UW-Madison Geography students share Appleton International Airport’s sustainability story

While traveling through the Appleton International Airport, both first time visitors and longtime passengers may be surprised to learn that the building produces as much renewable energy as it consumes.

They may also be delighted to discover that the meals they eat while waiting for their connecting flights are made with fresh ingredients grown in an on-site hydroponic farm and that the natural lighting they enjoy minimizes the facility’s energy use.

Lettuce used in restaurants at the Appleton International Airport is grown at on on site hydroponic farm. Photo by Karina Lisogor.

These features are part of a larger sustainability story that the airport will be able to tell more effectively with a suite of tools, including a video, created by University of Wisconsin-Madison Geography students in partnership with UniverCity Alliance (UCA)–a cross-campus initiative that pairs local governments with UW-Madison classes to solve community problems.

“We have a great sustainability story here at the airport, and we didn’t have a cool way to showcase it to our audience and now we do,” said Hollie Foley, the airport’s marketing communications specialist. “We are excited to promote our story on our website and social channels, thanks to all the good looking art assets and information that the students collected.”

Students in Geography 309: People, Land and Food, taught by Nelson Institute Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment (SAGE) professor of Geography Holly Gibbs, explored food sustainability and took on their own projects related to sustainability. This course partnered with UCA to connect with communities, including Outagamie County where the City of Appleton and the airport is located. 

The course recently received the Kemper K. Knapp Bequest, which allowed Gibbs to support an additional project assistant–a role held by Nelson Institute PhD student Jules Reynolds. This position contributed to strengthening an emerging connection with UCA and provided the necessary support to create strong partnerships with Wisconsin communities.

UniverCity Alliance Managing Director Gavin Luter said he appreciated Gibbs and Reynolds’ commitment to making the project successful both for their students and the community partners. Their work to manage communications between everyone involved, determine the scope of work, and oversee details that are essential–but often overlooked–for partnership building were invaluable.

“It’s such a breath of fresh air to have a faculty member come to UniverCity Alliance with students who want to work in and with communities and seek funding to help support that work,” Luter said. “Our partners at the airport are very forward-thinking and have shown a commitment to the environment. More people need to know about this work!”

Additionally, Luter said it was “extra rewarding” to have the students work on an important topic like sustainability at the Appleton International Airport.

Karina Lisogor, a senior majoring in Consumer Behavior & Marketplace and Environmental Studies who worked with the airport, said she was surprised at how sustainable the airport is and that she is proud to be a part of the greater Appleton community.

“I learned that smaller airports treat each other and their guests like family, and it’s not just because of the small footprint,” Lisogor said. “It just amazes me what our future could look like if similar communities would implement those same, simple sustainable initiatives into their businesses.”

Solar panels are a part of the Appleton International Airport’s building design. Photo by Karina Lisogor.

In addition to the video, the group working with the airport created infographics, social media templates, and photos to help the airport share its message of sustainability. These materials highlight the terminal’s skylights, solar panels, biofiltration basin, and net-zero energy building.

Foley said the airport hopes to update the airport’s website with these materials, use them on social media accounts, include physical copies at the airport, and share them via a QR code with travelers.

The hope is to build brand loyalty among passengers seeking eco-friendly brands when traveling.

“This video will help the Appleton Airport share their sustainability story and build brand loyalty,” Foley said. “Previously, the Appleton Airport did not have much telling their sustainability story, so this will help get our message out in a fun way.”

—By Abigail Becker