Birds Flying Into Minneapolis’ Glass-Walled US Bank Stadium Not a Good Look with Super Bowl LII Only Two Months Away

Excitement is building in the Upper Midwest as Super Bowl LII at Minneapolis’ US Bank Stadium is less than two months away and the hometown Vikings stand a legitimate shot of being the first hometown team to play in the game. The sustainability-related news surrounding the game is also positive — for the most part. 

Earlier this month, GreenSportsBlog featured the many good, green works of the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee. And US Bank Stadium is up for LEED certification. 

But there is one environmental aspect of Super Bowl LII and US Bank Stadium that draws concern: The problem of birds crashing into the largely glass exterior of the stadium that opened in 2016 and killing themselves; a problem that the Vikings and the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority made aware of during the stadium’s design phase. 

 

I have to admit, I never thought about the possibility of glass buildings being a Killing Field of sorts for birds. Yet, according to the American Bird Conservancy, up to 1 billion birds are killed in this manner in North America alone every year.

But I am not a bird expert. Nor am I an architect. Heck, I never, a la “Seinfeld’s” George Costanza, wanted to pretend to be an architect.

Nor am I a resident of Minnesota, nor am I a Minnesota Vikings fan.

That last sentence is relevant because, if I did live in the Land of 10,000 Lakes and/or chanted “Skol, Vikings!” I would likely have been well aware that birds fly into the massive glass exterior of US Bank Stadium. The Vikings home since 2016 will host Super Bowl LII on February 4, so this may be a topic of discussion as the game approaches. So I decided to talk to an expert.

 

US Bank Stadium Glass Paint

A number of birds have crashed into the largely glass exterior Minneapolis’ US Bank Stadium, host, in February 2018, of Super Bowl LII (Photo credit: Glass Paint)

 

Bruce Fowle (perhaps appropriately pronounced “FOUL”) is Founding Principal Emeritus at FXFOWLE, a leading New York City-based architecture firm. He was a founder and chairman of the New York chapter of Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility, an advocacy group for social justice and a sustainable built environment. Most importantly for this story, Fowle and the firm were engaged by New York City’s Javits Center to renovate its all-glass exterior — then the number one bird-killer in the city, according to New York City Audubon.

 

Bruce Fowle HiRes

Bruce Fowle, Founding Principal Emeritus at FXFOWLE (Photo credit: FXFOWLE)

 

According to Fowle, the “problem of glass buildings for birds really came to light about 25 or so years ago. A group of ‘birders’ (aka bird watchers) in Toronto and other cities created the Flight Light Awareness Program (FLAP) to track bird crashes. New York City Audubon started a similar initiative, Project Safe Flight. Like organizations sprang up in other cities, including Minneapolis.”

These groups began with a similar, rather grisly methodology: tracking bird deaths by going out in pre-dawn mornings, collecting carcasses before maintenance crews cleaned them up.

The problem, according to Fowle, is particularly acute during migratory periods. At night, birds are attracted to decorative lights — like those at the top of the Empire State Building — and fly towards them. During daylight hours, migrating birds see through clear glass and think they can fly into the dark spaces inside. Bushes and trees in an atrium are even more toxic: Birds will make a beeline to the greenery, often plowing into the glass at speeds up to 30 miles per hour. Reflective glass poses its own challenges for birds — confused by either seeing their own reflection, or perhaps thinking it is an adversary, or seeing sky and vegetation.

Fowle himself was unaware of the problem until his wife started working for New York City Audubon in the 1990s. In 2009, by complete coincidence, he became the lead architect when his firm was selected to renovate the exterior of the all-glass Javits Center, the largest convention facility in New York City. This gave him the opportunity to solve its bird mortality problem. After some digging, Fowle and company found a winning solution.

“Our big breakthrough came when we found a high-performing glass that was much less reflective than the original — eight percent reflection factor vs. 35 percent,” said Fowle. “By adding a ‘fritted dot pattern’ on the glass, which was needed to control solar gain and reduce energy consumption, we solved the fly-through problem. In the end we reduced bird-kill by 95 percent while making the building more transparent, more visually appealing, and more sustainable – a grand slam!”

