Examining Sustainability at DFW Airport

The Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport (DFW) is an organization that continues to redefine itself and is currently in an upgrade mode. One of those upgrade modes has been, and continues to be, sustainability.

“We pursue sustainability very seriously and have made tremendous progress,” says Rusty Hodapp, DFW Vice President and Sustainability Officer. “Looking over the last six years, our costs have been virtually flat. But we’re taking on more and more things.

“The sustainability initiative is all-encompassing but it has huge payoffs. And it’s one that we’re just scratching the surface.

“Look at iPads for example. We have them out in the field; all of our contractors have them. The estimate is some $5 million savings in paper from plans that don’t have to be produced every week.”

Rusty Hodapp, P.E., CEM, LEED AP, spearheads the airport’s sustainability program and is one of the leading airport industry advocates of the concept. Following are edited highlights from a recent interview with Hodapp:

How much of sustainability has to do with being “green” vs. saving money?

“We say that they should be one and the same. There’s really no reason for them not to be. One thing we really stress with our sustainability program is that we view sustainability as a driver of innovation.

“Looking at the sweet spot of sustainability — the triple bottom line of social, economic and environmental perspectives — there’s really no reason that doing something green should be more expensive necessarily, although there are occasions. I suggest when they’re doing that they’re really not practicing triple bottom-line sustainability; they’re doing something perhaps overly weighted toward environmental, and there may be good reasons for that.

“We’ve taken the approach, and energy efficiency is the best example we might have — if you’re doing things correctly from an energy efficiency standpoint, you’re obviously saving money, using less energy and you’re clearly having a reduced impact on the environment, using less energy and creating fewer emissions.

“We’ve seen time and time again not only are we doing that, but we’re also making a building operate better; when it operates efficiently, it’s better for the occupants as well.”

Who are some of the other leaders on sustainability?

“Walmart would be a classic example. They’ve been a real leader in their supply chain management and energy efficiency — it’s unbelievable the stuff they do in their stores. They’re so big that they can impact markets, and they do.

“Sea-Tac has some really incredible programs for recycling and waste minimization. One thing they’ve done well is how they engage the whole community — the concessionaires; the airlines; the whole community of business stakeholders at Seattle. They function together to recycle and compost; it all works together and we’re learning that from them.”

What role is sustainability playing in DFW’s terminal redevelopment program?

“A couple of areas that we highlight in the terminal renovation program involve replacing the old systems — heating; air conditioning; lighting; plumbing. So, the first opportunity is in replacing those systems with modern technology.

“We’re going to be able to do things within the building in terms of controlling lighting, heating and cooling, integrating things like jet bridges and baggage handling systems, if for no other reason than to monitor their health. That improves our productivity in terms of managing and maintaining those systems.

“There are also environmentally friendly materials. We have a set of building standards that are guiding the selection of materials and the application of construction techniques.

“Also, because we are demolitioning areas, we can pull out materials that can be recycled. We recently presented a briefing to our board last month. Just in the one section of one terminal, 70% complete with the demo, they’ve already recycled 499 tons of metal and carpet and other materials that will not go to a landfill. It’s actually resold and providing a direct financial benefit back to the airport, some $260,000 or so.”

What surfaces in discussions with other airports about sustainability?

“A lot of times we’re preaching to the choir, particularly those of us at larger airports. So one of the challenges we’ve had is with reaching out to the medium hub and smaller airports.
“Energy efficiency is one I get tapped for a lot. It has tended to be underexploited at a lot of airports, in my opinion, because of the governance structure.

“For example, a consultant I know did some work at Phoenix Sky Harbor. The airport people there never saw the utility bills because they went to accounts receivable in downtown Phoenix because it’s a city-owned airport. Then they come to a conference and hear me saying how much money we’ve saved.

“One thing we’re seeing more and more in the conversation is around the topic of collaboration and partnering. How do you partner to advance things with your tenants?”