O’Hare Airport’s Sustainability Initiatives

by Connor Reilly for SUST 210

O’Hare International Airport is the one of the busiest airports in the world; the fourth, to be exact. According to CNN Travel, O’Hare is the second busiest airport in the United States (falling short of Atlanta International). O’Hare has made the Greater Chicago region the truly global city it is today. However, both the tangible and intangible infrastructure components that make O’Hare a magnificent intercontinental destination and transit hub surely come with consequences for the suburban area surrounding it.

Green Roof at O'Hare Airport

Green Roof at O’Hare Airport

Let’s not focus on the bad, but rather the good. Stacked up against corporations in the surrounding area, O’Hare deserves a round of applause for their efforts in the sustainability department. The Chicago Department of Aviation, the organization that oversees O’Hare, published “CDA’s Sustainable Path,” which highlights their current initiatives, as well proposed benchmarks and goals.

The Chicago Depart of Aviation identified five key areas of sustainability to consider when determining their benchmarks:

  • Energy
  • Natural Resources
  • Waste
  • Ground Transport
  • Community

To date, O’Hare Airport has developed and implemented many sustainable initiatives identified in the 2012 plan. One of those initiatives was outfitting the airport rooftops with “Green Roofs,” shown here. These now occupy eight acres of rooftop space at the airport.

Another notable effort that may be often overlooked is the energy consumption an airport uses in order to keep lights on around the clock (being that it never closes). O’Hare’s plan is to fill all that empty space on either sides of the tarmacs with solar fields. Yes, that’s right, solar panels will soon line the runways! According to the Sustainable Path projections, the solar fields will have the capability to power a) the Airport Transit System, b) 10% of airport lighting, or c) the main parking garage. With the cost of solar power continuously becoming a more realistic investment, it’s apparent by delving into the dollars and cents of this project that it will pay for itself in the long run.

It’s my hope that this brief blurb on our local gateway to the rest of the world will intrigue you enough to take a deeper look at the cost of your next aviation-fueled adventure. Understanding where efforts are successful, and where they need improvement, is crucial to raising awareness and making our local environment more safe, happy, and inclusive for all that call it home.

Each week during the Fall 2014 semester, students in Prof. Mike Bryson’s SUST 210 Sustainable Future and SUST 240 Waste classes at Roosevelt University will contribute blog posts on urban and suburban sustainability issues to the Schaumburg’s Sustainable Future website.

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About Suburban Sustainability

Founder and editor of the Schaumburg's Sustainability Future social media project (est. Earth Day, 2011)
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