The GSB Interview: Matt Ellis, CEO of Measurabl — Helping Sports Teams Benchmark Their Environmental Impacts

Sports stadiums and arenas have been in the greening business for almost a decade, which is a great thing. But do venues and teams know how much energy they’re saving, how much waste they’re diverting from landfill, and more? You would think so but measurement of greening lagged actual greening. Until Matt Ellis and Measurabl came along. GreenSportsBlog talked with Matt, the company’s founder and CEO, to understand how he got into the sustainability measurement business, where sports fits in and…what happened to the last “e” at the end of Measurabl.

 

GreenSportsBlog: When thinking about Measurabl, this adage comes to mind: “What gets measured gets managed. And what gets managed matters.” How did you get into the sustainability measurement space and why the big move into sports?

Matt Ellis: Well, Lew, we have to go back to 2008 to get to the beginning of the story. I was working in real estate in the San Diego area — I’m a San Diego guy, went to UC San Diego undergrad and San Diego State for grad school, my family was in the real estate business. I was working for CBRE at the time…

GSB: …When the “econ-o-pocalpyse” hit…

ME: Exactly! My business was not that strong, to say the least. I had plenty of time on my hands, walking around town, looking for deals. I saw plenty of decals on buildings, decals like “LEED ” and “ENERGY STAR.” I started to ask “why?” I found out sustainability drives higher occupancy rates, higher quality tenants, and higher rents, among other positive outcomes. Not long after that, CBRE management asked me to start and run a sustainability practice group.

 

Ellis Matt 1 Headshot

Matt Ellis, founder and CEO of Measurabl (Photo credit: Measurabl)

 

GSB: Was that in the San Diego area or national? How did it go?

ME: National. Despite the economic collapse, we were getting calls consistently from our clients who were interested in how they could leverage sustainability in their real estate portfolios. By 2010-11, we had started to offer RECs, offsets, and the first carbon neutral leases. Eventually I became CBRE’s Director of Sustainability Solutions. As all this was happening, I noticed our sustainability efforts lacked one key thing: data. We needed better measurement tools so we could learn what worked and what didn’t, sustainability-wise. We needed to be able to benchmark on a number of metrics so we could measure progress over time. Every time we looked at measurement, we were told it was too hard, too costly.

GSB: Did you accept that?

ME: Not at all. In fact, I started to ask this question: “Can we provide meaningful sustainability measurement tools?” That would be a big deal. As I investigated this question, I realized that a software solution is what was was needed. We needed to gather environmental, social and governance (ESG) data, create benchmarks for buildings and then be able to sort all of this data. The goal is to know how buildings perform in terms of energy usage, carbon footprint, materials, waste, environmental certifications and more. Convinced that an environmental benchmarking and measurement software platform was indeed doable and valuable, I left CBRE and incorporated Measurabl in 2013.

GSB: How did Measurabl do out of the gate?

ME: We’ve done well the last couple of years, providing environmental benchmarking and measurement software to real estate investment trusts (REITS), asset managers like Black Rock, property managers like CBRE, and corporations like VMware, among others. They’ve found great value in it.

 

Measurabl Early Days

Matt Ellis at the whiteboard during the early days of Measurabl (Photo credit: Measurabl)

 

GSB: Congratulations! What is the Measurabl business model? What is a reasonable ROI for a client?

ME: We provide three Software as a Service aka “SaaS” plans: Basic, Pro, and Premium starting at no cost for the “Basic” plan and going to over $100/building/month for the most feature rich plan. Each provides for data management, benchmarking, and reporting and, depending on the level you sign up for, the client can achieve different ROIs which include cost savings from resource management and efficiency through to Investment Grade reporting which helps them secure lower interest rates on their loans and preferred access to capital from investors.

GSB: That sounds like a great deal for a property manager or building owner. What made you think of sports as a vertical for Measurabl?

ME: Sports makes sense for a couple of reasons for Measurabl. One is that over half of our workforce are athletes, mostly from the world of water polo, which I played at UCSD. And benchmarking sustainability metrics is kind of like how sports uses statistics: data stokes the competitive fire in athletes as well as in building or venue management. So we get sports culturally and from a data perspective. So it fits that Chase Cockerill from our business development team, an athlete himself, made a call to Jason Kobeda at Major League Baseball and Jason said “we get it, this is cool, this can help us take the game to the next level, literally” We established the relationship with MLB in April, right around Opening Day.

 

Measurabl Chase Matt

Measurabl’s CEO Matt Ellis (l) and business development executive Chase Cockerill at June’s Green Sports Alliance Summit in Atlanta (Photo credit: Measurabl)

 

GSB: WOW! That was super quick! Did all 30 teams buy in?

