AUSTIN (KXAN) — Amid rapid expansion and record-breaking crowds, Austin-Bergstrom International Airport recently received another honor: it became the first medium-sized airport in the country to go carbon neutral. The airport is one of only three airports in the country to achieve carbon neutrality.
The achievement is part of an ongoing effort by the airport to reflect its community’s focus on sustainability and going green, according to Sam Haynes, communications manager with the airport.
A lot of the initiatives may surprise you.
“100% of the energy in [the] terminal is powered through Texas wind energy,” Haynes said.
Solar panels power other buildings. In the last year, 6,000 solar panels were installed, providing power but also serving the community.
“A lot of that power actually feeds back into the grid and is used for Austin energy’s community solar program,” Haynes said.
Watering the airport with less energy
Have you ever seen purple pipes poking out of the ground? Those pipes are different than the rest. They contain reclaimed water. Reclaimed water is water that has been treated at Austin’s Water Treatment Plant, but has not been filtered as extensively. It’s great for watering lawns, but not exactly safe to drink.
“As new buildings got built, new expansions went on, reclaimed [water] is tied into all of them,” said John Barnard, an environmental compliance associate with the City of Austin. He monitors the use of reclaimed water at the airport.
“Anywhere in the airport, that’s not air side that you see landscaping, it’s going to be watered by reclaimed,” Barnard said. That means all the landscaping across the grounds.
The purpose behind using reclaimed is that it uses significantly less energy to process. “That’s really the main reason that… cities around the country are trying to use reclaimed more, it’s just a less energy-intensive process,” Barnard said.
Building green at AUS
New construction at the airport has been done with sustainability in mind. The 2019 terminal expansion, which added nine new gates to the airport, received LEED Gold certification. “LEED is really kind of the guiding light, so to speak for environmental stewardship towards airport construction and design,” Haynes said.
LEED is a rating system that scores buildings on sustainability in their construction. The scoring system was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council. There are four levels of certification: Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum.
Recently renovated older buildings on campus, including the Career Development Center and Administrative Buildings, were recognized by Austin Energy’s Green Building Program. The program, much like LEED, recognizes sustainability practices when buildings are constructed.
“(As) we’re looking towards bringing in more development, more construction at the airport, we’re really looking to leverage and utilize this awesome energy green building program,” Haynes said.
Renewable fuels at Austin’s Airport
Another way the airport is achieving carbon neutrality is by using renewable fuel sources. “Instead of using jet fuel, with higher emission rates, a lot of airlines are opting to use sustainable aviation fuel or SAF,” Haynes said.
Sustainable Aviation Fuel is a type of biofuel derived from plants, like corn and algae. According to the Department of Energy, SAF burns cleaner and produces few emissions compared to traditional aviation fuel.
Currently, only private planes are utilizing SAF at Austin’s Airport.
The airport’s shuttle fleet also uses a type of renewable fuel. “Renewable Natural Gas is primarily created by collecting methane from landfills, wastewater treatment plants and large animal farming operations,” Haynes said. The fleet shares this fuel with several airport partners, including LSG Skychefs, The Parking Spot and Fast Park.
According to the airport, Renewable Natural Gas usage at the airport has removed 357 metric tons of carbon from the atmosphere. This is equivalent to a year’s worth of gasoline for 77 cars.
The future of Green at AUS
Next up, Austin’s airport is assembling a “Green Team” made up of the airlines and businesses inside the terminal. “This team will really take a collaborative approach at identifying goals, identifying metrics for the airport to meet when it comes to environmentalism and sustainability,” Haynes said.
The airport is hoping to have the team assembled by fiscal year 2023.
Giving back while you fly
There are ways you can help protect the planet as you fly. Austin’s airport has partnered with The Good Traveler, a non-profit website that helps with reforestation efforts.
On the website, you can enter in your flight, and they’ll calculate the amount of carbon your flight will put in the atmosphere. You’re then able to donate to offset that carbon. Donations go to reforestation efforts in several rainforests around the world.