PIT Joins National Environmental Initiative

First airport to participate in 2030 District Challenge, which aims to reduce carbon footprint

By Natalie Fiorilli

Published January 17, 2020

Read Time: 3 mins


More than 1,000 organizations nationwide have pledged to reduce their carbon footprints and cutting water- and transportation-related emissions in half by the end of the decade – a goal known as the 2030 District Challenge.

The first airport to join the coalition: Pittsburgh International Airport.

On Tuesday, the airport will announce its affiliation with the Pittsburgh 2030 District, an initiative of the Green Building Alliance, part of a network that includes more than 20 cities in North America.

Architecture 2030, a nonprofit organization based in Santa Fe, N.M., helped establish criteria for the network in 2006, after publishing its 2030 Challenge for Planning. The program essentially calls for future development projects to adopt a new set of standards for environmental efficiency and sustainability.

The addition of an airport is a significant milestone, according to Tim Thiel, a member of the 2030 District National board and Marketing Manager for Pittsburgh-based Covestro LLC.

“Airports are a great example of how organizations can push the boundaries of energy efficiency and sustainable design, because they are unique and challenging properties,” Thiel said.

Meeting the challenge

With large amounts of land and many substantial buildings, along with millions of travelers passing through each year, airports face a notable challenge when it comes to sustainability.

Kevin Gurchak, PIT’s Director of Environmental and Workplace Safety, explained that one of the airport’s first steps in joining the district will involve identifying opportunities to reduce energy use and expand water conservation measures. He noted that the airport’s Terminal Modernization Program will be a great launching point for the challenge.

“Designing a new building provides so many more opportunities compared to having to retrofit an existing space,” Gurchak said. “We’re building new and we can design these measures into our facility.”

Officials plan to include more sustainable and energy-efficient systems in PIT’s new terminal, expected to open in 2023. (Renderings courtesy of Gensler + HDR in association with luis vidal + architects)

Though designs for the new terminal are still underway, Gurchak expects plans to include installing products like low-flow plumbing fixtures that help reduce water usage, more energy-efficient motors and drives for the airport conveyor systems, and possibly using sensors to regulate air quality and temperature in the building.

Other concepts being considered for the new terminal, expected to open in 2023, include plans for potentially harvesting water for irrigation and use in the airport’s cooling towers.

In the meantime, Gurchak added that the airport has already implemented several sustainability initiatives: recycling spent aircraft deicing fluid, keeping bees on airport property, reducing food waste through its partnership with 412 Food Rescue and, most recently, announcing plans to become the first major U.S. airport powered entirely by a microgrid. The airport’s microgrid will include nearly 8,000 solar panels – the largest installation in Allegheny County.

As one of the latest additions to Pittsburgh’s 2030 District, the airport will be part of a local network of more than 100 organizations to commit to the challenge.

Other major cities participating in the 2030 District Challenge include Dallas, Denver, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Seattle. And while Pittsburgh may not be the biggest city participating in the challenge, it is the largest in terms of participating properties, with more than 700 buildings involved.

As the first airport to join, Pittsburgh International has an opportunity to set a standard for other airports, according to Isaac Smith, senior director of Pittsburgh’s 2030 District.

“It’s a chance to really go beyond the status quo, and drive toward aggressive performance goals,” said Smith. “This is a leadership decision that shows that this is important to the airport, and I think that with the modernization program, it could really have a pretty significant impact on the region.”

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