 

Javits Exterior Upgraded Glass

 

Javits Interior Upgrade

Exterior (top) and interior views of New York City’s Javits Center after it was renovated to include high performing glass with a “fritted dot pattern” that helped reduce bird kills by 95 percent. (Photo credits: Chris Cooper)

 

The energy bit is important when one considers that glass is not a good energy saver. Per Fowle, “Glass is popular for large buildings from aesthetic, cost, and marketability perspectives, but it is not at all energy efficient.”

But I digress. Back to the birds.

With the help of New York City Audubon, FXFOWLE’s work with the Javits Center attracted the attention of Audubon Minnesota. The nonprofit, dedicated in large part to bird health, was worried about the plans for a mostly glass exterior of a new home for the Vikings. Their concerns were heightened due to the fact the facility would be built smack dab in the middle of the Mississippi River Flyway, the route for millions of migrating birds from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico and through to South America. Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the new LEED Platinum home of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United, which also has a substantial glass exterior — although not as significant, percentage-wise, as US Bank Stadium — does not have a similar bird-kill problem. One likely reason is that it is not located on a flyway path.

Fowle recalls that he and his colleagues “recommended the glass used at Javits to the Audubon Minnesota, who then passed that on to the Vikings, the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA), and their architects. So all the key players were aware of the [bird-friendly] option during the planning phase, but apparently, because of alleged concerns about a relatively modest cost increase, they decided not to go the bird-friendly route.”

So US Bank Stadium was built with approximately 200,000 square feet of highly reflective glass, and, as predicted, birds started flying into it.

Sixty dead birds were observed during the fall 2016 migratory period, according to a February 2017 study compiled by the Audubon Chapter of Minneapolis — a separate group from the Audubon Minnesota — Minnesota Citizens for the Protection of Migratory Birds, and Friends of Roberts Bird Sanctuary. The report asserts that the number “significantly underestimates true mortality at the stadium complex, because it does not include birds removed by maintenance staff, security guards, and scavengers.” And the US Bank Stadium’s reported kill rate is approximately 30 percent greater than has been seen at any other building in the Minneapolis area during any migratory period.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune and others publicized the story — which generated public protest. That led to a backlash —i.e. 60 dead birds aren’t that big a deal. Then, there was a strong volley to the backlash in the form of an October 2014 Star-Tribune OpEd co-authored by Jerry Bahls, then president (he retired this June) of the Audubon Chapter of Minneapolis and Lisa Venable, co-founder of Minnesota Citizens for the Protection of Migratory Birds.

 

Bird Advocates MPR

Bird advocates hold up poster-sized photos of dead birds at a February 2017 public meeting. They said that volunteers found those birds dead outside U.S. Bank Stadium in the early morning. (Photo credit: Minnesota Public Radio/Jerry Nelson)

 

Their story highlighted the strong public support in the Twin Cities and Minnesota more broadly for the use of bird-safe glass at US Bank Stadium (“The current glass choice simply does not reflect Minnesota values, as evidenced by the 95,000 people who signed their names to a bird-safe glass petition to the governor and the unanimous resolution passed by the Minneapolis City Council”) and the pivotal role migratory birds play in pollination and pest control (“One bird can eat 500 pests per day, reducing the need for toxic pesticides.”), before pivoting to the already-existing Javits solution.

Even though several cities throughout North America have adopted Bird-Safe Guidelines and some, such as San Francisco, have legislated compliance, the pleas for bird friendly glass at US Bank Stadium continued to fall on deaf ears.

This continued after the stadium opened last fall, when Audubon Minnesota’s proposal to retrofit of the glass to reduce the kill rate received a no go from the MSFA and the Vikings.

Calls and emails to Audubon Minnesota to get its take on the inaction at US Bank Stadium, and to see if there would be any organized, peaceful protests around Super Bowl LII, have drawn no response. The group is conducting another bird kill study, along with a team from the University of Oklahoma and the MSFA, with results due sometime in 2019.

Of course, Super Bowl LII will have come and gone well before the study is published.

The Audubon Chapter of Minneapolis will not protest, mainly for logistical reasons. “There will be a large ‘Exclusion Zone’ for security purposes around the perimeter of US Bank Stadium from January through the Super Bowl in early February,” said Bahls.

