayor Rahm Emanuel praised the city and the airport, which he said is currently the second busiest in the country and leads the way in sustainability for airports both nationally and internationally.

“Going green used to simply be an afterthought,” Emanuel said. “It has become integrated into everything we do here in Chicago and at O’Hare. We have an opportunity to lead by example, not only for the going-green movement but also for the world.”

At the conference, Emanuel outlined plans to install solar panels on the roof of the airport, build an alternate fuel station for ground vehicles and switch all airport vehicles

to hybrids.

The airport has already established an aeroponic urban garden that recycles the water it uses and grows vegetables for use in O’Hare’s restaurants. The airport is also the location of the FedEx World Service Center and Administration Building, home of the largest green roof of any airport in the country, which has reduced energy costs by 14 percent, Emanuel said. In addition, he said the airport is using 25 goats to graze on overgrown grass areas.

Emanuel emphasized the importance of energy sustainability and job creation as driving factors behind the green agenda, adding that job growth and environmental consciousness go hand in hand.

Energy sustainability programs in the air cargo sector have resulted in the creation of 3,000 construction jobs and more than 10,000 permanent positions at the airport, according to Emanuel.

“We are actually creating jobs while still being environmentally smart about it,” said Rosemarie Andolino, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Aviation. “At the airport, we have the most gold- and platinum-certified buildings of any airport in the country. We have reduced our carbon footprint.”

Andolino said the aviation fleet is now entirely composed of hybrid vehicles, which is representative of the environmental improvements being made to O’Hare at every level.

Nigel Milton, director of policy and political relations for Heathrow Airport in London, commended the progress O’Hare has made since it was reviewed by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency in 2002.

“What they are doing at O’Hare to promote environmental awareness is remarkable,” Milton said. “They have goats on their tarmacs, for God’s sake. It’s brilliant!”

The Chicago Department of Aviation is also partnering with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as part of the Sustainable Design Manual, a plan to restore and enhance the wetlands  surrounding O’Hare. The program was established after the wetlands were deemed of poor ecological value, the manual states.

The manual pegged Chicago as the first U.S. city to develop sustainable guidelines for design and construction at an airport, according to Andolino.

“It’s intended to be a living document, a report that will continue to grow to encompass our focus to support environmental initiatives for proper airport development and maintenance of O’Hare,” she said. “We want to be able to approach the future with an attitude that will collaborate [between] the best practices and past lessons learned to create the most efficient airport in the nation.”

Emanuel also noted that the Local Economic and Employment Development Council partnered with the Retrofit Chicago’s Commercial Buildings Initiative, a project aimed at lowering the cost of energy and energy consumption, to reduce energy emissions in more than 80 government-owned buildings and set up an energy-efficiency zone around O’Hare.

“O’Hare’s energy efficiency and economic output will continue to grow,” Emanuel said. “This is our opportunity to strengthen our commitment to environmental sanctions and continue our effort to lead in green innovation.”