Earth Week 2014: SFO Takes the LEED in Environmentally Friendly Design

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by Emily Sing
Engineer, Environmental Services and Sustainability
San Francisco International Airport

It’s hard for me to believe that I’ve been at SFO for 2 years now. I look back to the first day I started and remember asking myself, “How am I going to get myself up to speed on all the environmental programs going on here?” My solution was to just jump in, and that’s exactly what I did. From day one (okay, maybe day two), I realized that the work at SFO goes beyond regulatory compliance. We really strive to make a difference, and although this might sound corny, I really believe every day at SFO is Earth Day.

Our mission is “to provide an exceptional Airport in service to our communities.” And that includes all our local neighboring communities, which is why we strive to minimize our environmental impact everywhere we can. That is definitely not an easy task, even for a progressive airport like SFO.  I am fortunate to have airport leadership vested in sustainability and a team that is not afraid to push the envelope. We celebrate successes when the whole organization pitches in.

Right before I joined the airport, SFO opened T2 which became the first LEED Gold certified terminal in the US, and since then, every future construction project has been designed to achieve LEED Gold.  But the innovation didn’t stop there.  Later this year, we will open a new airfield operations facility (AOF) which is also designed to achieve LEED Gold and will be the airport’s first-ever net-zero energy facility, generating as much energy as it uses. The AOF is designed to be 50 percent more energy efficient than the ASHRAE standard, taking advantage of energy efficiencies that go beyond conventional design approaches.

Some of the key features of the AOF building include a high-performance building envelope, a solar tube lighting system and glazed perimeter walls which bring natural light deep into work spaces.  The dynamic perimeter glazing adjusts automatically as solar conditions change. Combined with high-efficiency, low-maintenance LED lighting and adjustable lighting controls, the design drastically reduces electricity use.  Other features include individual control of ventilation systems, low-flow plumbing fixtures and native California plantings that require no irrigation. To achieve net-zero, 72 kW of solar panels will be installed on the roof of the building.

SFO has established itself as an international industry leader in sustainability.  We take our role as an environmental steward seriously, challenging the SFO team to implement proactive and innovative projects like T2 and the AOF. I invite you to come visit our facilities when you fly into SFO and see for yourself.