Verifying the World’s First Envision Platinum Certified Airport Project

Courtesy of San Diego County Regional Airport Authority
Construction at the airport included a dual-level roadway that separated departure and arrival traffic to improve accessibility. Courtesy of San Diego County Regional Airport Authority

Passengers, visitors and employees at San Diego International Airport can now enjoy an expanded terminal, featuring an extensive collection of public art installations, more concessions, additional gates, and separated arrival and departure pickup and drop off access. What isn’t readily apparent is how sustainable the new facility is—having received LEED Platinum certification in 2014, and just recently, becoming the first airport in the world to earn an Envision Platinum award. Under contract with the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI), KCI worked with the owner and consultants to verify that the $820 million expansion met the criteria necessary to become one of only 13 projects honored by the organization to date.

Developed by ISI and the Zofnass Program for Sustainable Infrastructure at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Envision is a rating system designed specifically to evaluate, grade and recognize infrastructure projects that have incorporated or advanced sustainability and resiliency. Credits are broken down into five categories that cover a wide spectrum of possible applications, ranging from leadership to climate and risk.

Courtesy of San Diego County Regional Airport Authority
The Green Build included landside improvements to the aircraft apron and overnight parking areas. Courtesy of San Diego County Regional Airport Authority

In addition to a comprehensive building renovation, the landside terminal expansion made significant enhancements that impact operations, including apron improvements, additional overnight aircraft parking, and the nation’s largest airport-based USO center. Sustainable features range from solar recycling bins that report real-time data on usage frequency and volume to considerations and planning for sea level rise. Lambert reviewed documentation for each credit that the team pursued versus the standards and achievement levels formally established by the rating system.

Courtesy of San Diego County Regional Airport Authority
Sea level change is a paramount concern as the airport is located along North San Diego Bay. Courtesy of San Diego County Regional Airport Authority

Envision doesn’t apply a specific scoring range to determine award levels, unlike many other sustainability tools. For instance, under the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification system, a project must earn at least 80 out of 110 possible credits for platinum-level recognition. Instead, Envision recognizes that the diversity of physical infrastructure projects—power, roads and bridges, ports, water and sewer, and more—requires a more versatile approach to scoring, and not all projects can pursue all credits. For example, an urban park located on a former industrial site, will not be able to preserve prime farmland in any capacity, and that particular credit would be excluded from consideration.

iStock GettyImages Plus / Shing-Lok-Che
iStock GettyImages Plus / Shing-Lok-Che

Although a maximum score of 809 is possible through the Envision process, recognized certification levels are earned through achieving a percentage of only those credits that are applicable or available to that individual project. Moreover, every credit offers a range of available points based on the level of effort or outcome in that respective area. Although many credits can be verified using engineering calculations and quantitative outcomes, others are more subjective in nature, especially in determining specific levels of achievement.

The highest scoring credit for San Diego International Airport’s Green Build Terminal 2 Expansion relates to brownfields redevelopment. The project is located on the site of a landfill that had been used formerly by the Naval Training Center to dispose of municipal solid and burned waste. Contractors removed and relocated more than 130,000 cubic yards of material at a cost of $45 million, while minimizing impact to the neighboring community. This portion of the work earned the project restorative level of achievement and 23 points for the Preserve Greenfields credit that is part of the Natural World set of criteria. The terminal expansion’s highest rated area was in quality of life, where improvements addressed increasing regional needs for travel, improving customer service, and providing an economic boost through job creation during construction as well as contracts with many local businesses.

Overall the project earned 346 out of 681 points that were applicable through the Envision rating tool, demonstrating a long-term commitment by the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, who owns and operates the airport, to sustainability. “The Green Build project was the largest construction in the airport’s history and now serves as a hallmark for developing future airport projects using sustainable building practices,” said President/CEO of San Diego International Airport, Thella F. Bowens. She lauds the organization’s holistic approach to responsible planning and construction. The Airport Authority maintains a designated sustainability committee and publishes an annual sustainability report that follows Global Reporting Initiative guidelines, a first for a major U.S. airport.

The Envision certification system separates credits into five main criteria with specific focus areas. Not all credits offer the potential to earn all five potential levels of achievement, which have a weighted value. For example, credit for Assessing Climate Threat only has the potential to earn points at the conserving achievement level.

That level of commitment is critical to the success of the sustainable infrastructure movement, and KCI remains at the forefront through leadership and support. Chairman of the Board, Terry F. Neimeyer, PE, BCEE, ENV SP, FACEC, FASCE, was a founding member and designated American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) representative on the ISI board of directors. “Infrastructure has a long lifecycle, and what we design and build today is expected to last 50 plus years into the future,” he said. “We’re at a critical point with respect to climate change, and now is the time to be visionary, to affect change, and to guide decisions that facilitate incorporating sustainability and resiliency into our nation’s infrastructure network.” Neimeyer speaks regularly at venues around the country to help inform and guide owners and consultants through discussions about cost/benefit, lifecycle durations, natural disaster planning and the Envision rating process.

In addition to industry leadership, community stewardship and volunteering, KCI’s team members hold a host of different sustainability certifications, including more than 15 ISI-certified sustainability professionals. Our team is already working on a second verification project, this time for stormwater and sewer improvements in New York.