The GSB Interview: Ben Shardlow, Sustainability Committee Chair of the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee

The Bay Super Bowl 50 Host Committee held what is widely regarded as the “Greenest Super Bowl Ever” in February, 2016. Unfortunately, sustainability took a step back earlier this year as the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee did very little, green-wise, for Super Bowl LI. Now, the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee gets its shot to move the sustainability ball forward at gleaming US Bank Stadium, the home of the Vikings currently seeking LEED certification that opened in 2016. How will the city and Host Committee fare, green-wise? We spoke with Ben Shardlow, the Chair of the Host Committee’s Sustainability Committee, to find out.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Ben, I had hoped that, when the Bay Area Super Bowl 50 Host Committee hosted the “Greenest Super Bowl Ever” in 2016, all subsequent host committees would follow their lead. Alas that was not the case in Houston this past February as that committee did little to nothing in terms of the environment. Yes, the NFL did its carbon offset programs as they do every year. But for sustainability to “pop” at a Super Bowl, it’s really up to an activist host committee to make that happen. So, with that as preamble, I’m anxious to hear what the Minnesota Super Bowl LII Host Committee has planned for the big game on February 4th sustainability-wise, as well as for the festivities leading up to it. But before that tell our readers how you got to the committee in the first place…

Ben Shardlow: Well, Lew, an urban planner and designer by trade; I’m the Director of Urban Design for the Minneapolis Downtown Council and Downtown Improvement District. Have been with those organizations since 2012. As part of that work, I do a lot of advocacy regarding downtown’s public spaces – tree canopy, Complete Streets, transit investments, things like that.

 

Ben Shardlow

Ben Shardlow, Chair of the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee Sustainability Committee and Director of Urban Design for the Minneapolis Downtown Council and Downtown Improvement District (Photo credit: Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee)

 

GSB: Urban planning and hosting a sustainable Super Bowl? That sounds like a natural fit…so how did you get to the Host Committee?

BS: The Minneapolis Downtown Council and the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee are partners, so a number of my colleagues are serving on committees to support planning work in various roles…

GSB: So you are a volunteer for the Host Committee?

BS: Yes. And as a local guy, I’m really excited to be part of it.

GSB: When did the sustainability effort get started?

BS: I got involved in April 2016, starting with an invitation from Dave Haselman, COO for the Host Committee. I was glad to hear that I wouldn’t be alone in the effort. The Host Committee’s Leadership 52 initiative has placed two vice chairs on all 26 volunteer committees, all of whom are rising leaders from Host Committee sponsors with deep subject matter experience.

GSB: Who are your vice chairs on sustainability?

BS: One is Bridget Dockter, Manager of Policy and Outreach for Xcel Energy. Bridget is an important local leader in renewable energy, playing a key role in staffing Minneapolis’ Clean Energy Partnership which looks to achieve aggressive sustainability goals through constant innovation. And, from the “you couldn’t make this up” file, the other is actually my twin sister! Eliza Clark is Director of Sustainability and Environment for Andersen Corporation, and she’s got great expertise in sustainability issues as broad as LEED, energy efficiency, supply chain issues and pollinator habitat. She’s working with other major Minnesota companies to design and build a true circular economy through the Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition. Really cool stuff. So it’s great for me to be able to collaborate and learn from both Eliza and Bridget.

 

Bridget Dockter

Bridget Dockter, Vice Chair of the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee Sustainability Committee and Manager of Policy and Outreach for Xcel Energy (Photo credit: Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee)

 

Eliza Clark

Eliza Clark, Vice Chair of the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee and Director of Sustainability and Environment for Andersen Corporation (Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee)

 

GSB: So, if that’s the volunteer leadership team, how have you worked with the Host Committee staff?

BS: We’re fortunate to have Alex Tittle as our liaison within the Host Committee’s leadership team. He’s VP of Business Connect and Corporate Affairs. What an amazing guy! A decathlete at The Citadel, he was charged with achieving the inclusive workforce goals for construction of US Bank Stadium. Under his leadership, that project significantly exceeded targets in terms of women and minorities.

GSB: The sustainability team certainly seems like it is of championship caliber!

BS: Thanks!

GSB: So what are the pillars of Super Bowl LII’s sustainability efforts?

BS: I see four main strategies:

  1. Super Bowl LII as a showcase for how Minneapolis, Saint Paul, and the broader region are sustainable places to host major events. When we host a big event, like the 2014 MLB All-Star Game at Target Field, sustainability assets are front and center. Our area is set up that way. Both Minneapolis and St. Paul have compact downtowns that are connected by transit. The 2014 opening of the Green Line Light Rail system was a crucial advance. It links downtown Minneapolis to the University of Minnesota to downtown St. Paul to all the area’s sports venues — US Bank Stadium (Vikings), Xcel Energy Center (Wild, NHL), Target Field (Twins, MLB), Target Center (Timberwolves, NBA, Lynx, WNBA), the yet-to-open Allianz Field (Minnesota United, MLS) and CHS Field (Independent League Baseball’s Saints). The airport is close by and connected to downtown Minneapolis by light rail. And our major venues have impressive sustainability credentials, starting with a 4.3 MW solar array at the airport, to the 113,000 square foot green roof on Target Center, to the Minneapolis Convention Center’s renewable energy program to Target Field’s LEED Silver certification for both New Construction and Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance, to CHS Field’s substantiated claim as the greenest ballpark in America. With all of that infrastructure in place, we have built in advantages in competing for major events that value sustainability.  All of this puts the region in play for Super Bowls as well as Final Fours and World’s Fairs. US Bank Stadium is under consideration as a venue for the expected joint US-Canada-Mexico bid to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup.
  2. The Legacy Fund. The Host Committee is giving away weekly health and wellness grants over 52 weeks, spread out around the entire state. This program isn’t under our committee’s purview, but we’ve coordinated efforts with them.

