The Elephant in the Room: Greener Airports and Llamas

by Jordan Diedrick for SUST 240

Diedrick 240 blog image Llama at airportThe annual “Airports Going Green” conference was held in Chicago in early November where awards were presented to numerous airports and airlines for promoting conservation and sustainability.  This conference has been held for the last seven years and has recognized such efforts as LAX’s nature preserve to protect the blue butterfly and O’Hare’s apiary.  In fact, O’Hare is at the forefront of sustainability initiatives with its fueling station featuring alternative fuels, its aeroponic garden, its rented herd of weed-eating goats, llamas and sheep, and its announcement of a “solar farm” that may supply 5-10% of the airport’s electricity.

From a sustainability perspective, the green efforts of O’Hare and other major airports should be applauded. However, the perhaps tougher tasks the airports face deal with the emissions issue of planes. There is a substantial amount of wasted fuel and unnecessary emissions resulting from idling for takeoff as flights are delayed for weather and/or traffic backup, the circling of planes, or the method of landing (whether in idle or full throttle position). A recent study explored the actual type of emission particles released while airplanes are on the ground, which then react to sunlight and can permeate human lungs and more. These particles are actually different in form than those released while a plane is in the air. More studies would be desirable for more direct numbers. Could greater amounts of green vegetation absorb and thus minimize these particles?

Diedrick 240 blog image airplanesSo greenwashing, as some point out, should not take precedence over digging deeper and crunching the numbers to look at the traffic patterns and airport runaway layouts ().Doing more could potentially result in less idle time in air and on ground. These areas involve federal authorities and cooperation with local airport management as well as airlines. These are tougher tasks which require more cooperation between various agencies and require more long term planning. However, even a minute less of a plane idling on the ground could have big long term results.

These are perhaps social justice issues of folks living near the airports or work at the airport along with possible impacts on wildlife in the surrounding airport areas. I unreservedly applaud the green efforts of O’Hare and other airports. Carry on with green roofs, solar panels, and reuse and recycling action plans implemented inside the airports. I appreciate how far they have come in just a few years. However, I would raise the challenge to go even greener and tackle the tougher tasks of emissions control impacted by airport designs, fuel selections, air traffic patterns and schedules. Go greener airports for all!

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 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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