Flying Somewhere? Boston Airport’s Plan for Climate Change

Logan airport’s multi-million-dollar plan to increase resilience while reducing its climate impact

When super-storm Sandy hit NYC and caused floods in LaGuardia airport, officials at Logan’s payed close attention. Surrounded by water from three sides, Boston’s Logan airport is also very much exposed to the same weather impacts. Last year, officials announced a multi-million-dollar plan to make the airport more resilient to climate change and more environmentally sustainable. [3]

In its plan, the Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport), owner of Logan airport, focused on 10 resource areas: energy and greenhouse gas emissions, water conservation, community, employee and passenger well-being, materials, waste management and recycling, resiliency, noise abatement, air quality improvement, ground access and connectivity, water quality/storm water and Natural resources. [4]

In this report, I will elaborate on three of these areas:

  1. Energy and Greenhouse Gas Emissions
  2. Materials, Waste management and recycling
  3. Resiliency

Energy and Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Since 2004, energy use intensity (Kbtu per square foot) at Logan Airport has decreased by approximately 20.5 %. This progress can be attributed to energy efficiency improvements and increased use of renewable energy. As part of this effort, heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment has been replaced by newer energy equipment.logangraf

Moreover, during the past year, approximately 900,000 kWh of solar and wind power were generated at several buildings and facilities at the Airport. (enough to power 125 typical Massachusetts homes for one year).[5]

Materials, Waste management and recycling

As part of the new plan in 2015, the airport set aggressive targets for recycling rates: 20% by 2016, 40% percent by 2018 and 60% by 2020. To meet these goals management chose to develop and monitor a few key performance indicators.

  • Waste per passenger rate – Although not monitored yet, Massport is developing a waste tracking plan to account for all waste generated in the airport. This metric will allow management to understand exactly how and where it should focus its efforts to improve.
  • percentage of construction and demolition waste recycled – this indicator is closely monitored and remained close to 100% throughout 2015.
  • percentage of organic materials composted – the airport is building a composting program to monitor this indicator. Once built targets will be set to monitor progress.
  • Diversion rate – waste diversion rate is one of the key performance indicators in a successful recycling program. It represents the amount of waste that is diverted from landfill for recycling. When looking to improve the success of a recycling program it is critical to know current waste diversion rate as a benchmark. For Logan, Diversion rate has increased by 2.7 % since 2012. The report shows total diversion rate for the year 2015 was 13%. [6]

Resiliency

Much of Logan’s most critical facilities and infrastructure are located in low-lying coastal areas. This increases the potential impact storms and rising sea levels might have on the operational resiliency of the airport. To address these issues, as part of its overall 2015 plan, Massport has launched a comprehensive resiliency initiative. [1],[2]

A key aspect of this initiative is the airports ability to maintain and quickly restore operational capabilities during and after major disruptions. To do so, the airport invests heavily in improving the facilities and infrastructure to withstand the effects of extreme weather. A great example of such a project is the purchase of temporary flood barriers that can be re-positioned as needed during an event. The barriers can potentially help protect critical equipment and facilities from major flooding events. Another project which was completed last year is the waterproofing of critical assets entry points.[2]

Other feature projects include relocation of generators to higher floors to increase facilities ability to withstand floods, investments in runway pumps which will divert excess waters and allow fast recovery time after floods.

Moreover, Massport prepares its staff by providing educational and training opportunities on improving organizational and operational resiliency. [1],[6]

The Future

Logan’s climate change plan is comprehensive and addresses most of the key issues at stake. Yet, much more can be done to strengthen the airport’s resilience and decrease its climate impact.

Resilience – only 25% of the airport’s critical facilities are planned to over-go some sort of improvement to withstand severe weather in the next 4 years. The budget allocated for these projects is roughly $9M. This is small change compared to the risk of losing the airport’s operational capability. I would push for much more aggressive targets on the resilience aspect even if it means holding back on other projects that decrease the airport’s own climate impact. [1]

Climate impact – one of the biggest contributors to global warming is livestock farming. Any big institution who wishes to reduce its own negative environmental impact should incentivize its clients and food providers to reduce meat consumption. Logan airport feeds thousands of people a day. By reducing its meat serving restaurants number it could have a great positive impact on the environment.

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Citations

[1] Abel David, “Logan Airport drafts climate change plan”, Boston Globe, May 4, 2015, [https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2015/05/03/logan-plans-major-changes-address-climate-change/KXnlO6Q0DwqlqessUZd12H/story.html], accessed November 2016.

[2] Bidgood Jess, “Strategies Funded to Help Boston Airport Huard Against Effects of Climate Change”, The New York Times, May 4, 2015, [http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/05/us/strategies-to-help-bostons-logan-airport-guard-against-climate-change-effects-are-funded.html?_r=1,%20accessed%20November%202016], accessed November 2016.

[3] Wihbey Johan, “Boston Airport’s Climate Change Resiliency Plan”, Yale Climate Connections, November 11, 2015, [http://www.yaleclimateconnections.org/2015/11/boston-airports-climate-change-resiliency-plan/], accessed November 2016.

[4] “Sustainable Massport – Annual sustainability Report 2016”, Massachusetts Port Authority, 2016, P.6-7, [https://www.massport.com/media/391318/Logan-Annual-Sustainability-Report-2016.pdf] Accessed November 3, 2016.

[5] “Sustainable Massport – Annual sustainability Report 2016”, Massachusetts Port Authority, 2016, P.7-9, [https://www.massport.com/media/391318/Logan-Annual-Sustainability-Report-2016.pdf] Accessed November 3, 2016.

