A Challenge for Our Generation

Aerial view of an airport in Hawaii.

One of the major challenges currently facing the transportation industry is reducing its carbon footprint. Over 90% of the fuel that powers the transportation system is petroleum-based. When petroleum is burned, it emits carbon dioxide (CO2) into the air. This greenhouse gas contributes to global climate change. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that transportation is the second leading contributor of greenhouse gas emissions.1 As the global population grows and requires access to transportation, it’s becoming increasingly important to minimize transportation’s environmental impact.

That’s where scientists like Stephanie Meyn come in.

Stephanie Meyn, Atmospheric Scientist with the Port of Seattle.

Click a button to watch an interview with Stephanie Meyn:

Stephanie Meyn is an atmospheric scientist who specializes in helping cities and companies reduce their carbon footprint. She currently works for the Port of Seattle. The Port operates harbor facilities in the Puget Sound area. It also runs the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac). Meyn is in charge of the Climate Protection Program at Sea-Tac. Her primary responsibility is to help the airport use less energy and implement the least-polluting form of energy wherever possible.

When you think about it, a major airport is like a small city, so it uses a lot of energy. For example, there’s the electricity it takes to run all of the lights and buildings; the jet fuel that powers airplane engines; and the gasoline that powers ground vehicles like shuttles, taxis, buses, tugs, and loaders. Considering the number of airports in the world that run 24/7, it’s no surprise that aviation contributes about 2% of the total global CO2 emissions each year and 12% of the annual total global CO2 emissions from all transportation sources.

If you visit Sea-Tac, you’ll quickly realize that it’s no ordinary airport when it comes to eco-friendliness. Thanks to the work of Stephanie Meyn and others, Sea-Tac is one of the most environmentally-conscious airports on the planet.

As a meteorologist and atmospheric scientist, Meyn has spent years helping large organizations make the switch to more efficient energy sources. In 2014, she got to work on one of her biggest projects to date: helping Sea-Tac, in cooperation with Alaska Airlines, “go green.”

With Meyn’s guidance, Sea-Tac and Alaska Airlines converted more than 200 of its gasoline-powered ground support vehicles to electric in 2014. In the process, they installed over 550 electric charging stations. Due to these changes, it’s estimated that the airport will save over $2.8 million and 10,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions every year. That's the equivalent of taking 1,900 cars off the road.

Those aren’t all of the changes Meyn made at the airport. Sea-Tac also now uses clean, compressed natural gas powered buses to take customers from the terminal to its rental car facility. Airport taxis are also required to use compressed natural gas or have high-efficiency engines that get 45 miles per gallon or better. Meyn is also exploring alternatives to natural gas for heating the airport terminals as well as renewable biofuels that could be used to power aircraft.

With all of these advancements, Sea-Tac was awarded Level 2 Airport Carbon Accreditation from the Airports Council International in 2014. This accreditation is a major honor only given to airports that demonstrate a strong commitment to environmental sustainability.

As sustainability become an increasingly important issue, there are sure to be career opportunities for students who have an interest in helping the environment.

Make sure to keep following Fast Forward for news and information on careers in the transportation industry!

1. Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions, https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions.

Aaron Mack
Fast Forward: Volume 3 Issue 7 – Aviation