GSB: The focus on health and wellness makes sense to me, given the leadership Minnesota has shown with the Mayo Clinic and major health insurers…but where does the environment come in? I harken back to the great green work done by the Bay Area Super Bowl 50 Host Committee. Their Legacy Fund gave millions to several Bay Area environmental nonprofits…Houston, to the best of my knowledge, did nothing at all in this area, with Super Bowl LI. Will the Minnesota Host Committee do something similar to the Bay Area?

BS: I think the answer is yes, especially when you look at the Legacy Fund through the lens of the social aspects of sustainability. We have coordinated with the Minnesota Department of Health to provide grants for capital projects in communities of need. Some of the $2.5 million in grants that have been awarded already indeed have environmental aspects and benefits, with more to come as the project works toward awarding $4 million. For example, our grant to the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe will help their community build a community garden, supplying healthy food in an area where access is lacking. And human health and wellness is, of course, closely linked to environmental health. The Host Committee has also partnered with the NFL, Verizon and Andersen Corporation to fund 14 habitat restoration and urban forestry projects across the state of Minnesota, resulting in the planting of 12,724 trees and 4,000 native species.

 

MN UrbanForestryPosterHorizontal

The Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee, in partnership with the NFL, Verizon and Andersen Windows have planted more than 700 trees as part of their Urban Forestry Initiative for Super Bowl LII (Infographic Credit: Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee)

 

GSB: Got it. OK back to the pillars…#3?

BS: #3 is to be the best local partner we can be for the NFL’s sustainability efforts. A couple of examples to note here:

  • We’re assisting the NFL with expanding their material diversion and recovery program. This has entailed connecting the NFL with local community service organizations on repurposing event materials that would otherwise go into the landfill. Fortunately, our awesome committee members have great connections with local organizations that are already doing that work.
  • Similarly, we’re working with the NFL on other major sustainability events, such as the recent partnership with Verizon for their E-Waste Drive. That event was held a couple of weeks ago at the Minnesota Zoo, and the results blew past events out of the water. The community responded tremendously, donating 42,000 lbs. of electronic waste. The NFL has several well-established programs like these, and we see our role as local resources to support great outcomes.

 

MN EWaste

Minnesota set a “Super Bowl Environmental Program record” for an e-waste recycling event by collecting more than 42,000 pounds of electronic waste. (Photo credit: Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee)

 

GSB: That’s a lot of cell phones and computer monitors! And what’s the 4th pillar?

BS: Our 4th pillar is our collaborative, inclusive committee structure. I know that might sound touchy-feely but it’s substantive. We want to improve over time in the sustainability outcomes we achieve for our major events, and you can’t do that without partnerships and real relationships. Our sustainability committee has representatives from five or six Host Committee sponsors with deep green roots, local government sustainability experts and corporate practitioners. It can be challenging to work this way, but I expect it will be worth it in the end because we’ll learn things we can apply together in the future. Like I said earlier, we’re all volunteers so everyone wants to work on this…

GSB: So it sounds like you have an “Open Source,” startup kind of culture…

BS: Exactly. We’ve collectively come up with way more projects than the group has bandwidth to execute, so I fully expect a long tail of side projects generated by dialogue in our sustainability committee after Super Bowl LII.

 

US Bank Stadium MPR News

US Bank Stadium, site of Super Bowl LII on February 4, 2018 (Photo credit: MPR News)

 

GSB: I’ll be interested to see what those side projects turn out to be. How will fans, both locally and beyond, find out about the sustainability programs? This issue is a big concern of mine. I mean, despite all the great sustainability work done by the Super Bowl 50 Host Committee, a minuscule fraction of people actually were aware of it. Why? Because the Committee, the NFL and CBS, the network that broadcast that game, didn’t promote it. What will the sustainability committee and the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee more broadly due to insure this doesn’t happen again?

BS: I hear you. We certainly are aware of what the folks at Super Bowl 50 were able to accomplish, sustainability-wise and we’ve worked to learn from their example. Fans at the Minnesota Super Bowl will see some of the fruits of our efforts but just what that will turn out to look like is still being determined. Stay tuned as those decisions have to be made in the not-too-distant future. And, remember, our greening efforts are taking place in a region where sustainability and the climate change fight are already deeply embedded. For example, we live and work in a region that just had an all-night, public art shows that highlight both climate change themes and the idea of healthy urban and rural places.

GSB…Sounds like Minnesota and the Twin Cities are set up to host a sustainable Super Bowl. And we will stay tuned for sure on how that sustainability is communicated to  fans at the game and beyond.

 


 

 

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