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ENVIRONMENT Last modified on May 30, 2017

Best in class

Joe Bates takes a closer look at the development of arguably the world’s “greenest” gateway, Seymour Airport, in the remote Galapagos Islands.

On some websites Seymour Airport in the Galapagos Islands is billed as the world’s first “green” airport or the most environmentally friendly gateway on the planet, and with all its energy needs met by solar and wind power and 80% of its infrastructure made from recycled materials, it is hard to dispute the claim. 

Also know as Galapagos Ecological Airport, the Baltra island located gateway has its own desalination plant that captures and treats seawater and boasts a terminal building that is partly made from recycled steel pipes taken from the oil fields in Ecuador’s Amazon jungle.

Indeed, around 75% of the materials from the old terminal were recycled and used for the new building, including all the materials used to create its handful of shops, which were designed by local craftsmen from neighbouring Santa Cruz island.

The new 6,000sqm terminal even has mechanical shutters on its rooftop skylights that open and close automatically depending on the temperature inside the building.

These form part of its bio-climatic design to create “comfortable” conditions in the terminal throughout the year and, as a result of the use of natural light and ventilation, few areas require air conditioning, minimising its carbon footprint.

Photovoltaic panels on the roof of walkways provide around 35% of the gateway’s renewable energy with the remaining 65% generated by windmills located across the airport site.

Other environmental features of the $24 million terminal include the ability to recover, treat and reuse all the water used in toilets and sinks.

In addition, Galapagos Ecological Airport operator ECOGAL – a 100% owned subsidiary of Argentina’s Corporacíon América – notes that several pieces of furniture from the airport have individual environmental certificates and that “ecological stainless steel” was used for all signage, which is printed on vinyl using eco-solvent inks.

Not surprisingly such green credentials have led to the US Green Building Council awarding the airport Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certification.

It also recently achieved Level 2 ‘Reduction’ status in ACI’s Airport Carbon Accreditation programme after initially being awarded Level 1 ‘Mapping’ accreditation in 2015.

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Corporacíon América reveals that the global significance of the Galapagos Islands – declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1978 – meant that designing an environmentally friendly new terminal was top of its agenda from the minute it was awarded its 15-year operating concession.

The global airport operator, which opened the new terminal in December 2012, also believes that its efforts to “honour and conserve the unique environment of the Galapagos Islands” demonstrates its commitment to the sustainable development of its airports.

Ezequiel Barrenechea, president of Galapagos Ecological Airport and a director of Corporación América, says: “It fills us with great pride to have constructed, and now operate the world’s first ecological airport. 

“Despite the challenges, we have accomplished our goal without sacrificing high standards in technology and service. It is particularly pleasing to have achieved this goal in Galapagos Islands as it means that we are doing our bit to take care of its fragile ecosystem at the same time as building a sustainable future for the islands and the airport. We think, feel and act green.”

Corporación América has invested around around $40 million on creating the new airport, which was built in three phases and involved the construction of the new eco-friendly terminal and an ATC complex in addition to the demolition, relocation or refurbishment of a number of other facilities.

Talking to CNN shortly after the airport opened, Barrenechea said: “The people that travel to Galapagos are people who are almost fanatical about ecology.

“That kind of tourist is the first to appreciate this project because they travel to Galapagos to feel the ecological side of the world. Part of the requirement of our certification is to teach people about what we’ve built, how we’ve built it and why. People will love it.”

Judging by its awards and the favourable comments on the airport’s website, it seems that they already do.

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