ME: Yes, the relationship is at the league level so all clubs and venues can access the software. So far about two thirds of the clubs are on board and the rest are ramping up. We’re providing them with data management and benchmarking on energy usage, water usage, carbon footprint, waste diversion, environmental impacts of upgrade projects, certifications and reports.

GSB: What kind of reports?

ME: For example, our software can generate a CDP report for the League. CDP is a well-known global standard for reporting carbon performance. We can also provide stadium level reports specific to each venue.

GSB: That has to be a huge time saver for the clubs.

ME: Absolutely. It is also a way to improve the accuracy of the data and therefore make more informed decisions. At the same time we talked to the Green Sports Alliance (GSA). GSA’s Erik Distler said “all of our members share a common set of needs around data management” so we then went on to form an exclusive, worldwide partnership with GSA to be their data management and benchmarking partner and platform.

GSB: That is terrific. How is the stadium or arena environment different from a high-rise office building in terms of benchmarking and measurement?

ME: The sports venue environment is generally more complex than a typical commercial building. Think of Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. There’s the retail components, the exterior parking areas, the solar panels the field, boxes… Right now, we’re able to compare a venue’s performance, year-over-year by breaking the space down to its constituent parts and comparing that performance across like-kind spaces to create benchmarks.

GSB: What about comparing stadium vs. stadium, arena vs. arena?

ME: That’s the next step, and a big part of MLB and the Alliance’s leadership, which is to create a global benchmark for sports facilities. Comparing stadiums to each other, when all of them are unique, is tough. But that’s what we love about the sports world — whether it’s MLB, the NHL, NASCAR or the Alliance — they don’t accept “it’s too tough” to compare, and neither do we. Eventually, we hope to put all venues in a given sport on the platform and to create an “apples-to-apples” comparison that is meaningful. The more data, the more facilities, the more accurate the benchmark. It’s a “team effort” so to speak! The good news is the momentum is strong and roll out well underway.

GSB: I have no doubts. Does the Measurabl platform measure fan engagement and interest?

ME: We do reporting really well. The reports can be easily understood by fans. It’s up to the clubs to decide to tell the sustainability stories but we certainly advocate that they do so on a consistent basis.

GSB: We will check back with you after this season to see how the teams are doing on the fan engagement piece. Meanwhile, I have one last question: What happened to the last “e” in Measurabl?

ME: Ha! “Measurable” was too traditional – not “startup” enough, so drop the “e” and it was a home run.

 


 

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Tuesday at the (Very) Interactive 2018 Green Sports Alliance Summit: Climate Change Takes a Starring Role; ESPN Wins Environmental Leadership Award, But Are They Really Leading?

Executive Director Justin Zeulner promised that the 2018 Green Sports Alliance Summit in Atlanta would be “much more interactive than in past years — more workshops than panel discussions.” The Alliance made good on that promise at Tuesday’s full day session, with workshops that were more substantive and less jargon-y than in the past. Here are some of the highlights from Day 1 of the Summit.

 

THOUGHT LEADER WORKSHOP TAKES ON CLIMATE CHANGE AND SPORTS

Climate change, politics, and sports — not often mixed together at the four Alliance Summits I had attended previously — were featured items on the menu at the somewhat wonkish lunch time Thought Leader workshop. Co-led with verve by Colin Tetreault, Senior Sustainability Scholar at Arizona State University and Anne Kelly, Senior Director, Policy at Ceres, the session also featured Matt Ellis, CEO and Founder of Measurabl, Ben Jarrett, North American Sustainability Leader at Kimberly-Clark, Scott Mercer, CEO of Volta Charging, and Kat West of JLL.

 

Colin Tetreault

Colin Tetreault (Photo credit: Arizona State University)

 

Audience members, yours truly included, probed the panel (and the panel probed back) about, among other things, how athletes, teams and leagues can and should talk about climate change. The issue of politics hung over that question.

Mr. Mercer questioned the premise, saying in effect that climate change is not political. There was some pushback, both from Mr. Jarrett and some audience members. Ms. West suggested that emphasizing positive environmental actions and staying out of the politics of climate change is probably the best approach. I volleyed, saying “like it or not, climate change is a political issue and we can’t be afraid of that. Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in baseball was a controversial issue and now he’s a hero. Muhammad Ali’s criticism of the Vietnam War was a controversial issue and now he’s a hero. We don’t have the time to wait for our sports-climate heroes.” That led to more respectful dialogue from a variety of perspectives.