 

Jerry Bahls

Jerry Bahls, retired president of the Audubon Chapter of Minneapolis (Photo credit: Jerry Bahls)

 

Thus, it seems very unlikely that there will be any protests around the bird kill issue near US Bank Stadium in the weeks before Super Bowl LII. And, if that’s the case, the opportunity to gain national — and even international attention — on urban bird kills will have gone by the wayside.

While I certainly get the need for an Exclusion Zone, it says here that it is a shame that peaceful protests beyond the perimeter will not take place before Super Bowl LII. Such high profile actions would demonstrate to planners and architects of future stadium and arena projects — not to mention big, non-sports structures — that the public cares about the bird kill issue and that it should be a strong consideration during the design phase.

 

 


 

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GSB News and Notes: Move For Hunger Saves Unused Food from Road Races; Installing Solar Helps Keep Scottish Rugby Club Alive; Some Greenwashing Concerns about Tokyo 2020

Before the long Memorial Day weekend, GSB News & Notes hopscotches the globe, from New Jersey to Scotland to Japan: A family-owned, 100-year old moving company in New Jersey has found a novel way to join the Green-Sports movement: It started Move for Hunger, a non-profit that rescues unused food from road races. Gala Rugby Club in Scotland is using on-site solar to green its 105-year old stadium. And concerns are being raised about the use of timber from depleted tropical rainforests in construction of venues for the 2020 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo. 

 

MOVE FOR HUNGER: USING MOVING VANS TO SAVE UNUSED FOOD FROM ROAD RACES

Growing up in the Jersey Shore town of Neptune, Adam Lowy had to have thought his career would somehow involve working with moving vans. After all, he and his brother Max represent the fourth generation of family-run Lowy’s Moving Service.

And moving vans have, indeed, become central to Lowy’s professional life; just not in the way he likely would have imagined.

While Max is now the Vice President of Office & Industrial Sales at Lowy’s Moving Service, Adam is the Executive Director and Founder of Move For Hunger (MFH), a nonprofit that works with all manner of moving companies to collect non-perishable food items, and deliver it to food banks all across North America.

 

Lowy Adam Headshot

Adam Lowy, Executive Director/Founder, Move For Hunger (Photo credit: Move For Hunger)

 

The germ of the idea that became MFH came from Adam’s experience in the moving business.

“People throw out lots of unused food, especially when they move.” said Lowy, “And they are happy to give away unused food—if it’s hassle-free. On the flip side, lots of people are hungry—far too many, in fact. This was crazy to me: In Monmouth County, our home area in New Jersey, 56,000 in fact. So Move For Hunger was created to bridge this gap.”

Since MFH’s launch in 2009, the growing nonprofit has, through its partnerships with 750 movers in the US and Canada, delivered 8 million pounds of unused food to food banks. The unused food is picked up from homes, businesses, apartment communities and at colleges and universities. And now, from road races.

Initially, Lowy’s rationale for using marathons and half marathons was not for unused food pickup. Rather, road races started out as a creative fundraising vehicle for MFH.

“Playing on the word ‘move‘ in Move for Hunger, we started to get people to run for us—getting their friends and family to pledge $X per mile—in the New Jersey Marathon,” recalled Lowy. “We raised a couple of thousand dollars when we started with five runners in 2013. By 2016 ‘Team Move’ runners numbered 200, ran 2,500 combined miles and raised $75,000. As we were doing this, we noticed that so much food was wasted at all types of road races, from 5Ks up to marathons to cycling events.”

MFH started working with races across the country in 2014 to collect their unused food and redirect it to food banks. Since then, they’ve rescued over 460,000 lbs. of food from high profile events, including the LA MarathonSeattle Half Marathon, Miami Marathon, and the New York Triathlon.

 

LAMarathon2017_FoodPickUp NorthStar Moving

NorthStar Moving helps pickup unused food from the LA Marathon as part of its pro bono work for Move For Hunger (Photo credit: NorthStar Moving)

 

Sports will continue to play an important role at Move For Hunger, says Lowy. “Sports fills a lot of boxes for us: It’s an efficient way for us to rescue food, and it’s a cool way to build awareness around our ‘NO FOOD TO WASTE’ branding.”

