At the Port of Seattle, stewardship of the land is a core value built into daily practices and policies to build both strong ecosystems and a healthy economy.
This delicate balance is a top priority for the Port, which oversees the city’s hubs of transportation and trade, including Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), one of the busiest airports on the West Coast. By partnering with local communities, fostering a culture of social responsibility and building sustainability practices into development templates, the Port shows that economic wellbeing and responsible land stewardship need not be at odds.
Responsible land stewardship means prioritizing all elements of the Northwest’s ecosystem, from waterways and the tree canopy to the habitats local fauna call home. Taking these into account, the Port has embraced five key land stewardship principles that inform their impact.
These standards were established when the Port Commission passed an Environmental Stewardship Order in July 2023, setting clear expectations for environmental stewardship across all Port facilities and properties. These requirements include a commitment to comprehensive environmental land stewardship, considering environmental impacts in planning and building infrastructure, working within a lens of equity and environmental justice, supporting community partnerships that help foster stewardship, and holistic maintenance to keep trees, forest, and other habitats healthy and self-sustaining.
In practice, this means stewardship plays a role in every step of the Port’s planning process. “Port staff are already undertaking impressive land stewardship practices on Port properties, from organic landscaping at our parks to removing invasive species and planting trees in urban forests,” said Port of Seattle Commission Vice President Toshiko Hasegawa. “This order institutionalizes division-specific practices into Port-wide policy. The order also provides direction for future decision-making and ensures that environmental land stewardship activities will include an equity lens.”
While this new order formalizes a commitment to sustainable growth, responsible stewardship is nothing new for the Port and its systems.
The Port has a long history of building and sustaining habitats for fish and wildlife, from bolstering 177 acres of wetlands and planting 350,000 native plants near Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to restoring marine and salmon habitats and transforming a Superfund site into a park.
In some cases, tall trees near the airport can necessitate a landing change at the airport and hinder some aircrafts who cannot manage a new airport approach. In these cases, the Federal Aviation Administration tasks the Port with removing trees that impact flight plans, which the Port mitigated restoring nearly 20 acres of forest and other habitat in the area.
There’s much more to this holistic approach than just planting trees.
“We want to do more than just plant trees to increase canopy,” said Port environmental program manager Chipper Maney. “We are looking at ways to protect and enhance existing habitat and offset development impacts to ensure our forests and other habitat remain healthy and self-sustaining.”
When trees must be removed, the Port offsets potential impacts by protecting existing tree canopy, planting additional trees and replacing invasive vegetation with native understory plants.
In some cases, the Port will even work with property owners to replace cleared trees onsite or outside the airport grounds with low-growing varietals that won’t impact air traffic flow.
The Port of Seattle is also working with partners to protect and restore forest and other habitat in adjacent communities. At one of these community planting events in February, volunteers removed half an acre of invasive ivy and blackberry, replacing them with 150 native trees and 750 native understory shrubs.
Supported communities, sustainable design
True stewardship is about more than enriching wildlife habitats and offsetting infrastructural impacts on the environment. To truly steward the community, the Port is also focused on centering equity in its ongoing work to improve the quality of life for communities near Port facilities.
Equity-based partnerships power this work. One of these, the South King County Community Impact Fund Environmental Grants Program, funds community-led environmental projects that improve community access to green space in South King County. This year, the program funded a wide variety of community-initiated projects, including a Tukwila community garden and park cleanup to create space for growing culturally-specific foods for Congolese immigrant and refugee families; a forest restoration project in Normandy Park; new habitat development in Burien; and tree planting at SeaTac’s Pat Ryan Field, led by a local rugby club.
Healthy communities also benefit from smart, sustainable design, which the Port has integrated into its large-scale projects. In 2020, the Port formalized this process by establishing a framework for building environmental and sustainability planning into initial design phases of major infrastructure investments. Several construction projects have been evaluated through this sustainability lens, including a project reimagining Seattle-Tacoma International Airport’s C Concourse.
This project expands the area between the airport’s C and D Concourses by almost 300%, making space for dining and retail, interfaith prayer and meditation rooms, a private suite for nursing mothers, an Alaska Airlines Lounge and offices. It also includes major sustainability features that will cut emissions equivalent to the weight of three 2,000-square-foot houses. The new concourse will be LEED Silver- or Gold-certified, with high-capacity solar panels, all-electric cooking and water-heating, heat pumps for temperature control, low-carbon concrete and reduced food waste.
A rendering of the Maritime Innovation Center.
Opening in 2025, the Maritime Innovation Center being built near Fishermen’s Terminal also underwent the same rigorous design process. Operated in partnership with Maritime Blue, this facility will host emerging companies working to solve maritime industry problems, expand the workforce and advance marine economy opportunities around the world. Sustainability features include net-positive energy, natural ventilation and light, salvaged materials, and rainwater capture and stormwater treatment systems.
Another project near Interbay entering its initial phase of development will add approximately 400,000 square feet of building space to support the maritime and fishing industries, all with a LEED silver rating, solar panels, tree planting and a bike lane and pedestrian portal.
Whether building or protecting habitats, fostering forests and green spaces, or incorporating green building techniques, the Port is committed to caring for the natural resources in our region and building land stewardship into each step of the design and development process to ensure a more sustainable future for the Northwest.
The Port of Seattle’s mission is to promote economic opportunities and quality of life in the region by advancing trade, travel, commerce, and job creation in an equitable, accountable, and environmentally responsible manner.The Port owns and operates Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), Fishermen’s Terminal, public marinas, two cruise ship terminals, a grain terminal, real estate assets, and marine cargo terminals through its partnership in the Northwest Seaport Alliance.Port and Airport operations help support nearly 200,000 jobs and $7 billion in wages throughout the region. Over the next 15 years, the Port’s Century Agenda seeks to create an additional 100,000 jobs through economic growth while becoming the nation’s leading green and energy-efficient port. Learn more at thePort’s website.