Which was great.

Too often I’ve seen panels — at the Summit and elsewhere — where everyone agrees in a Kumbaya-ish sort of way. I think workshops like this, which featured a healthy and respectful debate, are much more valuable and informative.

On the way to the next workshop, I heard several people saying, “I could’ve stayed for another hour.” I silently seconded that emotion.

 

DOES ESPN DESERVE ITS “ENVIRONMENTAL LEADERSHIP AWARD”

ESPN won the Alliance’s Environmental Leadership Award for 2018 .

In accepting the award, Kevin Martinez, ESPN’s vice president of Corporate Citizenship, showed a video that highlighted impressive environmental achievements at the ESPY Awards, the Winter X Games and the College GameDay studio shows for both football and basketball. And ESPN’s sprawling Bristol, CT headquarters campus has been greening for the better part of a decade, including on-site solar and a strong waste diversion program (62 percent in 2017).

 

Kevin Martinez - March 5, 2013

Kevin Martinez, ESPN’s vice president of corporate citizenship, accepted the Alliance’s Environmental Leadership Award (Photo credit: Rich Arden/ESPN)

 

These accomplishments deserve to be commended.

Just not, it says here, with the Environmental Leadership Award.

I just don’t see leadership from from the Worldwide Leader in Sports in the environmental arena.

That’s because ESPN has not told Green-Sports stories to its massive audiences — 86 million cable subscribers, 115 million monthly espn.com visitors, 2.1 million ESPN The Magazine subscribers, etc.

There have been occasional exceptions: Outside The Linesthe 60 Minutes of ESPN, covered the effect of the polluted waters of Rio on the sailors and rowers at the 2016 Summer Olympics as well as the impact of wildfires in California and of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. The producers are planning to mark the one year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey in August.

But that’s not leadership, at least not in my eyes.

The good news is that it’s not that heavy a lift to get to leadership. Taking some or all of these steps would do the trick:

  • Tell some of the many inspirational, positive, interesting Green-Sports stories out there.
  • Air a “Climate and Sports” series on SportsCenter 
  • Produce an ESPN 30 for 30 or a Nine for IX (women’s sports focused) documentary on an Eco-Athlete
  • Add an Eco-Athlete of the Year Award to the ESPY’s roster

You get the idea.

Now, you’re probably dying to ask me, “So Lew, to whom would you have given the Environmental Leadership Award?”

My vote would’ve gone to another sports media behemoth, Sky Sports of Great Britain, for its Sky Ocean Rescue initiative. According to SkySports.com, it shines a spotlight on “the issues affecting ocean health, finds innovative solutions to the ocean plastic problems and inspires people to make small everyday changes that collectively make a huge difference.” Just last week, the network named modern pentathlete Francesca Summers and para-swimmer Ellen Keane as Sky Sports Scholars for their Sky Ocean Rescue/beach cleanup work. Sky Sports also features Sky Ocean Rescue-related content on its air. And they are partners with the environmentally forward leaning Volvo Ocean Race.

 

Francesca Summers

Francesca Summers and Ellen Keane clean trash from beaches as part of the Sky Ocean Rescue program (Photo credit: Sky Sports)

 

ARTHUR M. BLANK WINS COMMUNITY CHAMPION AWARD

The Alliance’s first annual Community Champion Award, given to a sustainability leader in the Summit’s host city, went to Arthur M. Blank, owner of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United and builder of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mr. Blank’s commitment to going the extra mile to make sure the stadium earned LEED Platinum certification was likely well known by many in the audience. My guess is few attendees were aware of his vision to make the stadium an economic and cultural engine for the adjacent West Side neighborhood.

In decline for more than 40 years, the West Side was once home to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and was a nucleus of the civil rights movement. And now, thanks in part to Mr. Blank, the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, the Mercedes-Benz Stadium team, as well as the Atlanta and Georgia governments, that historic neighborhood is starting on the long road back.

 

GSA Arthur Blank-headshot

Arthur M. Blank, a deserving winner of the Green Sports Alliance’s Community Champion Award (Photo credit: Arthur M. Blank Sports and Entertainment)

 


 

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Informal GSB Poll: Atlanta United F.C. Fans Bullish About Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s Greenness

Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the world’s first LEED certified pro stadium, is playing host to 800 or so people at the eighth Green Sports Alliance Summit, from today through Wednesday. On Sunday, 42,500 mostly fans packed the place for the MLS match between Atlanta United and the Portland Timbers. GreenSportsBlog conducted a small, informal, admittedly unscientific poll among fans before the game to gauge awareness and attitudes about the stadium’s greenness.

