Sean Donohue
ENR 7/25-8/1/16  p. 6
Creating the vision that led to Dallas-Fort Worth’s status as the first carbon-neutral North American airport.

In the U.S. airport infrastructure world, Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport has long been at the forefront of sustainability and asset management. In 2016, it also became the 26th airport worldwide to achieve carbon neutrality, but only the first in North America.

When CEO Sean Donohue took over in 2013, he saw the airport’s 20 years’ worth of sustainability efforts, such as refurbishing terminals with efficient heating, cooling and ventilation, converting vehicles to CNG and building LEED-certified structures. The airport also started purchasing renewable energy, particularly wind energy. Jim Crites, a recently retired executive vice president of operations and a 2014 ENR Newsmaker, “was a big driver of the recognition that we had to step up to these issues,” says Donohue.

Then, the airport hired Robert Horton, vice president of environmental affairs. As Donohue recalls, “We took a step back and said, ‘Listen, we’re pretty close to being carbon-neutral. What else will it take?’ ”

DFW officials started looking at non-peak use and thermal energy storage for the central utility plant. They have installed plumbing fixtures in restrooms that have saved more than 5 million gallons of water a year. The airport partnered with neighboring cities to create a reclaimed water-delivery system that conserves potable waters, reducing consumption by more than 100 million gallons per year. And more than 180,000 tons of construction material, related to the airport’s Terminal Renewal and Improvement Program (TRIP), have been recycled or diverted from landfills. Since 2010, the airport has achieved a 29% reduction in carbon emissions per passenger, plus a 38% reduction in energy costs. At the same time, passenger traffic has increased by 15%.

The airport’s annual energy bill fell to just under $18 million in the last fiscal year from $32 million in 2006. Further, integrating the environmental team into all aspects of operations and capital planning has saved even more money, adds Donohue. For example, getting the environmental team involved with the demolition of old terminals saved millions of dollars in asbestos management, he says, adding, “It’s not just about sustainability. It’s also driving good business practices.”

For Chicago airport Commissioner Ginger Evans, “DFW has long been a leader on condition assessments and energy conservation. Sean has taken it to an even higher level.”

Donohue has no intention of letting DFW rest on its newly earned laurels. “If you stand still, you’re not going to stay carbon-neutral,” he says. Future options may include renewable natural gas. Moreover, “we’re sharing everything we’ve got with [other airports]. We’d love to see more airports in the U.S. become carbon-neutral.”

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