[6] “Sustainable Massport – Annual sustainability Report 2016”, Massachusetts Port Authority, 2016, P.15-18, [https://www.massport.com/media/391318/Logan-Annual-Sustainability-Report-2016.pdf] Accessed November 3, 2016.

Images

“Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/Files” from “Logan Airport drafts climate change plan”, Boston Globe [https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2015/05/03/logan-plans-major-changes-address-climate-change/KXnlO6Q0DwqlqessUZd12H/story.html], accessed November 2016.

“Green house gases chart” from “Sustainable Massport – Annual sustainability Report 2016”, Massachusetts Port Authority, 2016, [https://www.massport.com/media/391318/Logan-Annual-Sustainability-Report-2016.pdf] Accessed November 3, 2016.

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8 thoughts on “Flying Somewhere? Boston Airport’s Plan for Climate Change

  1. Super interesting! I had no idea all of these initiatives were going on at Logan. A couple of thoughts I had after reading your post:
    1.) What is included in the waste per passenger rate? How do you think Logan Airport will be able to reduce waste? I’ve noticed that they still have paper towels in the bathrooms and when bottles are tossed during the security check process, they don’t go into recycling. Do you think that it’s feasible and cost effective for Logan to start composting?
    2.) How could Logan incentivize people and companies to reduce meat consumption? In theory it sounds nice, but I don’t see how this could actually work in practice. Tons of people love meat and the restaurants at the airport live to cater to passenger needs. What are your ideas for implementing this kind of program?

  2. Hey Me,

    Wow, talk about a flying success, the sky really is the limit for Logan Airport!

    In your report, one interesting idea you have is to serve less meat to customers because livestock makes a lot of greenhouse gasses. This is certainly an interesting idea. Do you think this is feasible? Can you really curb customer demand? Would “reducing meat serving restaurants” significantly impact revenue? Would it hurt customer experience? One thing we can’t argue, it would certainly make for happy cows!

    -JP

  3. Me! Very interesting and relevant post, thank you.

    You mention a lot of reactive resiliency measures to restore operational capabilities during weather disruptions. One thing that came to mind is what type of partnerships could help Logan in these circumstances. For example, are there ways they can leverage the capabilities of rental car companies in the area? Or incorporate their internal vendors into the process so they are also responsible during these situations?

    Another thought that came to mind: is Logan doing anything to reduce the significant amount of inefficient airline travel? It is great to see them reducing their emissions, but actual air travel is a huge burden to the ecosystem. While this is not directly under their control, perhaps they could help play a role without compromising their business (e.g., helping travelers chose the most eco-friendly airline routes).

  4. Hi Me, thanks so much for your post. As someone who will be soon visiting Logan Airport, I found this to be a very relevant and interesting read. In particular, I thought the waste per passenger rate was very interesting – I’d love to know more about how this is tracked. In addition, you mentioned briefly that staff would also be trained. I think it’d be great to hear more about how the staff will be trained because I think we often see how new strategies or programs are brought into place, but they’re often times, a lot harder to implement because you really have to get your employees on board with it as well.

  5. Relevant topic that affects all of us!

    I completely agree with you re: the need to prioritize and increase the budget for resilience. The question I have is where the money will come from to make those investments. For those who have been living in Boston for some time, we’ve seen the T face similar problems with maintenance, and the state has also struggled to adequately fund rehabilitation of critical infrastructure like bridges (https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2015/05/28/progress-made-but-many-massachusetts-bridges-remain-structurally-deficient/YxmG7eC4pj1xNK3oHyMcdM/story.html). In a world with competing public priorities, it can be hard to make the case for the urgency of this investment over others (terminal expansions, transport links etc.) I would be interested to know if there were any federal sources that MassPort could tap that would help with this challenge.

    1. Really interesting point re: funding, Rachel!

      Adding to your point, I wonder if Logan can ask its airline partners for investment? For those airlines for which Logan is a hub, such as JetBlue, there is an obvious incentive to ensure resiliency. Depending on the cost of these measures, airlines may actually save money in the long-run by helping to institute them. After all, the operational and financial penalties for cancellations and delays are steep, and they often compound throughout an airline’s network, as we observed in our study of United.

  6. I was pleasantly surprised after reading this post that Boston Logan Airport is taking a proactive rather than reactive approach to climate change mitigation. Given Boston Logan’s low-lying position near the ocean, it is prudent that airport management is thinking about flood prevention and mitigation techniques. I wrote my post on Miami Beach’s efforts to mitigate flooding, so perhaps Boston Logan could invest in additional preventative efforts such as improved seawalls and natural water barriers (sand dunes/natural flora). (See http://floodready.vermont.gov/flood_protection) Furthermore, I also wonder whether Boston Logan can do more to facilitate public transportation to the airport in order to lessen the carbon footprint of passengers traveling to and from the airport. Boston Logan could sponsor an hourly, flat fee shuttle system that picks up passengers in centralized, convenient locations.

  7. Interesting post! I’m impressed by Boston Logan’s approach to climate change. When thinking about improving resilience, I agree that more could be done but it’s not clear that Boston Logan has the means to fund beyond the current $9M. Are there other ways in which they could raise additional funds? A sustainability charge perhaps for the airlines (they definitely benefit from a long running and resilient airport!). With this in mind I’d be worry that removing meat products from airport restaurants may reduce income for the airport (lower demand for rental space) and add to the budget pressure.

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