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CASE STUDY: San Francisco Airport (SFO)

SFO: Poised to Become the World’s Most Sustainable, Healthy Airport.

Harvey Milk Terminal 1 On Track To Reaching Zero Net Energy, Zero Net Carbon Emissions and Zero Waste Production By 2021.

By Anthony Bernheim, San Francisco International Airport

San Francisco International Airport (SFO) leads the way when it comes to sustainability. In 2011, it opened Terminal 2, the first airport terminal to achieve “Gold” status for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®). In 2016, SFO became the second airport in the U.S. to achieve industry certification for its advanced carbon reduction efforts, resulting in a 39% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from airport-controlled operations since 1990. In 2018, the Airport signed a landmark agreement with major airlines and fuel suppliers to expand the use of sustainable aviation fuels, a low-carbon and sustainably produced drop-in alternative to jet fuel. Just last year, SFO certified the first airport building, it’s Airfield Operations Facility, as “net zero energy” under the International Living Future Institute.

Now SFO is poised to become one of “the cleanest, greenest, and most sustainable airports in the world.” Building on its “Big Hairy Audacious Goals,” or BHAGs, outlined in its 2015 Climate Action Plan, SFO launched a Five Year Strategic Plan in 2017 to incorporate sustainability and stewardship into every aspect of planning and operations through a series of new “zero” goals.

SFO’s goals include reaching zero net energy, zero net carbon emissions, and zero waste production by 2021. The recent renovation of the Harvey Milk Terminal 1 provided the perfect opportunity to advance these goals on behalf of the airport, its airlines and tenants.

While targeting these zero goals was foundational as contract obligations for the project, SFO’s human health BHAG is setting this project apart from other sustainability efforts in the airport’s past. In addition to the Airport’s BHAGs, the Airport established 7 Guiding Principles of Sustainability and included these in the Design-Builders’ Contracts. 

Photo Credit: Gensler & Kuth Ranieri

SFO’s Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs)

  • SFO will reach zero net energy, zero net carbon emissions, and zero waste production.
  • SFO will be a model of sustainability, and proactively seek to engage, educate, and influence others, including its employees, tenants, airlines, passengers, and neighbors.
  • SFO will champion human health in its facilities and operations by adopting a Well Building Standard and build and operate healthy buildings.
  • SFO will embrace its role as an intermodal transportation hub, encouraging connections between planes, trains, automobiles, waterborne, and human powered transportation.

The Design-Builders were required to design and construct the Terminal 1 facilities in such a way as to address these principles:

  1. Build for the future.
  2. Implement an Inclusive Planning, Design, and Construction Process.
  3. Recognize Global and Human Health Impacts at the Building Scale.
  4. Ground Our Work in Evidence.
  5. Focus on Regenerative and Resilient Building Strategies.
  6. Design Excellence.
  7. Triple Bottom Line Analysis.

SFO is championing human health in its facilities and operations by adopting Health Product Declarations (HPDs), Green Cleaning Policy, and rigorously following the City and County of San Francisco’s Green Procurement Standards, which are all based upon the Precautionary Principle. This goal is being implemented with the well-being of the entire airport community in mind—staff, tenants, and passengers – and with the goal of modeling this for the aviation industry and others.

Photo Credit: HKS and Woods Baggot

Two Project Teams Create One Healthy Facility.

Built in the early 1960s, Terminal 1 (T1) was one of SFO’s oldest terminals, and over time, less able to accommodate the requirements of the millions of passengers it served. Renovating T1 would be the opening to think about how to redesign to meet the needs of modern travelers and revolutionize the guest experience. The six-year, 2.4 billion dollar redesign project is the largest ever undertaken by the airport. Once fully completed in 2023, the 1.18 million square foot project is expected to accommodate 17 million passengers per year, representing a 70% increase in capacity for T1.

Two Design-Build teams were selected to develop and implement a systems integrated plan for designing and constructing the project that provides the environment for improved building occupant health and comfort. Hensel Phelps /Gensler / Kuth Ranieri (with Urban Fabrick, sustainability consultant)was selected for the Terminal 1 Center (T1C) Renovation, and Austin Webcor Joint Venture HKS / Woods Bagot ED2 International / KYA (with ARUP, sustainability consultant) was selected for the Boarding Area B (BAB). While contractually separate with distinct scopes and a clearly delineated line between the projects, the two design-build teams collaborated as a single integrated team to deliver one unified vision, one design and ultimately a new T1 facility to the airport.

