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Climate Action Travels Forward at SEA Airport

COVID-19 and travel at SEA Airport More Information

April 13, 2021

The last year changed everything. The way we connect. The way we do business. How we travel.  

It also illustrated the impacts of human behavior and industry on the climate crisis as carbon emissions temporarily decreased.  

As the pandemic constrained budgets and belts tightened the world over, we doubled down on our sustainability investments and programs at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) because we know our climate can’t wait.  

Travel is a contributor to climate change, but our airport is a leader in reducing carbon emissions and environmental impact. It was critical that we continued to reduce our carbon footprint to avoid the long-term economic, social and environmental impacts associated with the climate crisis.  

How SEA Airport’s environmental work continued in 2020

  • We reached our goal to reduce carbon emissions by 50 percent almost a decade early by upgrading the airport’s heating and bus fleet fuel to Renewable Natural Gas (RNG), a low-carbon natural gas alternative that can be produced from landfill waste, wastewater treatment plants, or dairy farms. RNG produces no new carbon emissions because it replaces fossil fuels and recycles existing carbon in the atmosphere. 
  • The Port kicked off the first year of the Sustainable Project Framework to transparently evaluate alternative environmental approaches for designing and building capital projects. The Framework is being applied to the proposed C1 Building expansion project, where staff brainstormed sustainability concepts to evaluate for the project. The C1 team of designers is currently analyzing those ideas – and generating more – such as extensive use of solar panels, construction materials with low embodied carbon, water reuse strategies, biophilic design, and a range of energy efficiency options.
  • In just the last two years, the ACE Green Cities partnership program to restore urban forests in Burien, Des Moines and SeaTac planted over 1,000 trees and shrubs with 1,250 volunteer hours and 2,775 paid youth crew hours! And we adapted during the pandemic to support a new paid youth employment training crew. This helps meet urban forest enhancement goals while also supporting local immigrant youth of color in pathways to green jobs to lead an equitable economic recovery.
  • The Washington State Department of Commerce awarded the Port a $1.2 million grant to install 10 fast-charge EV charging stations in the SEA Airport transportation networking company (TNCs) /taxi holding lot, providing thousands of drivers with convenient access to EV charging stations. 
  • SEA signed a new agreement with TNCs like Uber and Lyft to reduce carbon emissions even further by increasing the number of electric vehicles in their fleets. 
  • Our team analyzed the environmental benefits and total cost of ownership for updating the Port’s own vehicle fleet, like investing in new electric vehicles.  
  • SEA teamed up with Microsoft’s AI for Good program to study auxiliary power unit (APU) use by airlines at the airport. This project is exploring ways to use artificial intelligence to help airline pilots know when to turn off their APUs and switch to clean, low-carbon SEA electricity to power the cabin while parked at the gate. 
  • Our team began research on how to further reduce solid waste at the airport and in our region, and airport dining and retail tenants incorporated more recyclable and compostable service ware

That last feat is special because airport businesses continued to invest in sustainability initiatives through a year that was tough on the bottom line due to COVID-19.  

In a March 2021 survey of travelers at SEA, it was very important or extremely important to over 85 percent that SEA has a recycling, waste prevention, and composting program. Moreover, almost 95 percent of survey respondents choose to shop at or support businesses at the airport that feature sustainable, recyclable, or compostable products. 

That is good news for airport businesses like Evergreens, Floret, Poke to the Max, Rel’Lish Burger Lounge, Lucky Louie Fish Shack, and Skillet that use compostable service ware.

“Our bottom line is that we want to live” 

Poke to the Max, a food truck turned adored Pacific Northwest spot for island favorites on the D Concourse, is a joint venture between celebrity Chef Sam Choy and local Airport Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (ACDBE) and food entrepreneurs, Leeann Subelbia and Max Heigh. 

Poke to the Max exclusively uses compostable plates (made from palm leaves!), cutlery, cups and to-go packaging for its food service. The back-of-house and kitchen is also very close to being fully compostable.  

Poke food

The Hawaiian Islands are a protected ecosystem so the restaurant’s heritage is intertwined into the business. With that in mind, Poke the Max evaluated the cost-benefit of its environmental goals with the costs of operating a business and phased in compostables. The company also collaborated with PathWater to create Poke to the Max branded reusable, aluminum water bottles to move away from single use plastic bottles.  

“When it only costs a bit more to choose compostables over plastic, it is worth the research and investment to use products that won’t hurt our turtles, birds, and fish,” said Max. “Our bottom line is that we want to live.”

Poke food

A drop in the ocean can lead to waves of change 

Poke to the Max’s sustainability practices extend beyond its service ware to its culture and menu.  

The team’s project manager, Rea, holds a degree in environmental science. She instituted cutting the plastic rings on six-packs to prevent them from later ensnaring marine wildlife. There is opportunity for employees to incorporate their values into the day-to-day business.  

Moreover, Poke to the Max chooses its vendors based on business values and practices. “The market here prioritizes sustainability as much as we do. We source correctly and sustainably." 

In 2016 the Poke to the Max team filmed a documentary, Sam Choy's Poké to the Max, to explore how Chef illuminated the traditional Hawaiian dish of poke into a culinary craze. The filming journey spotlighted the harms of overfishing and environmental importance of sustainably sourcing fish.  

Poke to the Max is conscious about its seafood distributors like Honolulu Fish Co. where all fish are exclusively hook-caught and it does not condone net fishing due to its destruction of marine habitats. 

“Sustainable seafood drives demand for the industry to do better. Our choices impact ocean health,” added Max.  

Back on land, Max’s meat supplier focuses on sustainable agricultural practices and ethically raised products.  

“From compostable products to where we get our fish, we owe it to Mother Earth,” said Max. 

Food from Poke to the Max


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