A People-Pleasing Green Airport

Author: Barbara Palmer       

Mario Rodriguez, executive director of the Indianapolis Airport Authority, understood in the abstract, he said, that he’d been invited by the United Nations to talk about the clean-energy initiatives at the Indianapolis International Airport (IND). But it wasn’t until he was actually standing at the podium at the UN’s headquarters in Montreal that the significance really sunk in. Standing in front of representatives from every continent, “you hope that what comes out of your mouth is meaningful,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez, a panelist at the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization Seminar on Green Airports on Nov. 29, had a great story to tell at the meeting, which was convened to talk about topics including smart buildings, renewable energy, community engagement, and trends in environmental stewardship. The first airport campus in the United States to be LEED-certified, IND has the largest solar-energy generating operation of any airport in the world and the largest airport electric shuttle bus fleet in the United States. It also lays claim to smaller sustainable initiatives, including an electric-car-sharing hub for travelers, human-powered mobile-device charging bikes, and a bee apiary established in partnership with local beekeepers to help preserve the endangered Indiana honey bee.

It comes as a surprise to many that the publicly owned Midwestern airport is a national and global leader in clean energy and sustainability, Rodriguez said. “I tend to think that one thing that makes us stand out is that we don’t view things through a strictly economic lens,” he said. The conversation isn’t always a financial argument for what’s cheapest. “We look at things through a public-value lens, and make sure that how we do things benefits the community at large,” he said. “Our primary mission is to build public value, and we can’t do that if we are harming the environment.”

Sometimes building public value also can be as simple as giving the public what they want, like fast and free Wi-Fi, he said. The signal at the Indianapolis airport is eight to 10 times faster than what’s typically found in U.S. airports. That means travelers can stream a lot of data, including movies, Rodriguez pointed out. And while the device-charging bicycles don’t save tremendous amounts of energy, travelers love to use them to get exercise and to help their kids burn off extra energy, he said.

Paying attention to what the public wants has paid off: IND was named the “Best Airport in North America” for the last five years by the Airports Council International, and the “Best Airport in America” by Condé Nast Traveler for the last four years.

Along with Rodriguez, representatives from the San Diego International Airport, the San Francisco International Airport, Aéroports de Paris, Greater Toronto Airports Authority, Airports of Thailand, the Federal Aviation Administration, Airports Council International – World, and the U.S. Green Building Council participated in the UN event.

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