Welcome to the first edition of MAC Sustainability.

Most people associate the word Sustainability with protecting and preserving natural resources for the use and enjoyment of future generations while still being able to meet current needs.

Today, however, organizations worldwide also recognize the need to pay attention to how their actions affect social and economic wellbeing.

Generally, sustainability in the workplace can be defined as an corporate-wide approach to conducting business that recognizes and promotes a company’s ability to have positive social, environmental and economic impacts on the long-term wellbeing of the organization, its employees, its customers, its communities, and society as a whole.
In 2010, the Federal Aviation Administration formally acknowledged sustainability as an airport planning tool. The Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) took note, applied for, and eventually received a grant to create a sustainability master plan for the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. The plan, expected to be completed in early 2016, will provide a roadmap for ensuring the airport’s wellbeing today and into the future.
That doesn’t mean the MAC is just beginning to practice sustainability. For 72 years, the MAC has helped ensure its own and MSP Airport’s longevity by acting in ways that positively affect its social, environmental and financial resources.

Below are a few examples of the MAC’s current sustainability efforts. Expect to hear from us quarterly as we share stories of our continued commitment to the long term wellbeing of our current and future customers, communities and employees.

Terminal 2-Humphrey getting a green (and blue and pink and yellow) facelift

The Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP) and its parent organization, the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC), are getting ready to dig in and put down roots – literally – at Terminal 2-Humphrey.

Coming late 2016, along with the three additional aircraft gates, Terminal 2 will start seeing green – as in a green roof - that will provide both environmental and aesthetic benefits for years to come.

Green buildings and roofs have been used to varying degrees since humankind began building shelters. Cave-like structures covered in earth, plants or sod are the early predecessors of modern green roof technology. And while these rudimentary structures provided shelter and other benefits (like natural insulation from heat and cold) to our early ancestors, they were not waterproof, nor did they protect from burrowing wildlife. So with the advent of modern construction materials and methods, they became obsolete. Or did they? Centuries later green roofs are once again gaining popularity – this time without the leaks and critters to ruin an evening around the fire.

Terminal 2’s green roof will be located on top of an existing structure and will be viewable from inside the expanded space, as well as from the Light Rail Transit access and Orange parking ramp and skyway

What is a modern green roof? – Green roofs are typically categorized as either extensive or intensive. They perform different purposes. Intensive green roofs are essentially elevated parks. They can sustain shrubs, trees, walkways and benches with their complex structural support, irrigation, drainage and root protection layers. 
Extensive green roofs are lighter. They support hearty native ground cover that requires little maintenance. Extensive green roofs usually exist solely for their environmental benefits and don't function as physically accessible rooftop gardens. Terminal 2’s will be an extensive green roof that will enjoy ample visibility from inside the terminal but see very little human interaction on the roof surface.

What does a green roof offer the airport?
  • Visual “relief” for passersby inside the building and in the parking ramps. The ground cover, colorful plants and ivy wall will provide a more visually appealing vista than would a traditional roof structure.
  • A means to connect passengers to the great outdoors. Through the use of indigenous plants and materials that mimic or provide a suggestion of differing Minnesota landscapes, onlookers will experience aspects of Minnesota’s biodiversity.
  • A reduction in rooftop heat build-up, helping the roofing material beneath last longer and providing economic savings and producing less waste over the long term
  • A natural insulation against cold and heat, helping to lower heating and cooling costs
  • Reduced storm water runoff. The plants capture much of the water, and the turf absorbs water for eventual evaporation.
Why now? – Any time the MAC is planning a major construction project, it seeks opportunities to integrate all three elements of sustainability – social, environmental and economic benefits. This relatively small application provides all three and represents an opportunity to test how well green roofs might work for additional MSP rooftops in the future.

How long before we’ll see full color? – The plants will be bright and cheery on day one. The ingenious tray system planned for the installation means the plants will have been growing offsite for many months before finding their home at MSP.

Who will care for it? – For the first five years the system’s manufacturer will be responsible for tending to and maintaining the space. The MAC is also requiring a five year warranty, ensuring the economic investment the project represents is protected. Longer term, the airport’s own field maintenance crew, who already care for the majority of landscaping around the MSP Airport, will tend the green roof.

What type of greenery will be planted? To reduce maintenance needs, perennial plants that thrive and flourish year after year in harsh conditions will be favored. Selected plants must be able to thrive in a water-starved environment, as watering will rely mostly on rainfall, though a backup hydration system will be available if needed.

The plan below shows each plant variety’s location on the rooftop from a bird’s eye perspective. Closest to travelers, on just the other side of the glass and all along the moving walkway, will lie the more colorful plants, like Blue Fescue, Maiden Pinks and Stella D’Oro Daylilies. Further back, a simple all-season sedum mix along the front of the building provides a fast-growing, soil protecting groundcover.

This section view provides a diagram of soil depths and drainage plans. As illustrated here, all of the plants are drought resistant and produce shallow, yet hearty, roots. And the wedge-shaped structures mimic Terminal 2’s recently installed landscaping along the inbound roadway.

Thirsting to know more about green roofs? Check out these resources:


Checking in on MSP's solar facility project

view from beneath on the red ramp deck
In October 2014, the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) began building the largest photovoltaic solar energy facility in Minnesota atop two parking decks at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport’s (MSP) Terminal 1-Lindbergh. Once completed later this year, at peak load levels, the facility is expected to produce up to 20 percent of the energy needed to operate MSP.

MSP’s solar installation will produce 3 megawatts (MW) of electricity. Combine this with the plan to replace all 7,700 Terminal 1 parking ramp lights with LED technology, and MSP’s conventional energy use is reduced by 16,800 megawatt hours (MWhs) a year. That’s enough to offset the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions associated with 1,631 homes’ annual electricity use.

As part of the project, four electric vehicle charging stations also will be added to the airport’s existing 14 charging units.

“The Metropolitan Airports Commission has worked for decades to operate Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport as sustainably as possible, investing millions in infrastructure to reduce impacts to soil, water and air quality, and spending nearly a half-billion dollars on noise mitigation around MSP,” said Jeff Hamiel, the Commission’s executive director and CEO.  “This project will reduce the airport’s carbon footprint and save money on energy costs.”

Current Conditions: Sunny and on schedule

Work has continued non-stop since October, with the first installation of solar panels having begun in March. Thus far approximately 3,500 of the ultimate 5,110 panels have been installed over the top deck of the Red parking ramp. When construction on the Red ramp is completed, work will commence to install a similar system on the Blue ramp. The LED lighting project will begin in July and the vehicle charging stations will be added by year’s end. 

Celebrating Earth Day every day