Sustainable Airport Adventures

Recently I was in Dayton, Ohio for work.  While returning my rental car on a beautiful 70° F April morning I was greeted by a very helpful employee of the rental car company.  She asked how the car was and if there was anything they could have done to improve.  At first I said "no" and that I was very happy with everything. I turned in my keys and headed towards the terminal.  As I passed the rental car company's cars I noticed that about 4 of the cars were sitting there idling.  There were no drivers in them.  Just sitting there.  Idling.  Wasting Gas.  Polluting the air.

I was going to keep walking towards my gate but I was early for my flight and my “green” conscious wouldn’t let me do that.  So I turned around, knocked on the car return office door and the same lady who helped me came back out.

The dialog went something like this:

Me: “I have a quick question, why are all these cars just idling”

Her: (with a slightly quizzical look – as in, “You’ve turned your car in, why are you back here?”) – “ I dunno.  The drivers who returned them must have left them on”

Me: “So that’s usually what happens?  The cars just sit here and idle?”

Her: “Yup”

Me: (Looking around at the idling cars, then back at her, then up at the sky, then back at the cars) “Hmmmm.  Uhhhhh….well…..ok.”

Now, at this point, I could have said to her: “You do know that your company is wasting gas while simultaneously polluting the air we are breathing in?  And I could certainly understand leaving cars idling for customers waiting to pick them up in the middle of winter, but on a beautiful spring day it is hardly necessary.  Furthermore, it doesn’t take much effort at all to reach in with two fingers and TURN THE KEY A QUARTER TURN TO THE LEFT!!!!!!!!!!”

But I realized that my efforts would have been futile.  The attendant obviously didn’t care how much money was wasted or about the air her company was polluting.  And if her company couldn’t set a corporate standard that cars will not idle unattended, I certainly wasn’t going to change her mind.

And then I thought, “If the car company wasn’t going to mandate that their cars wont just idle, why couldn’t the airport enforce a ‘no idling policy’?”  But on my walk to the gate I realized the ridiculousness of that idea.

I had a plastic water bottle that was empty and I needed to throw in a recycling bin.  While walking from the rental car return to the terminal I probably passed 20 trash cans and 10 cigarette disposal units BUT NOT ONE RECYCLING BIN!!!

Sometimes I’m astonished at the complete lack of sustainable practices in the year 2010.

When I got to check in I struck up a conversation with the lady behind the baggage check.  It went something like this (conversation enhanced for dramatic effect and to make me sound more interesting than I really am):

Me: “So is there recycling anywhere within a 100 yard radius of where I am currently standing ?”

Lady: “No, this airport isn’t “green” at all, but that’s a good idea”

Me: “Tell me about it.  You should have just heard my “conversation” with the rental car company.  (At which point I warned them that I already had my morning coffee, was early for my flight, and since there was nobody else in line I was going to tell her about my conversation).

Lady: “Wow, you are “green” aren’t you?”

Me: (while puffing out my chest)“Well….you know….I am a famous blogger for residential energy and water conservation”

Lady: “OMG!  Let me get your autograph!”

(Disclaimer: the above two lines didn’t really take place)

Me: (looking defeated) “Well, in that case can you just throw my bottle in the trash?”

At this point she threw my bottle away and checked me in.  When I was ready to go she said,“Recycling would be a good idea and I have no clue why this airport doesn’t do it.  Usually I’ll re-fill my empty bottles and use them through out the day.” The light went on in my head and I couldn’t believe I had not thought of that in the first place (I usually do re-use my bottles a few times.  And when I’m not travelling I just use water bottles that I use on my bike).

Me: "Can I have that water bottle back.  That’s a great idea." (I know what you’re thinking, “Chris, the bottle was in the trash!”  But it was a trash can just for paper – remember, no recycling - and was clean.)

So the moral of the story is this:   Don’t be afraid to speak out and be an annoying bugger when you notice unsustainable practices.  You can influence others and sometimes might just be reminded of how you can be more sustainable yourself!

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Chris, Have you seen the movie "The story of Bottled Water"? See it on the web at: A real eye opener. I have never used bottled water, but I am addicted to diet caffeine free Coke - and I recycle EVERY BOTTLE. My wife and most of my friends carry water bottles that they re-use from filtered tap water. The only times they resort to bottles is at trade-shows. We were at a trade show recently where they sold bottled water at the concessions stands, but no recycling containers. So I tracked down the facility manager and politely asked about recycling. The story was that they tried putting recycling cans (Green with small opening in the top and clearly labeled) next to the open trash bins. The problem was that the public put so much trash in the recycling bins that the recycling company had to levy a hefty fee to sort the recyclables. So they stopped the recycling program as it was too expensive. So the problem lies squarely in the hands of the unconscious public apparently. This was in a progressive north eastern town BTW. Guy
Chris -- nice post indeed. You really have to check your green-ness whenever you're near an airport, as far as I can tell. In fact, in 2005 when I started blogging on green stuff I had returned from a rather eye-opening experience in LA, where we had attempted to rent a Prius for our week-long tour of the California coastline. We were successful, but only through rather extreme efforts. And, of course, getting my wife and two kids 3000 miles from our East Coast home was terribly costly on many, many fronts. I suppose it goes without saying that having 4 people travel that far (just to get in a car to go farther, even if a Prius) is not a sustainable adventure ... at least not with today's energy infrastructure. But to your larger point, I have come to see that there's no opportunity to make a (kind, smiling, pleasant) comment to the folks working the front lines of customer service. Can they change the policies of their employers? No, not single-handedly, but, like what you and I write in our blogs, if we get a few people every day, we're doing our thing, right? Sure, it would be great to have the power to influence the big players, or even to be one of them. For now, I think we're all foot-soldiers in an informational "conflict". I am afraid almost all people we come into contact with in our day-to-day lives could learn from what you, I, and all of the folks who take the time to read and understand know: a lot of little changes in our lives can add up to a lot of change. So, keep talking to anyone who will listen. We all have to avoid being seen as just crazy, but instead as smart, knowledgeable, likable, influential, and so on. Even in 2010, we have a long way to go here in the US. The more of us foot soldiers who spread the good word, the better. I guess. Tom
Great points Tom. You are exactly right that we need to spread the message but do it in a way that is conversational, not preachy. I know you and I are on the same page on this! On a good note, the Atlanta airport (busiest in the world) launched a program last Fall called <a href="" rel="nofollow">GreenSortATL</a>. People can dump trash and recyclables in the same bin and it is sorted later. They actually make a lot of announcements over the PA about the program and it is very visible within the airport. So all hope is not lost!

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