top of page

Going Green :

Chicago airports grow a sustainable future for travel

Most travelers don’t think about what airports do each day to save the planet. Airports, airlines, and concessionaires are working together to achieve sustainability through the increased use of biofuels, waste diversion, green roofs, and recyclable food containers.


The Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA) and O’Hare International Airport are leading pioneers in these efforts. CDA created the Airports Going Green Conference (AGG) ― now in its 12th year ― a gathering of hundreds of worldwide airport executives, board members, commissioners, and sustainability experts.


With the themes such as “Destination: Sustainable Efforts,” international leaders discuss varying goals, achievements, and challenges facing airport sustainability.















Regarded as the aviation industry’s leader on sustainability, CDA takes pride in founding the AGG to foster information-sharing and partnerships. It has flourished, awarded sustainability and LEED accomplishments, and set new parameters for the future.


CDA policies have impacted efficiency in O’Hare’s operations, environment, and community. Since CDA’s Sustainability Program launched in 2003, Chicago airports have instituted many firsts.

A good example — and first of its kind in the nation — is the Sustainable Airport Manual (SAM), which set the global industry benchmark when launched in 2009 and continues to guide the implementation of sustainability initiatives at O’Hare, Midway, and other airports around the world.

SAM includes parameters for green construction, LEED-certified buildings, vegetated roofs, resource conservation, concessions policy, off-site wetlands restoration, alternative-fueled vehicles, and strategies to enhance energy efficiency and optimization.

DSC_0043 - Herd - Creek.jpg
unnamed (3).jpg
unnamed (1).jpg

By Pat Szpekowski


O’Hare has also banned all Styrofoam products and petroleum-based plastic bags, containers, and utensils at both O’Hare and Midway. Now concessionaires use compostable packaging, certified green cleaning and soap products, and 100 percent recycled paper in office printing.


Furthermore, CDA has installed 529,385 square feet (more than 10 acres) of vegetated green roofs at O’Hare, including the first ever on an airport traffic control tower administration building. At Midway, 17,462 square feet of vegetated green roofs crown three different buildings.​


Many of these conservation efforts earned awards at the 2019 conference. Among them was an Honorable Mention for the American Airlines, Hangar 2 project at O’Hare, which opened in 2019. It is the longest clear span, dual threshold airline hangar in the world, setting a new standard of efficiency and flexibility for maintaining the next generation of commercial aircraft. LED lighting and daylight harvesting further reduces energy costs.


Conference attendees also learned about O’Hare’s third annual Fashion Packed Challenge and its partnership between CDA and Columbia College Chicago. This successful “green” project challenges fashion design students to create a wearable garment constructed of recycled materials provided by O’Hare airline partners with inspiration from an O’Hare concessionaire item.


Thanks to such significant sustainable efforts by Chicago airports, the skies looks bright ― and cleaner ― as airports, airlines, employees, executives, governments, and communities continue working harmoniously together to protect the planet.

unnamed (2).jpg
bottom of page