 

The most stunning design feature to me of Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium design and architecture — and there are many from which to choose^ — is the 360-degree, “halo” scoreboard suspended from the roof.

 

MB Stadium 3

 

Clearly viewable from every seat in the house, the scoreboard constantly draws ones eyes skyward.

And during the hour before Sunday’s MLS match between Atlanta United and Portland Timbers, my eyes saw messaging like this:

 

M-B Stadium

 

The first-of-its-kind scoreboard also encouraged fans to recycle while occasional public address announcements highlighted a variety of the stadium’s green features that resulted in it becoming the first professional stadium to receive LEED Platinum status. Of course, most of the messaging on the scoreboard and on its loudspeakers had to do with the game, the home team and the terrific experience (a mix of the best of the European soccer stadium experience with an authentic Atlanta feel) — which is as it should be.

And it is working.

Atlanta United, in only its second season, has become one of the cornerstone franchises in MLS:

  • The team made the playoffs in its first season and are in first place in MLS’ Eastern Conference
  • Thousands of energetic fans, in multiple supporters’ sections, stand, chant and sing throughout the entire 90 minutes.
  • Every game is a sellout. Either in the stadium’s standard 42,500 seat configuration — like Sunday’s game (the upper deck is closed and draped) — or its full 72,000 seat mode, reserved for the biggest/rivalry matches

All of the above serves as subtext to a question to which I was trying to get some answers: Has Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s consistent yet modest way of communicating its sustainability broken through with its largely youngish fan base? GreenSportsBlog conducted a small, informal survey by talking to a few of them before Sunday’s pulsating 1-1 draw between Atlanta United and Portland Timbers to begin to find out.

 


 

Evan and Paige Himebaugh from Kennesaw, about 45 minutes away, chatted with me about soccer and sustainability at Stats Brew Pub, a couple blocks from Mercedes-Benz Stadium. They are brother-and-sister season ticket holders who are helping to make Atlanta United a “thing” in the city’s sporting culture. But neither knew that Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s had achieved LEED Platinum certification. “I had no idea!,” exclaimed Paige, a local soccer coach. “But it is great for Atlanta to be leading on green building.”

 

Evan and Paige

Evan and Paige Himebaugh were excited to learn about Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s LEED Platinum status (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

 

Husband and wife season ticket holders Todd and Terry Barcroft of Atlanta talked and walked with me on their way to the concession stand. Both were well aware of the stadium’s green leadership. “Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s LEED status is really a point of civic pride,” asserted Terry. “And, with ‘Atlanta’s Better Building Challenge‘, people can see that the city is a green building hub.” Todd suggested that stadium management “should incorporate more signage in the concourses” to increase awareness of its sustainable bona fides.

 

Todd and terry

Todd and Terry Barcroft (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

 

Andre Katompa was rushing to his seat and doing his best to avoid seeing the screens in the concourse showing the Colombia-Poland FIFA World Cup match (“I’m DVRing it!”) when he stopped to talk with me. “I found out about the stadium’s LEED certification on TV — there was a story about it on the sports news, which I watch religiously,” enthused the native of the Democratic Republic of Congo. “It is a great thing that the stadium is helping to fight climate change by reducing energy consumption. And that is great for Atlanta.”

 

Andre Katompa

Andre Katompa (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

 

Up in the press box, I sat next to Atlanta area native Max Marcovitch, who was covering the match for The Oregonian. Max’s mom was his entry point into the Mercedes-Benz Stadium LEED Platinum story. “She knew someone involved with the construction of the building,” shared Marcovitch. “Every time the stadium would come up, mom would remind me, ‘it’s going to be LEED Platinum’ so I was very well aware of its greenness. I don’t think my friends [who are on the younger end of the millennial cohort] would be aware of it, but if they found out, they would think it is very cool.”

 

MY TAKE

I give the folks at Mercedes-Benz Stadium a strong A- grade for the way they communicate the venue’s sustainability story. The scoreboard and public address messaging is just right; frequent enough without being over the top. I loved one subtle touch on the scoreboard: A still photo of the Atlanta skyline, shot from the stadium, with some of its 4,000 solar panels in the foreground.

If the stadium had more sustainability-focused signage in the concourses, I would have given them a solid A. Want to earn an A+? How about an interactive exhibit for fans that tells Mercedes-Bens Stadium’s LEED Platinum story, similar to the museum-style installation# at New York City’s Empire State Building that shares the impact of its energy efficiency retrofit with the 3 million people who visit the building every year?

