Can Airports Be Green? With a Little Greenwashing They Can!

Michael Giberson

Midwest Energy News: “Can airports be green? With solar farm, Chicago argues they can.”

Aviation is a carbon intensive industry, with air travel and transport contributing two percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

But airports around the world are making significant efforts to reduce their carbon footprints, and Chicago O’Hare International Airport is among the leaders.

In addition to other environmental measures, O’Hare is planning a new solar farm, slated for completion in 2016, that could provide five to 10 percent of the airport’s electricity needs, according to Chicago Department of Aviation spokesperson Karen E. Pride.

Since 2007 Chicago has hosted an annual international “Airports Going Green” conference which began as a one-day seminar and “has become more than just a conference – it’s a movement,” in Pride’s words.

Seriously? A solar power project supplying maybe 5 to 10 percent of the airport’s electricity constitutes going green? How much in carbon emissions are avoided by a solar power project, and at what cost, and how much would be avoided by, for example, some ground control improvements that shaved 1 minute off the time each plane idles before taking off.

The article does observe that airports are the source of about 5 percent of the industry’s carbon emission, so 5 to 10 percent of that amounts to a 0.25 to 0.5 percent shift if every airport made a similar investment. And, again, at what cost this small step? The article does also point out that larger potential environmental effects can come from air traffic systems changes, but notes those actions are more the responsibility of the federal government and airlines.

But on-the-ground organization, airfield layout, and at least some takeoff and landing matters are dictated by airport management, and making improvements in these areas could reduce airplane emissions on the ground. The article highlights the easy-to-promote idea of solar PV over what are likely to be more effective actions elsewhere.

One “feels good” and the other would make people better off. Guess one gets the press?