Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA) celebrated Earth Day by joining the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to receive the award of LEED Gold certification on the South Air Traffic Control Tower (SATCT) at O’Hare International Airport. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is the most widely used green building rating system in the world and provides awards based on a suite of standards for the environmentally sustainable design, construction and operation of buildings.

This is the 6th LEED-certified facility at O’Hare and one of the first LEED Gold-certified air traffic control towers in the U.S.

“On top of Chicago being ranked the nation's greenest city two years in a row, O’Hare —our gateway to the world — is taking active strides to be one of the greenest airports in the world,” said Mayor Emanuel. “This tower’s prestigious LEED Gold certification is further proof of this city's commitment to building a 21st-century economy and fostering opportunities to make sustainability part of the Chicago experience.”

In 2018, the City of Chicago achieved LEED for Cities Platinum certification, making it one of the first cities in the world to achieve the highest level of certification available from USGBC. Chicago is also ranked as the Greenest City according to the 2018 National Green Building Adoption Index, for sustainable office buildings.

“O’Hare’s South Air Traffic Control Tower is central to our ongoing airfield modernization effort, dedicated to improving the safety, efficiency and connectivity of our leading global hub," said CDA Commissioner Jamie L. Rhee. "With O’Hare the home of now 6 LEED certified buildings and over 521,000 square feet of green roofs, more than any other airport in the world, we are proving that sustainability and growth are not mutually exclusive.”

The SATCT is one of O’Hare’s three FAA-operated towers and oversees all flight operations on and around Runway 10R-28L in the south airfield. The CDA pursued a sustainable design from the planning phases to the current operations of this facility, which was built to optimize energy use, reduce water usage, and divert waste from landfills.

“Every year, O’Hare Airport connects millions of people to the places they want to be. To meet the needs of those visitors, the airport is focused on creating spaces that not only reduce its environmental impact but also prioritize health and well-being of visitors and employees,” said Mahesh Ramanujam, president and CEO, USGBC. “Green building today goes beyond construction and efficiency and has the ability to improve our own standard of living. The South Air Traffic Control Tower’s LEED Gold certification recognizes this people-first approach and commitment to raising the bar through sustainable practices.”

The SATCT is a model for sustainable infrastructure projects that can be built to reduce energy use and make aviation systems more environmentally friendly, even as passenger volumes continue to increase. The SATCT consumes no natural gas, and 25 percent less electricity than O’Hare’s LEED Silver North Air Traffic Control Tower, saving enough energy to fully power an airport fire station. The SATCT saves more than $20,000 on annual utility costs, compared to the NATCT.

“Projects like the development of this energy efficient air traffic tower are part of the FAA’s broader environmental focus,” adds Rebecca MacPherson, FAA Great Lakes Regional Administrator. “We also pursue initiatives to reduce fuel consumption, air particulate emissions and noise and at the same time, allow for sustained aviation growth.”

Both commissioned in 2015, the SATCT was built to manage aircraft operations on Runway 10R-28L, the airport’s southernmost runway. These two projects marked the completion of all south airfield construction on the O’Hare Modernization Program (OMP).

The $40 million project created 50 construction jobs, and with all airport modernization projects, no state or local taxpayer dollars were used to fund the SATCT. The core sustainable features of the SATCT include:

  • Green Roof: One of the newest green roofs in O’Hare’s nearly 12-acre inventory, the vegetated roof on the base building serves to reduce the heating and cooling demand of the facility, reduce the overall urban heat island effect of the airport, and aids in stormwater retention.
  • Geothermal System: The geothermal system, the first of its kind at O’Hare, utilizes constant temperatures below the earth’s surface to generate energy and optimize the efficiency of the building’s heating and cooling systems.
  • Locally-sourced Materials: The reinforced concrete structure enabled the materials to be sourced locally, allowing construction to be both cost- and time-efficient, while limiting impacts to the environment that result from material transportation.
  • People-first Design: The “inverted core” design puts offices, stairs, and the elevator in the perimeter of the building, allowing staff to occupy spaces that gain southern exposure to daylight, further reducing electricity demands during daylight hours, and improving the work environment for staff.
  • Reduced Energy and Water Use: All sustainable features combined (geothermal, green roof, low emissivity glass, and low-flow, efficient plumbing) reduced energy usage by 25% and water usage by 40%, as compared to a traditional control tower design.

A series of projects at O’Hare and Midway undertaken in recent years have generated new sustainable efficiencies while saving the City resources and energy. Since 2010, these improvements have reduced electricity and natural gas usage at Chicago’s airports by more than 9.5 percent, even as passenger volumes have risen to all-time high levels, with more than 100 million travelers served each year. This energy savings is equivalent to the amount of energy used in 3,721 homes or the carbon sequestered by 36,577 acres of U.S. forests.

The CDA was the first in the U.S. to develop a Sustainable Airport Manual (SAM), establishing guidelines for sustainable design and construction that are used by airports around the world. As O’Hare prepares for its historic $8.5 billion expansion that will transform the airport from the curb to gate, the CDA is updating its SAM to expand its focus on sustainability strategies from the airfield and everyday operations to the development of terminal and commercial use facilities. SAM 4.0 will incorporate universal design goals and global partner feedback on the creation of construction, operations, and maintenance guidelines for all proposed terminal expansion projects, including the new O’Hare Global Terminal.


SAM 4.0 updates will be reviewed by an external panel of leaders at the 2019 Airports Going Green (AGG) Conference, hosted by CDA in Chicago, November 3-6, 2019. The conference will convene aviation and airport professionals from around the world for presentations and discussions on sustainable airport terminals. For conference information, please visit www.airportsgoinggreen.org.​