Finally, if you are a sports fan —green or otherwise — and/or an architecture buff, schedule a trip to Atlanta to take in a game at Mercedes-Benz. I’m sure a Falcons game would be fantastic, but I’d opt for an Atlanta United match. It is an incredible experience.

 

M-B Stadium 2a

 

^ The stunning view of the city skyline from the east end of the stadium and the camera lens-like “oculus” roof are two other “that is so cool!” features of Mercedes-Benz Stadium
# Editor’s Note: Lew Blaustein worked as a marketing and communications consultant on the Empire State Building’s sustainability exhibit in 2009 and 2010

 


 

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Ken Belson and The New York Times #CoverGreenSports

About a month ago, GreenSportsBlog launched a new hashtag, #CoverGreenSports. Its goal is to encourage the mainstream media, from sports to green to news, to cover the sports greening movement. Last week, the US “paper of record,” The New York Times and lead NFL writer Ken Belsonstepped up to the #CoverGreenSports plate in a big way, with “Sports Stadiums Help Lead the Way Toward Greener Architecture”

 

The fourth week in May should be a quiet time for the lead NFL reporter at The New York TimesThe draft, which took place in April, is already old news and training camps don’t open until late July. You would think this time of year is when NFL writers should be on vacation.

But last week was a busy one for Ken Belson, proving that there is no such thing as a quiet period for the NFL.

 

Ken Belson NYT

Ken Belson of The New York Times (Photo credit: The New York Times)

 

In fact Belson, working at breakneck pace, had three stories in The Times over a 48 hour period:

  1. “The NFL and Nike Make Room for Fanatics,” detailed how the League expects revenue from merchandise sales to increase by 50 percent by 2030 through a new deal with Fanatics.
  2. In “NFL Anthem Policy Bound to Please Only the NFL,” Belson opined about the NFL’s controversial, just-announced national anthem policy. It was instituted in response to protests by some NFL players in 2016 and 2017, most notably ex-49ers QB Colin Kaepernick, who knelt during the playing of the national anthem. They did so to draw attention to police brutality and other social injustice against African-Americans. But many NFL fans, including President Trump, feel that the kneeling players disrespect the flag. The new policy requires players to stand for the playing of the anthem or stay in the locker room during that time. There was no player input on this decision. Belson’s take: “It’s hard to envision the N.F.L. crafting a policy that satisfies everyone. But one that is likely to satisfy only the 32 owners hardly seems like an enlightened solution.”

But it was his third story that interested me most — and made me smile.

In Sports Stadiums Help Lead the Way Toward Greener Architecture,” Belson gave Times readers a terrific Green-Sports tutorial. 

He kicked off with Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the new home of the city’s NFL and MLS teams and the world’s first LEED Platinum certified stadium. Belson’s main insight is in sync with GreenSportsBlog’s overall ethos: “Green stadiums are shining a light on the complex and critical issue of climate change. Fans disinclined to care about the issue are exposed to things like highly efficient LED lighting or low-flush toilets, and can see that going green is not a hardship, but a choice.”

 

Mercedes-Benz Stadium

Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, the first to win LEED Platinum certification. (Photo credit: Kevin D. Liles for The New York Times)

 

Belson then took readers on a brief trip across the pond — “many of the innovations [in green stadiums-arenas] are being developed in Europe, where laws and regulations governing greenhouse gas emissions are stricter,” — before pivoting back to North America and the National Hockey League.

He lauded the NHL as a green leader among sports leagues for understanding the existential threat the sport faces from climate change and for taking steps to combat it: “The number of ponds that freeze over in winter has fallen dramatically in recent years, making the sport less accessible in countries like Canada, where many children first start playing the game outdoors. Going green is a way to address a long-term threat, not just save money.”

 

Lake Louise hockey

According to a study by McLeman and Robertson, published in The Canadian Geographer, the future of outdoor ice hockey on Lake Louise in Alberta and elsewhere in Canada is at risk due to the effects of climate change (Photo credit: Edmonton Journal)

 

GreenSportsBlog readers are likely familiar with much of this. And the folks quoted in Belson’s piece likely ring a bell.

You probably recognize Scott Jenkins, Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s general manager and the Chairman of the Board of the Green Sports Alliance, as an “evangelist of all things green.” 

 

 

LEED Platinum Certification Event - from right - Rich McKay, Scott Jenkins, Arthur Blank

Scott Jenkins (c), General Manager of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, flanked by Rich McKay (l), President of the Atlanta Falcons and Arthur Blank, at the LEED Platinum announcement event (Photo credit: AMB Sports and Entertainment)

 

And you probably know of Allen Herskhowitz, ex-President of the Alliance and a founder of Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI), which promotes low-carbon strategies for sports teams, leagues and association. He told Belson, “Any single sporting event doesn’t really have a giant ecological footprint, whether it’s a football game or even a season for a team. But the cultural and social platform of sports is almost unparalleled in terms of its ability to reach people.”

