Those of you who read the page about me know that in addition to being a graduate student at the University of British Columbia, I’m a LEED Green Associate. I studied how the LEED standard is applied, and what’s its definition for sustainable buildings and communities. I was asking myself what would it take to make a similar standard for sustainable transportation systems , aviation, and airports in particular.
LEED has a clear idea of bringing buildings closer to a “closed system” state, which means, that there’s almost no new input needed to operate/build the building (e.g. water, materials, electricity, etc) since some of these inputs are created in the building (renewable energy) or come from a recycled source (grey water, salvaged materials needed for constructions). This is a great definition for a sustainable building/community since you can easily measure the (hopefully) reduced impact on the natural environment in the long run. For transportation, however, the case is slightly different. Even though some airports have their terminal buildings LEED certified, I think that a broader look at the system is needed to determined what the areas that need improvement are, and what will it take to create such a standard for transportation systems.
I’ll try to go over the LEED categories and see where there’s a potential for overlap, and what areas might need to be changed/added in a future standard that will be aviation-specific:
1. Location and Transportation: does the location preserve environmentally-sensitive places and take advantage of existing infrastructure, community resources, and public transit?
Suppose we try to apply it to the case of airports, we would need to make sure that airports need to be in a non-sensitive area, such as flood plains, or areas next to the sea that are prone to a future sea-level rise. This is already a challenge, since I mentioned in one of my previous posts that some airports, including major ones, were located next to bodies of water to ensure a smooth landing. A new definition for a “good location” might be needed here, and a one that takes into account noise in nearby communities. A linkage to public transit could be a potential area of overlap.
2. Sustainable Sites: is the selected site able to maximize sustainability?
This category addresses the preservation of as much rain water as possible, biodiversity, etc. in the area of the development. There are plenty of practices that are already used by airports and other facility managers in the built environment. I see a big overlap here, and I would add an additional sub-category for airports that have de-icing equipment (they will need to demonstrate preventing water pollution by doing things to keep the de-icing liquid away from the getting into sources of water).
3. Water Efficiency: what can you do to save on exterior and interior water use?
Same as the previous category, some practices are already in place in many built-environment settings.
4. Energy and Atmosphere: how can you save energy, cut energy costs and encourage green energy development and use?
This is in my opinion, the most problematic issue. Only 5% of the air-travel emissions come from airports, and the rest, from flights . 95% of the transportation nowadays is powered by oil-based fuels . Even with minimizing aircrafts’ weight, it’s impossible to reduce fuel-consumption in airplanes significantly, since airplanes are already 70% more fuel-efficient than what they used to be 50 years ago . The only way to change the current state, would be to find a way to power airplanes with a clean and sustainable source of energy and that is going to be a technical challenge. Solar planes are already in use, but in a very premature stage, and it would take a long time until we can lift 400 people to the air using that technology. Another solution is electric-fueled airplanes, but we’ll have to ensure that the electricity used in their battery comes from clean sources, and that’s an additional challenge.
5. Materials and Resources – are your building/vehicle materials sustainable for the environment, and where does the waste go?
In this case, a comprehensive life-cycle assessment (LCA) for airplanes’ life-cycle will be needed, including what happens to them after they go out of service.
6. Indoor Environmental Quality – how can you increase the productivity, satisfaction, and health of the occupants?
For terminal buildings, there’s an overlap, but what happens on board in an airplane? A new thinking about air-crews might be needed here.
7. Innovation – what can you discover that isn’t in the rating system to add even further value to the project?
In the case of air-travel and airports I believe that there are all sort of things that can be done that will be specific to the operations of them. A good example might be a ban on take-offs between midnight and 5am.
To sum up, there will be plenty of adaptations needed to create standards for a truly sustainable aviation, but the biggest challenges would be to find alternative sources to power airplanes, and taking into account the entire life-cycle of airplanes, and the work environment of air crews, together with the passengers’ safety that can’t be compromised.
Since this is a very complex issue, I would be happy to hear your ideas about what a future standard for aviation might look like.
- ACI. (2014). Annual Report on Airport Carbon Accreditation 2013-2014.
- Perl & Gilbert . (2010). Transport Revolutions. New Society Publishers.
- Deloitte. (2008). Aviation & sustainability.