 

GALA RUGBY CLUB IN SCOTLAND INSTALLS SOLAR, SAVES MONEY

Gala Rugby Club (GRC), in Galashiels, is one of ten amateur# clubs in the BT Premiership, the top tier of rugby union in Scotland. As rugby union’s popularity in Scotland is relatively small compared to that of soccer, the club’s owners are especially keen to cut operational costs. With that in mind, GRC hired Resource Efficient Scotland (RES) to find ways to reduce water and energy bills at quaint, 105-year old Netherdale Stadium.

 

Gala Rugby Ground

Netherdale Stadium, the 5,000 seat home of Gala Rugby Club in Galashiels, Scotland. (Photo credit: Resource Efficient Scotland)

 

RES’ initial on-site assessment revealed energy reduction and water consumption measures that could lead to about $27,000 in savings, a significant sum for a club of Gala’s size.

That same analysis looked at outfitting Netherdale Stadium with solar photovoltaic (PV) cells, but the site was not in use significantly over the summer period (the BT Premiership season runs from late August through April), so the idea was shelved. But, in 2015, the Scottish Rugby Union asked to use Netherdale and other facilities at GRC for a variety of activities during the summer. This turned the financial case for solar from negative to positive. GRC subsequently applied for and received a RES small and medium size establishment (SME) loan to help it purchase and install the solar panels.

According to RES, it is projected that the solar installation will provide Gala Rugby Club with around 70% of its electricity needs, reducing its annual energy costs by nearly $8,000 and CO2 emissions by around 11 tonnes.

The financial relief may sound small, but the truth is the reductions in operating costs from the efficiency measures and the introduction of on-site solar mean GRC will remain a viable part of the Scottish Rugby Union and the region for the foreseeable future.

Graham Low, President of GRC, drove that point home when he extolled, “The loan we received [from RES] for the [solar] panels has not only enabled us to save a lot of money, but is also a very visible sign of our commitment to reducing the Club’s environmental impact.”

 

GREENWASHING BY TOKYO 2020 OLYMPIC ORGANIZING COMMITTEE?

Writing in the May 11 edition of Vocativ^, Ray Lemire reported The Rainforest Action Network (RAN) claimed there is “evidence that the Japanese government is using tropical wood sourced from Shin Yang, a [large conglomerate with a logging operation] in the State of Sarawak, Malaysia, with a record of human rights abuses, illegal logging, and rainforest destruction.” To bring attention to this issue, RAN has submitted petitions with 140,000 signatures to Japanese embassies and staged protests both in Malaysia and at the Olympic Stadium site.

Since wood figures prominently in traditional Japanese architecture, from pagodas to shrines, it is fitting that the Tokyo Olympic Stadium is being constructed with a wooden lattice. And Tokyo 2020 organizers have a detailed code for sustainably sourcing timber, available for public view. Activists say the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee are not living up to the code and are thus greenwashing.

They first voiced their concerns in April about the use of Shin Yang wood from Sarawak, where illegal logging is widespread and the destruction of forests is one of the most severe cases in the world. Photos, which appeared on on the RAN website documented that the wood was indeed from Shin Yang.

 

Tokyo Olympic Stadium Construct

Construction of the Tokyo Olympic Stadium. The Shin Yang marker is inside the red oval. (Photo credit: Rainforest Action Network)

 

Tokyo Close Up Shin Yang

Close-up of the Shin Yang mark. (Photo credit: Rainforest Action Network)

 

The Japan Sport Council (JSC) confirmed the wood’s Shin Yang/Sarawak provenance but, in a statement to The Huffington Post, also said, “The plywood in question has been certified by the Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification, an international non-profit organization dedicated to promoting sustainable forest management. They further confirmed it is in compliance with the legal and sustainability aspects of the sourcing standards set by the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee.”

How is that possible?

RAN claims that the sourcing standards used by organizers have a significant loophole that allows “formwork plywood” to be used in molding concrete, thus giving Shin Yang a pass and Tokyo 2020, it says here, a greenwashing problem. Especially when one considers the stadium design was chosen, per Lemire in Vocativ, “in part because of its lesser environmental footprint that will serve as the crown jewel of an Olympic Games touting sustainability.”

 

# Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors, the two biggest rugby union clubs in Scotland, play in (professional) Guinness Pro 12 Rugby against teams from Ireland, Italy, Northern Ireland and Wales.
^ Vocativ is a website site claiming to use “deep web (GSB’s itals) technology as a force for good and go where others can’t to reveal hidden voices, emerging trends and surprising data”

 


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