The $2.4 billion project includes:

  • Design and construction of Harvey Milk Terminal 1’s pre-security concourse (Terminal 1 Center Renovation Project)
  • A new Boarding Area B (BA /B) with improved passenger circulation and access to its 25 gates, new passenger boarding bridges and new retail spaces and concessions
  • A spacious central concourse with an art gallery, food halls – showcasing the best in Bay Area fare, and integrated technology to facilitate the passenger journey
  • A new mezzanine with connections to the AirTrain, public transit and the Central Parking Garage
  • Convenient new post-security corridors connecting to the International Terminal A gates and to Boarding Area C.

The development of Airport Stakeholder requirements occurred in the Programming phase of the project and was documented in the Basis of Design (BOD). This process also laid the groundwork for establishing a highly collaborative effort between the two Design-Build teams. Design-Build teams engaged with each other and established an extensive list of consultants, from large international engineering firms to Bay Area Local Business Enterprises, to collaborate and work together. Sustainability measures were guided by the Airport’s interdivisional ZERO (Zero Energy and Resilient Outcomes) Committee, which was formed in 2015 to oversee net-zero investments of all airport projects, capital or operating.  During each design phases, project teams present their proposed energy and water efficiency and human and global health measures supported by energy use intensity (EUI) reductions (where applicable) and triple bottom line cost benefit analysis (TBL-CBA). These measures are evaluated by the ZERO Committee based on the impact of these proposed measures on reducing the Airport’s impact on climate change and on improving the health of the approximately 40,000 people who work at the airport each day and of the passengers who use the airport. From a health perspective the proposed measures should be focused on both short- and long-term health outcomes. Based on this evaluation, the ZERO Committee will make recommendations for acceptance of the most positive measures and in some cases may support the projects with an airline-approved ZERO fund to prioritize investments that would achieve deep energy, water, chemical emissions, and cost savings for the project.

Each team’s contract mandated the use of HPDs (and other third party product transparency certifications), modelled volatile organic compound concentration test reports or third party certifications, and EPDs. LEED v4 BD+C Gold was set as the minimum standard for green building certification.

The plan included strategies for improved thermal comfort, lighting quality, acoustical quality, indoor air quality, green building systems and products, and post occupancy building performance monitoring. Low or no-VOC emitting products, materials, finishes and furnishing were selected to minimize the indoor chemical concentrations. Outdoor air testing was provided by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Design-Builders were requested to propose an outdoor air filtration system to reduce and/or remove particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10), Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and Formaldehyde (after filtration max, concentration < 9µg/m3), and odor (after filtration max Naphthalene concentration<0.053 µg/m3) from the outdoor air, so as to provide improved indoor air quality for airport employees, passengers and other building occupants. The result was the selection of a filtration system that utilized a filtration system that included MERVE 8 and MERVE 14 filters, an Ultra-Violet Photocatalytic Oxidation (PCO) filter, followed by a 1” Bonded Particulate Structure (BPS) carbon filter (See Diagram below).

Diagram: Advanced Outdoor Air Filtration at the Harvey Milk Terminal 1 Air Handling Units (Credit: SFO)

Products were selected by the Design-Build teams based on information provided by the manufacturers including third party VOC test reports or third party certifications, HPDs, EPDs, and third party certifications such as Cradle to Cradle and Declare labels. Additionally special attention was paid to reducing “intentionally” added antimicrobials (at or above 100 ppm), flame retardant chemicals, and Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) in the indoor products.  PVC-free products were selected for major surfaces such as carpet tile and roof materials. Furniture products needed to comply with TR117 and could not contain flame retardants and fluorinated compounds.

The selection of materials for the Harvey Milk Terminal 1 projects has assisted the Airport in raising awareness regarding the use of products, materials, finishes and furnishings that support improved building occupant and global health, and has set a new standard at SFO for material selection. Product chemical content and emission transparency is now required prior to selection and use for future Airport projects.

In seeking to translate the Airport’s guiding principles into project-level decision making, the Airport challenged its Terminal 1 Project Design-Builders to provide triple bottom line cost-benefit analysis (TBL-CBA) for major Airport systems. The teams selected Autocase in response, which enabled T1 teams to deepen their assessment of the prospective sustainable outcomes (including improved human comfort and health) of selecting specific project systems and materials, and to be able to target achievement of a new LEED Pilot credit. These TBL-CBA results provide the Airport with long-term benefits and costs, to assist in making sustainability-related policy and project system, material, and product investment decisions and selections. The data provided is used to comply with the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED green building rating system credits and the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure’s (ISI) Envision green infrastructure rating system credits for industry-wide recognition.

How to rebuild a terminal without every closing it?

