Developing Sustainable Airports with Chicago Department of Aviation’s Amy Malick

January 15, 2014

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and we’re so excited to have Amy Malick on. She’s the Deputy Commissioner of Sustainability in Chicago, the great city of Chicago. Welcome to Green is Good, Amy. AMY MALICK: It’s a pleasure to be here. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You know, Amy, before we get into talking about all the great work you’re doing in Chicago and especially with regards to sustainability in aviation, can you first share the Amy Malick story and how you even got here? AMY MALICK: Sure. I’ll try and keep it brief but in any case, my interest has actually always been in sustainability. I studied urban planning at the University of Washington in Seattle, which, as you can imagine, is kind of a hotbed for sustainability, and it’s actually been something I’m very interested in. Most of my history was actually in more of the urban transit and urban sustainability realm. I don’t actually have too much of an aviation background before joining the department about three years ago and I have to say I was a little bit nervous when I joined the airport because it’s just not a background that I’ve held and I figured there must be some sort of secret language of aviation that I certainly wasn’t tuned into but in any case, when I joined with this role, I learned that airports are very much like cities and certainly there’s all kinds of different lessons that we can learn from airports to help with resources. We certainly use lots and lots of energy. We generate lots of waste. We manage many, many people so it’s kind of like our citizens of O’Hare and Midway, the folks that work there and the passengers that we serve, so I’ve been able to bring a lot of stuff that I’ve learned in the city planning and urban planning realm to the airports and vice versa, learned lots and lots about how we can manage our resources in the urban context simply by working at the airport. JOHN SHEGERIAN: We’re so thankful for your time today because this our first deep dive into aviation sustainability and for our listeners out there, I’m on one of your wonderful website. I’m on www.flychicago.com. I then went on the O’Hare section and I clicked sustainability, so for our listeners that want to follow along on their iPad or on their tablet or whatever device that they’ve got in front of them, that’s where I would go right now, but Amy, give us a sort of macro overview of Chicago’s airports in terms of passengers, flights, aviation, sustainability, and how they all start to interact in terms of how many people you’re serving and how many flights do you have to deal with on a regular basis? AMY MALICK: Sure, yeah. As you can imagine, O’Hare is one of the busiest airports in the world. We’re the second busiest in the world and we had about 67 million passengers in 2012. We provide service to 200 domestic and international destinations and we also have a major center for air cargo shipments between FedEx and the USPS and other cargo carriers around the world with more than 1.2 million tons of cargo handled in 2012, so it’s certainly a huge hub in terms of aviation and then on the Southwest side of Chicago, we also have Midway International Airport, which some of your listeners may know if they’ve ever flown on Southwest because most of the flights coming in and out of Midway are Southwest Airlines flights, so that airport, while we consider it to be the busiest square mile in aviation, it’s just a really dense little airport but we serve more than 19.5 million passengers last year, so it’s growing very, very quickly. It’s Southwest’s number-one market so we are experiencing lots of growth and on top of all that, we’re also managing the $8-billion O’Hare Modernization Program, which is one of the biggest infrastructure projects in the country and that program has presented a huge opportunity for us to establish ourselves as a leader in terms of sustainability because we are essentially rebuilding the airport. We’re expanding it. We’re moving lots and lots of earthwork. We’re building new facilities and it is just a huge opportunity for us to approach green construction in a totally new and innovative way that has never been done in aviation and that’s really where we established ourselves as a leader. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Let’s go back a couple steps. When was the epiphany of the leadership at the Chicago Department of Aviation when folks started getting around a table and saying, ‘Let’s focus more on sustainability’? Was that recent times? AMY MALICK: That was actually about 10 years ago, when we announced the O’Hare Modernization Program that I just described and again, if we didn’t incorporate sustainability in the very beginning in that, we would have really missed the boat. We knew that it was going to be something that would establish our legacy and our leaders at the time, our former mayor and then our current commissioner, Rosemarie Andolino, really had gotten together and decided that this was a huge priority for the city so that was about 10 years ago and actually, prior to that, we had some other initiatives that were certainly green and sustainable in nature but it was not until that time that we really, really hit it hard. JOHN SHEGERIAN: On a macro level, what can an airport do, because we have listeners and city leaders from all around the country and actually around the world that listen to this show, what can an airport do to be more environmentally responsible? AMY MALICK: I guess what I would first say is that aviation in general probably doesn’t have the reputation as being the greenest in the world really. People are really concerned about emissions coming from aircraft and things along those lines. I will say that airport operators, such as the Department of Aviation, don’t actually fly the aircraft so that is a little bit outside of our wheelhouse but in any case, we do operate these massive facilities, so between the 7,200 