Yes, you may recognize Scott and Allen and the many other Green-Sports luminaries who have been featured in our posts these past five years, but the thing is, most humans have no idea who they are and are unaware of the important work they are doing. 

So it is very important that The (NOT failing) New York Times, with its massive reach and prestige, has decided to #CoverGreenSports with Belson’s piece.

Does this foreshadow a trend? 

It should, especially since the millennial and GenZ readers that The Times — and for that matter, almost all media outlets — is desperate to engage, care more deeply about the environment, sustainability and climate change than do their predecessor generational cohorts. 

But it is, methinks, too early to tell. 

One potential brake on an increase in Green-Sports coverage from mainstream media outlets is that the topic crosses many areas — sports, green/environment, business, and politics, to name a few.  That means that no one department claims natural ownership of Green-Sports and so no editor will assign a beat writer to cover it. What is more likely is that the hodgepodge we see now — a rare story by a sports reporter here and another one-off story from a business reporter there — will continue.

Until, that is, a department editor — I don’t care which department — says strongly “Green-Sports is MINE!”

With that in mind, we invite any visionary Green-Sports-minded editors to go through GreenSportsBlog’s archives to find a few hundred compelling story ideas to bring to their readers.

You will be glad you did!


 

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The GSB Interview: Justin Zeulner, Previewing the 2018 Green Sports Alliance Summer in Atlanta

Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the new home of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United, will be the site for two mega-events over the next year. Next February, the first LEED Platinum NFL stadium will play host to Super Bowl LIII. But well before that — June 26-27 to be exact — Green Sports Alliance Summit VIII takes center stage. Its theme is PLAY GREENER™: Get In The Game. GSB talked with Alliance Executive Director Justin Zeulner to find out about the new initiatives the Alliance has planned for attendees. 

 

GreenSportsBlog: Justin, before we got on the phone to talk Green Sports Alliance Summit in Atlanta, I had two main thoughts going through my head: 1. How can you and the rest of the Alliance braintrust freshen the Summit going into its eighth iteration, and 2. Having it at LEED Platinum Mercedes-Benz Stadium is a great freshener, indeed!

Justin Zeulner: Keeping things fresh — that’s a great question and it’s something we’re very much focused on, especially coming into this Summit. In fact, a couple of years ago, the leadership took a collective deep breath to figure out, strategically, what would be best, not only for our Summits but for the sports greening movement as a whole. We undertook this strategic refresh at a time of strong growth for us. Two or three years ago, we had 300+ members; now we’re nearing 600. When an organization like ours starts to scale like we have, new challenges arise. What can you provide that’s new, innovative and meaningful? How can we best continue to serve and lead our members, helping them grow their sustainability initiatives when there are many more of them.

GSB: A good problem to have…

JZ: We agree…

GSB: So how is the Alliance going about upping its game service-, growth- and leadership-wise?

JZ: Serve — We keep in close touch with our membership, finding out where they want to go and what guidance they need when it comes to environmental issues. We help by convening the Summit, providing resources and programs, largely around energy, water, transportation, food, and waste. Adding the Corporate Members Network was wonderful because that helped add a great many greener products and services to help our teams and venues reach their goals. Grow — the more the Alliance grows, the more people we get involved in the movement and the greater the impact we have as it relates to our mission — “to build healthy, sustainable communities where we live and play.” Lead—means trying new things, taking some risks…

 

Zeulner GSA

Justin Zeulner, Executive Director of the Green Sports Alliance (Photo credit: Green Sports Alliance)

 

GSB: Justin, that’s a great segue to this year’s Summit in Atlanta. What new things will you try? What risks will you take?

JZ: The title of our Summit is “PLAY GREENER ™: Get In The Game.” The “Get in the Game” piece is illustrative of the changes we’ve made for this year and takes into account comments we received from attendees last year in Sacramento.

GSB: What does that mean exactly?

JZ: One big change is that our sessions will be much more interactive than in past years — more workshops, than panel discussions. We want there to be a robust dialogue that’s as attendee-driven as possible. And we want attendees to leave with a crystal clear road map as to how to implement the greening programs they learn about in Atlanta.

GSB: What kind of programs are you talking about?