One of the larger aviation hubs in the U.S, the team was faced with a major challenge. How could they rebuild an entire terminal without ever reducing aircraft gate capacity? In the tightly orchestrated SFO T1 Program, the multiple Design-Build teams partnered with the San Francisco International Airport to renovate the existing T1 Boarding Area B to temporarily maintain gate capacity (in what was called the Interim Boarding Area B) until the first 9-gates in the new T1 were operational.  Thereafter the Interim Boarding Area B could be demolished to create space for construction of additional aircraft gates in the new Boarding Area B

Note: For the addition to the Interim Boarding Area B, carbon sequestered aggregate was used in the concrete thereby reducing carbon emissions from the concrete by about 48%.

Based on the TBL-CBA provided by the Design-Builders, the project teams and the Airport learned lessons about system and product selection, for example:

  • The TBL-CBA also indicated that there are significant long-term benefits for the use of environmentally preferable materials by potentially reducing Airport, Airline and Tenant staff absenteeism (improved health) and by reducing GHG and carbon emissions.
  • The Design-Builders collaborated with the Airport to review various glazing options during the projects’ design phase, and stakeholders selected dynamic electrochromic glazing for the Hold Rooms (waiting areas at each gate). When analyzed using the TBL-CBA tool, this glazing produced significant benefits for building occupants in terms of improved comfort, visibility, and ambient experience, and supported lower maintenance costs for the Airport. During and towards the end of the Construction phase, the glazing system went through the commissioning process to assure the Airport that the system was performing as intended. This was followed in the Activation phase with functional trials of the system and training of the Airport personnel in the system operation and maintenance.

When fully completed in 2023, the Harvey Milk Terminal 1 will elevate SFO’s standard of providing a world-class, environmentally friendly travel experience, with best in practice measures earmarked to apply across all future airport projects on this campus, and beyond.

Photo Credit: © Copyright Joe Fletcher

The Airport Of The Future Is Also A Destination.

Guests at airports are often stressed traveling through terminals. The Harvey Milk Terminal 1 was designed to be a “deep green” building that exemplifies how multiple sustainability strategies can be incorporated into a large public facility in ways that improve the passenger experience, provide improved indoor environments to support human health, are well designed for daylight and acoustics, and are informative and inspiring,  while also being energy and water efficient. Learnings from the base building were also translated for tenants via a ZERO Committee Tenant Sub-Committee that coached all new retail and concessions spaces through a rigorous sustainability checklist and Green Business certification process.

Design-Build teams were tasked with creating the airport of the future, a revolutionary air travel experience that would be achieved by accessing the great wealth of technology, innovation and research in the Bay Area’s Silicon Valley and San Francisco. New technologies were leveraged to facilitate ticketing, wayfinding, aircraft parking guidance systems, and ease of transitioning security and boarding to create an amazing travel experience for guests.

ransformational ideas were brought forth by the Airport of the Future Committee to create a destination airport where guests are encouraged to relax and spend time before or after their flights. One idea at the heart of SFO’s visionary concept to create the airport of the future was the redesign of a singular and centralized entry to the airport that would provide a “Gracious Arrival” for everyone. Called The Esplanade, this grand entrance is improving way-finding and centralizing baggage handling and invisible screening checkpoints. The Committee also set explicit goals to “travel lighter,” enhance guests “peace of mind” and create an interior urban “Town Square and Pedestrian Streets” look and feel. These features are part of what is making SFO as an exemplary model for innovation and development of new modes of delightful and safe travel.

The airports of the future should seek to address a number of environmental issues, most importantly climate change and human health in the built environment.  While energy and water efficiency are critically important in addressing climate change, it is also very important to design, build and operate indoor spaces that support improved human and global health. Therefore, using HPD, EPDs and material emission testing to evaluate and select building products, materials, finishes and furniture will contribute towards improving short- and long-term health impacts of the built environment both locally and far beyond.

The airport of the future, a case study in the ways a building can deliver human and global health, is about to arrive at SFO. The new Harvey Milk Terminal 1 will deliver the feeling of peace and satisfaction for the guests from the moment they arrive to the boarding of the sustainably-fueled aircrafts at the gate.


Lessons Learned

​Prepare Design-Build Agreements to include Sustainability Requirements.

  • All parties should have a clear understanding of the expected sustainability outcomes.
  • Sustainable “green” building products with HPD, EPDs and emission test data should not add to the project construction cost.
  • Projects benefit from having a sustainability champion to guide the project from inception through the building’s life and an interdivisional stakeholder team to learn from, and apply, best practices across other projects and ongoing operations.
  • Creating and maintaining comfortable, healthy and safe indoor environments involves an integrated approach to:
    • Source Control: Understanding material chemistry and performance
    • Ventilation Design: Mechanical (ventilation) system performance
    • Building system commissioning: Confirm that the HVAC systems perform as designed and as intended.
    • Operation and Maintenance: Long-term operational and maintenance planning and implementation.