acres at O’Hare and the square mile at Midway that are 24/7 mission-critical facilities that are basically always going, always running. We have lots and lots of lights that are always on. We use lots and lots of water and generate solid waste and then with the O’Hare Modernization Program, we’re generating lots and lots of construction and demolition waste as well as the resources that go into powering the construction equipment so all those things have an environmental impact that we have control over so that’s been our focus, is to reduce the environmental impact of all those things that go into running an airport on a daily basis. JOHN SHEGERIAN: For our listeners out there who just joined us, we’ve got Amy Malick on. She’s the Deputy Commissioner of Sustainability from Chicago’s Department of Aviation. Amy, give our listeners a couple examples of what’s unique in terms of your sustainability initiatives at your two great airports, Midway and O’Hare? AMY MALICK: I mentioned earlier our focus on green construction practices at O’Hare and starting in 2003, as I mentioned, we developed guidelines, which are now being used by airports all around the world called The Sustainable Airport Manual and your listeners are probably familiar with the LEED green building system that the U.S. Green Building Council developed for green building construction and we decided to build our own sort of parallel rating system for airport construction because our context is quite different. We’re building runways and air traffic control towers, and things like that that are very aviation focused that LEED did not necessarily apply to so we developed our own green rating system very specific to airports and now it essentially that everything that goes on on a daily basis, whether it’s designing runways to operating our restaurant inside of the terminal facility so that’s one unique thing that we are quite well known for. We’ve got airports all over the world that are using that for a framework for their own sustainability practices so that’s one of the starting points that we used and I mentioned air traffic control towers. We developed the very first LEED certified air traffic control tower at O’Hare, which was completed in 2008, and one thing that’s very unique about that, which is also somewhat unique to Chicago, is that it has a green roof on it and Chicago is, as some of your listeners may know, known as the capital of green roofs so we just love them here. It’s something that we’ve focused on for many, many years, They’ve got all kinds of wonderful environmental benefits and we have 14 of them that we promote between O’Hare and Midway, the largest square footage of green roofs at airports around the world, so we love those and we love to tap their benefits and we’ve been able to convince folks that may not have been very interested in that type of technology that it’s actually a really good thing, not only from an environmental standpoint but from a building operations standpoint as well. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Amy, you mentioned you’re 10 years into it as an organization and sustainability is a journey and we all know that and understand that now. It’s not an end all be all and it’s never over, frankly, so you mentioned all these opportunities really, lights, water, food waste, the green roofs you’re doing. Are you touching all of them or what gets you out of bed in the morning? What’s now on the frontier? What’s next to do? AMY MALICK: Yeah, I think for me, the future is really in the long term goals that we are trying to reach and there’s a lot of climate science that’s out there in terms of the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that we need to reduce in order to maintain a sustainable planet and so that’s the kind of thing that certainly motivates me but also, there’s a lot of very exciting and sort of smaller impact strategies that we’re implementing at O’Hare and Midway that excite me very much and that I know that our traveling public absolutely loves and I’ll just mention a couple of those right now, just to keep it innovative because changing light bulbs is really not that exciting to a lot of people so we try and do some innovative things that provide educational opportunities to our passengers. For instance, we have the first aeroponic garden in one of our terminals that supplies fresh locally grown produce to our concessionaires so that’s a great kind of educational opportunity to help people understand the benefits of local food. We also operate the first airport apiary, which is basically a bee colony, at O’Hare and that apiary, which has 50 beehives, is tended by ex offenders in Chicago that are part of an organization that are working to provide work for development and job training opportunities for folks who truly, truly need them and so they’re able to harvest that honey and generate a skincare line that they sell at Whole Foods. JOHN SHEGERIAN: What’s that skincare? I want to give a little shout-out here because this is very unique. Not only are you doing something sustainable, this is important, and recycling, but you’re also recycling lives. AMY MALICK: Yeah, that’s exactly right so we think about all this in terms of people, planet, and profit, the triple. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, what’s the name of that product that you’re selling at Whole Foods? AMY MALICK: It is called Bee Love, and it’s something that our airport concessionaires also sell and it’s a great gift that anyone who travels through our airport can pick up as a reminder of the exciting sustainability opportunities that are out there. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wonderful, wonderful. Keep going. AMY MALICK: A little fun tidbit: Earlier this year, we actually hired a herd of goats and sheep and burrows and llamas to help us with our landscaping around the edges of the airport and so those grazing services really helped us to reduce the use of gas powered equipment as well as remove some vegetation in areas that would otherwise attract birds and other wildlife, which are not compatible with our planes, as you probably know, so that’s just a fun and very educational opportunity that the traveling public has just enjoyed greatly and we do take sustainability incredibly seriously and the very, very hard stuff that takes many years to implement is complimented nicely by some of these lighter and media friendly and really fun initiatives, like our apiary and our grazing animals. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That is amazing. I never thought when we started discussing the great work you’re doing over in Chicago and the Aviation Department that we would be talking about beehives or goats. A couple things: What can other airports learn from what you’ve done in Chicago and where you’re going with what you’re doing in terms of sustainability? AMY MALICK: Well, first I’ll say that we have a wonderful network of airport sustainability leaders around the world that are part of what we call the Airports Going Green Movement and it’s something that we founded six years ago with a conference that we hosted in Chicago every year called Airports Going Green and this really brings together my peers from all around the world to share their stories about what they’re doing in their wonderful cities around airports and aviation and so we learn from each other a lot and we try not to ever reinvent the wheel, although all of us like to be the first at something, but we certainly learn from each other. I’ve got peers all around the world that are doing really exciting things that I learn from every day so I think again, the focus on daily operations because again, we do touch every single facet of the environment in our day to day operations at airports so ensuring that you’re really understanding what all of those opportunities look like and every airport is different but at the same time, we do touch lots and lots of different stakeholders, whether it’s our concessionaires, our airlines, our custodial staff, our rental car partners, things like that, all of which have these amazing opportunities to reduce their environmental impact and I think for me, if there’s one lesson learned, it’s really that engaging all those stakeholders in the dialogue is absolutely critical because our purview is limited in scope to some degree but if you start looking at all of these stakeholders that operate at airports, from airlines to rental car agencies to concessionaires, it’s like peeling an onion. There’s just endless opportunities and then it also starts to get up to corporate culture within these large corporations that we work with, airline companies and things along those lines, that are doing amazing things at the corporate level so we can start to have some really, really big impacts when we look at it that way. JOHN SHEGERIAN: When the leaders of aviation come to your conference, Airports Going Green, and for our listeners out there to learn more about that, it’s AirportsGoingGreen.org, do you get competitive? Besides sharing best practices, do you say, ‘Wow they’re doing this over at this airport. We’re going to do that next.’ Are you always not only sharing but also, are you a little bit all competitive together? AMY MALICK: Absolutely. A little friendly competition never hurt anyone. We look to one-up each other a little bit but at the same time, it’s been incredibly friendly. We love to have each other’s accomplishments in general. It’s just a really, really friendly network of peers but yes, we look to be the first at everything, as do a lot of our peers. JOHN SHEGERIAN: We talked about bees and goats and green roofs. We’re down to the last two minutes or so. Give our listeners just a little bit of visibility on what you’re looking towards in the next couple of years that are totally out of the box that are going to continue to move the needle with regards to sustainability. AMY MALICK: Well, first we’re trying to establish a couple of major, major developments that are very sustainability focused that would be a first for Chicago and for our region, although a lot of airports have done things like this so I won’t say that it’s completely outside of the box but one for instance, would be to develop a 50-acre solar development at O’Hare, which would supply a lot of green energy to the airports so other airports have done this so certainly, as I mentioned, wouldn’t be the first but it would be a first for the Chicago area and would be a first for us in terms of being able to generate renewable energy at the airport so that’s something I mention, sort of the hard stuff. This is definitely one of those hard projects that doesn’t happen overnight so it’s something that we’ve been working on for a little while now that we’re really, really excited about and similarly, I did mention earlier that for our O’Hare Modernization Program, which is a huge opportunity with regards to construction and demolition waste, we’ve been able to recycle about 98% of our construction and demolition waste on the O’Hare Modernization Program, which is a great, great success for us but we do have a long ways to go as it relates to our sort of daily operations and the waste that’s generated at our terminal facilities. We’re working on a strategy to become a zero-waste airport and we have quite a ways to go to reach that goal but we are working on a development that will allow us to recover a very, very high percentage of our waste. I’ll say that about 40% of our waste is organic, so it’s food or soiled paper, things like that, that could be composted and so we recently established the nation’s most aggressive green concessions policy, that will require 100% compostable disposable packaging, things like that, so that we can toss less that way so those are the things we have going. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Amy, thank you so much and for our listeners out there, it’s www.flychicago.com. Amy Malick, you are a sustainability aviation superstar and truly living proof that green is good. AMY MALICK: Thank you.