JZ: We’re adhering to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs), helping our teams and venues do their part in terms of carbon mitigation to put humanity on a path to a less than 2°C temperature rise, as compared to pre-industrial levels. Food is one key area — we are helping venues with menu design, from more veggie options, to locally sourced food, and more. And venues are responding. Of course they offer burgers —but sometimes those burgers are veggie. In fact, Impossible Burgers

GSB: …The veggie burgers that taste and feel beef-like? They’re GREAT!

JZ: Impossible Burger will be at the Summit! Vegetarian and vegan foods are something athletes are getting more into, so we’ll be talking about that. But we’re getting even deeper with our “Business of Food” workshop. Larry Kopald of Carbon Underground will lead a discussion about regenerative farming, how it can help tackle our carbon problems, and how the sports industry can help support it. A local farmer will share his inspirational story of transforming his family farm from the traditional approach to regenerative farming and what scaling that can mean for sports and the world more broadly. Chefs will also take part, discussing how stadia and arenas can gradually add “plant forward” proteins to their menus.

 

GSA Mercedes-Benz Stadium_dusk_8_30_17

Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, site of the upcoming 2018 Green Sports Alliance Summit (Photo credit: Mercedes-Benz Stadium)

 

GSB: This sounds like a fantastic workshop. And now I’m hungry!

JZ: Well save that appetite for the Tuesday night of the Summit. That’s when we will have our awards celebration at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Top chefs will be featured at our  “Taste of Atlanta”” event.

GSB: Sounds like it will be a must-attend event. Beyond food, what else will attendees see at Mercedes-Benz Stadium?

JZ: Engagement will be a watchword at this year’s Summit, from athletes, to fans, to youth. Youth will be a particular focus with Diana Dehm leading another Student Summit.

GSB: I imagine attendees from teams and leagues will be very interested in how to engage youth with green sports. My bet is that nothing makes sports executives lose sleep these days more than the issue of to how to ensure millennials, Gen Zers, and the generation after follow sports with something close to the passion of their forebears. I’m not saying a team’s, a sport’s greenness is the determining factor but it can be a factor. Who will be delivering the keynote address at this year’s Summit?

JZ: Arthur M. Blank, the owner of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United, and the driving force behind the building of the LEED Platinum Mercedes-Benz Stadium, will be giving the keynote. His talk will center on how environmental leadership impacts community, social justice and health and wellness. Mr. Blank believes the environmental and the social are linked and it is his mission and that of the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation to positively impact both. Speaking of the social aspects of sustainability, another speaker of note is Samantha “Sam” Gordon. Honored by the NFL with their inaugural Game Changer award, Sam is a young woman from Utah who plays football with the boys and became the one of the best players on the team. That wasn’t enough for Sam — she started a league in her area for female tackle football players. Now Sam is not doing all this just for women to play football. She is doing this work to activate interest among girls in physical activity, exercise, and wellness and ensure underserved populations have a voice.

 

GSA Arthur Blank-headshot

Arthur M. Blank, owner of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United (Photo credit: Arthur M. Blank Sports and Entertainment)

 

GSA Sam Gordon-headshot

Samantha “Sam” Gordon (Photo credit: Samantha Gordon)

 

GSB: For a GenZ girl like Sam, this is how social movements start!

JZ: Exactly. Also ex-major league baseball player and manager Dusty Baker and former NFLer Will Allen, both advocates for renewable energy, will talk about their experiences in the solar field. And we are honored to have David Kenny, CEO of the Weather Channel, as a speaker.

GSB: Well, I have to say, before we spoke, I was a bit skeptical about this Summit differing enough from its predecessors, that its focus would be too Green-Sports 1.0 (i.e. LEED certified stadia, Zero-Waste games) and not enough Green-Sports 2.0 (fan, athlete engagement) for my taste. But, from the speakers, to the topics, to the workshop style, to audience engagement, I see the 2018 Green Sports Alliance Summit at Mercedes-Benz Stadium as an event that will, while still touching on worthwhile Green-Sports 1.0 issues, push the GreenSports clearly into its 2.0 phase. I am looking forward to it.

JZ: See you in Atlanta!

 

Click here for information on how to attend the 2018 Green Sports Alliance Summit at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta June 26-27.
GreenSportsBlog is a media sponsor of the 2018 Green Sports Alliance Summit.

