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SFO's New Terminal 2: A Model for Green Airports?

SFO terminal

Flying is an inherently unsustainable activity—the amount of CO2 spewed from planes on a daily basis is cringeworthy—but that doesn't mean airports can't be models of green innovation. Enter San Francisco Airport's new Terminal 2, a $383 million project that will expand and renovate the old international terminal into a 587,000 square foot LEED Silver terminal for Virgin America and American Airlines.

The project, designed by Gensler and Turner Construction, is designed to bring back the joy of flying, according to Melissa Mizell, a senior designer at Gensler. Spending time at the airport is rarely a joyful activity, but Gensler is doing its best—the terminal will offer a wine bar, spa, a 6,000 foot Zen garden-inspired "recomposure zone" beyond the security checkpoint, and locally grown and produced products at the food marketplace. Unlike the rest of SFO, Terminal 2 will offer free wireless to all passengers. The terminal will also use as much natural daylight as possible—a technique that will both brighten the mood for passengers and reduce the amount of artificial lighting in the building.

SFO terminal

Amazingly, this is all being done with sustainable materials. The terrazzo flooring is to be made from recycled glass chips; a dual plumbing system allows the airport to use reclaimed water for toilets; a displacement ventilation system brings cool air into the terminal at waist-level while pushing warm air upwards; and passengers can stop at hydration stations to fill up their water bottles with clean H2O. Passengers who still opt to buy bottled water won't escape Terminal 2's green focus: Vendors are only allowed to sell water in compostable bottles. "We want to empower people to take home some of the ideas that we're talking about," Mizell explained.

SFO terminal

Even the construction process at Terminal 2 is taking environmental considerations into account. The building is in the midst of being stripped to its steel skeleton, which will be the base for a new metal and glass building envelope, with upgraded interiors, loading bridges, and more. Turner is also recycling over 90% of all waste from construction.

All of these considerations will have a big impact: 1,667 tons of CO2 saved, natural gas consumption reduced by 116,000 therms per year, and energy use slashed by 2.9 gigawatt hours annually. That will save SFO plenty of cash along with giving it some serious green cred.