An Introduction to LEED Airports: 4 facts to know about LEED-certified airports

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Delhi international LEED airport

LEED airports, or to be more specific LEED-certified airports, is one of the definitive steps we should take towards making the high-carbon-emitting aviation industry more sustainable. It may not be able to counter the high emission of the airplanes but airports as a large service building compound rely on energy-intensive systems which can result in high carbon footprint. By implementing LEED strategies, such structures can be serviced to be more sustainable.

White airplane in front of an airport terminal

Overview Of The Global Push For Sustainability

The global push for sustainable construction and industry has given rise to architects and construction professionals scrambling to implement green building strategies and reach green building certification ratings. It must go beyond simple compliance with legalization and needs to begin with the largest or the most senior levels in organizations. 

Why the push? The colossal impact of climate change has set in and we will witness and feel its effects even more in the coming years. As bleak as it sounds, it is inevitable. However, we can try to lessen the effects as much as we can in the shortest possible time. This is the very reason why every industry, including the built environment, is urgently pushing for an energy-efficient and resilient world through sustainable means.

Sustainable design includes, but not limited to, energy efficient lighting and HVAC systems, water-conserving plumbing and applying passive green strategies to cut down energy consumption and carbon emission. Green building certifications like LEED further promotes user well-being and site sensitivity as a part of sustainable elements.

Green building design

LEED and Its Significance

LEED is a world-renowned green building certification framework for efficient, healthy and cost-effective buildings. As a global sustainability symbol, it is employed by various organizations and AEC professionals. The framework aligns for a low-carbon built environment and is applicable for both buildings and architects or engineers in different rating systems. 

LEED credits respond to the following criteria:

  • Climate change
  • Human health
  • Water resources
  • Biodiversity
  • Green economy
  • Community & natural resources
  • Operational and embodied carbon

LEED Rating System

LEED certification for Residential, Commercial, Communities and Cities and more works by earning points based on the project adherence of the prerequisites and credits. These cover carbon, energy, health, indoor environmental quality, materials, transportation, water and waste. 

Leed rating level

After a review process by GBCI, the project is awarded points and a corresponding LEED certification (if applicable).

  • Certified: 40-49 points earned
  • Silver: 50-59 points earned
  • Gold: 60-79 points earned
  • Platinum: 80+ points earned

Read more: LEED certified green buildings – Everything you need to know

LEED for Airport Design

Airports, even when it is built for a small town, can still be larger than most commercial and service building typologies. International airports such as Changi Airport in Singapore, Dubai International Airport and Heathrow Airport are mega projects that require a large group of stakeholders as well as long planning, design and construction periods. 

USGBC states that there are over 1600 LEED certified and registered projects associated with the aviation industry worldwide to date. These projects include LEED airports and supporting service structures, cover an impressive spread of 42 million square meters.
Read more: 11 Groundbreaking Architectural Concepts for Revolutionary Design Development & Sustainability

Why Should We Build LEED-certified Airports?

Why should airports be LEED certified? They (including terminals and servicing buildings in airports) report a high footfall all year round with heavy equipment load. Energy and water consumption can be exorbitant and the pursuit for efficiency measures can be challenging. 

As with all buildings that comply with LEED certification, LEED-certified airports bring profit while benefiting both the planet and the users.

Some of the most common advantages of a LEED certified buildings, including for LEED airports, are:

  • Less environmental damage
  • Improved building value
  • Healthier spaces for users
  • Reduced energy consumption
  • Reduced costs
  • Reduced overall negative impact at local, regional and global levels
People inside a terminal airport

For facilities with high operation costs, consumption and waste, implementing LEED ensures the building cuts down its consumption of energy and water, waste production, both of which will also reduce operation costs. However, architects and developers can rest assured that it will not affect the building performance – in fact, the building will still function at its maximum efficiency while being sustainable. You can read more about the benefits and impact of LEED certification in our article A Roadmap to Green Building Excellence.

Becoming A LEED Airport

Earning the LEED certification for airport facilities is similar to other building typologies, yet different. The process depends on the lifecycle stage of the project and the rating system.

To certify under LEED BD+C (Building Design & Construction), which covers both new constructions and major renovations, 60% of the gross floor area of the project must be completed.

Continuing onwards as the building goes into operation, the project can be certified under LEED O+M or Interiors. Note that the building should be occupied and operating for at least a year. This covers performance metrics and other process-related operations.

Multiple Structures On A Shared Site

One thing to note is that rarely, there is only one building in these types of projects. Luckily for AEC professionals, USGBC publishes the LEED Campus Guidance which covers BD+C and O+M (Operations & Management) for projects on a shared site. Often, LEED airports can fall into this category.

LEED-Certified Airports Around The World

Istanbul International Airport

Certification: LEED Gold for Building Construction and Design

Istanbul Airport claimed the record of being the world’s largest LEED building project with its new terminal building in 2020. It received the LEED Gold certification under LEED BD+C framework. The certification recognized its reduction in energy consumption (by 23%), water consumption (by 57%), 100% of waste water reuse for irrigation and 75% of construction waste either reused or recycled. 

San Francisco International Airport

Certification: LEED Platinum for Communities

Earning LEED certifications for individual buildings was merely the first step. The San Francisco International Airport became the first LEED Platinum-certified airport campus in the world in 2022. The LEED rating system applied here, LEED for Cities and Communities, is aimed towards revolutionizing city and community planning to develop and operate sustainably with social, economic and environmental strategies. The certification recognizes the innovative steps towards achieving zero waste, improved environmental and indoor quality, sustainable aviation fuel and low embodied-carbon building materials.

JFK Airport Terminal 4

Certification: LEED Platinum for Existing buildings O+M

Also in 2022, the John F. Kennedy International Airport Terminal 4 became the first pre-existing airline terminal in the United States to achieve the LEED Platinum for Existing buildings: Operation and Maintenance. It sets an example to redevelop existing terminals into world-class sustainable facilities. It previously received the Gold certification in 2017.

Indira Gandhi International Airport

With a goal to become a net zero carbon emission airport by 2030, Indira Gandhi International Airport is aiming to set the benchmark as a sustainable service building in the region. The Terminal 3 of the airport was the first LEED Gold terminal in India, received back in 2016. Furthermore, it achieved Platinum certification for both PEER and LEED 3 years later, becoming the first airport to achieve both certifications.

How Can Airport Design Get LEED Certified?

Airport projects can be categorized as high process load and high occupancy projects as a start. The LEED framework adapts to the uniqueness of aviation projects in developing LEED v4 and v4.1. Furthermore, USGBC regularly publishes industry-specific guidance through LEED interpretations and ACP, or Alternative Compliance Paths, for LEED airport projects.

For example, LEED interpretation 10493 states permission for LEED v4 or v4.1 BD+C (Building Design + Construction) projects documenting more than 50% unregulated process load using whole building energy simulation to use Core & Shell energy performance improvement thresholds. 

These LEED Interpretations can be found in the LEED Addenda database and you can read more about them in our guide to LEED Interpretations vs CIRs

Do you know both buildings and professionals alike can be certified under the LEED framework? AEC professionals can become either LEED Green Associates or LEED Accredited Professionals. To learn more about these certifications, check out Archiroots’ free resources and articles.


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