Sustainability has crept its way into every type of building, including airports. As the executive vice president of acquisitions and development for Aeroterm, Erin Gruver knows this better than most. 

Specializing in modernizing and improving airport facilities, Aeroterm has built an impressive portfolio throughout the past 35 years, and as sustainability has gained a foothold with airports themselves, it has become a priority for Aeroterm as well. “There’s no denying the cost benefits of being sustainable, and obviously, it’s good for the environment,” Gruver says.

Aeroterm, which has completed work at 35 airports across the United States and Canada (the company was founded in Montreal), is currently working on a game-changing project, one that will assist in generating hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of jobs for the city of Chicago. In late 2013, Gruver and his team, along with mayor Rahm Emanuel, broke ground on a new 840,000-square-foot cargo facility at O’Hare International Airport.

The $200 million project, officially known as the Northeast Cargo Center, will be LEED certified. Going into the project, Aeroterm took a distinctive approach: focusing on how to decrease the cargo center’s energy consumption. As a result, the facility, being built in three phases with a projected completion date in 2018, will include green features not typically used in air cargo centers: a vegetated roof, energy-efficient fixtures, access to mass transit, and measures that will help reduce storm-water runoff. Recycling is also taking place during construction.

Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel attends the cargo center’s groundbreaking in 2013.

Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel attends the cargo center’s groundbreaking in 2013.

“We want to obtain as high a LEED certification as possible, while being very conscious of the costs,” Gruver says. “We had to be very competitive with the costs in an environment that is already very competitive. That was the great challenge, that balance between the most sustainability possible and the cost.”

The cargo center also will conform to the Chicago Department of Aviation’s Sustainable Airport Manual (SAM) guidelines. SAM incorporates and tracks sustainability in administrative procedures; design and construction; operations and maintenance; and concessions and tenants. The goal of the manual is to guide the implementation of sustainability initiatives at O’Hare, providing insight on how to build and operate green airports.

“The center will have 15 aircraft positions and will be able to accommodate Boeing 747-8 freighters,” Gruver says. “This is important because this is one of the most fuel-efficient aircrafts, which means that not only will the facility be sustainable, but it will host aircrafts that are more environmentally friendly.”

Once completed, the center will be the largest airside cargo project developed in North America in the last decade—a historical achievement for Chicago and O’Hare, as well as for Aeroterm.

The importance is not lost on Gruver. “There’s no overstating the significance of this project,” he says. “It’s unprecedented. We’ve been doing this a long time, and we continue to get better with every project we complete, so we’re bringing everything we know to this. It will be state of the art.”