 


 

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The GSB Interview: Carlie Bullock-Jones of Ecoworks Studio; Helping Stadia and Arenas Earn LEED Gold or Platinum Status

Last month, Mercedes-Benz Stadium became the first pro stadium to earn LEED Platinum certification. For that honor and more, the new home of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United, won GreenSportsBlog’s Greenest New Stadium/Arena of 2017 award. How the stadium became a Green-Sports beacon is an interesting story. To get the inside scoop on that project and more, we talked to Carlie Bullock-Jones, CEO of sustainability consulting firm Ecoworks Studios, which helped Mercedes-Benz Stadium achieve Platinum status.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Sustainability consulting for sports stadium and arena projects is a very specialized niche. Carlie, tell us how you got into it…

Carlie Bullock-Jones: Well, I’ve been into sports and design since as far back as I can remember. Grew up in Auburn, AL — my dad went to Auburn…

GSB: War EAGLE!!

CBJ: War Damn EAGLE!! He then became a professor of Industrial Design there. Then, to top that off, I went to Auburn and studied design. I was interested in how buildings affected people and the environment. Heck, my thesis was “The Built Environment and its Impact on the Natural Environment.” Anyway, I got a job in Atlanta as an interior designer at an architecture firm. And even though sustainability wasn’t common practice in the industry, I started a sustainability committee at the firm in 1999, the same year as LEED was born, so the time was right, unbeknownst to me. Some of our government and education clients wanted to pursue LEED for the facilities we were designing — the CDC and Georgia Tech come to mind — and the practice just blossomed.

 

Carlie Headshot

Carlie Bullock-Jones (Photo credit: Ecoworks Studio)

 

GSB: That’s fantastic! When did sports venues come into the mix?

CBJ: Well, before sports, we started with getting convention centers LEED certified— the two are similar in that they’re both large public spaces. Raleigh’s (NC) convention center was one of our early LEED projects. This gave me experience that would later prove valuable for stadia and arenas — working with “surge buildings” — structures that accommodate a few hundred people on most days and then jump to tens of thousands on a few days. I should mention that in 2007 I left the architecture firm and started my own professional consulting practice, with a focus on sustainability and LEED certification, Ecoworks Studio in Atlanta. Among other things, that gave me freedom to work on a wider variety of projects, which would end up including sports venues.

 

Raleigh Conv Center Barnhill

Raleigh Convention Center (Photo credit: Barnhill Contracting Company)

 

GSB: 2007…That was about a year before the “econ-o-pocalypse,” perhaps not the best time to go out on one’s own, especially with a sustainability-focused design and consulting firm…

CBJ: It did turn out to be a big challenge. Thankfully, Auburn asked me to teach. And we were able to get some work from the get-go, including teaching LEED certification workshops. In fact, in 2007-8, I taught 22 such workshops all over the world, with about 80 people in each. I loved it. Now, the economic crash did affect our growth. Until 2011, Ecoworks Studio was just, well, me. But with interest in and, acceptance of LEED growing in the industry, and by keeping up with the frequent changes and updates to LEED made by the US Green Building Council (USGBC), we were able to add value to project teams. During the downturn we also helped turn projects from non-LEED to LEED — a relatively low-cost way to add value. That allowed us to keep going and grow, so that by 2012, we were able to add staff. And we continued our focus on what I’d call “atypical projects.”

GSB: Like the aforementioned convention centers?

CBJ: Yes, and also data centers — which consume tremendous amounts of energy — and zoos. And, in May 2013, we were interviewed by 360 Architecture, which has since been acquired by HOK, a leading sports architecture firm— about working with them on LEED certification for new construction of stadia and arenas and to help convince teams and stadium authorities that going for high levels of LEED certification — think Gold or Platinum — was worth the added effort. 360 ended up hiring us and we started working on sports venues.

GSB: Were there any stadium/arena projects in 2013 that were going for LEED Gold or Platinum?

CBJ: No. At the time, teams building stadiums and arenas were not pursuing Gold or Platinum levels of LEED, since the LEED Rating System at that time was really focused on certifying an office, but they were interested in going for LEED at Certified or Silver, which was still a move in the right direction. And we became the conduit to work creatively with USGBC to apply LEED standards specifically to arenas, stadiums and convention centers to reflect the uniqueness of those structures, and we in turn showed the designers and managers of sports, as well as those other atypical venues I mentioned earlier, the benefits of applying for LEED certification.

GSB: That sounds like a great niche to occupy. How did you go about making this happen with USGBC and with designers of stadia, arenas and other big public building projects?

CBJ: Great question. Ecoworks Studio looked at office buildings, which host roughly the same amount of people every day, but only a fraction of the numbers a stadium or arena hosts on a surge day. It makes sense for office buildings to earn a significant number of LEED points for having enough bike racks to service five percent of peak visitors — if the 2,000 people occupy the building on average, that means 100 bike racks. But it makes no sense for the standard to be five percent for an arena that holds 20,000 people on surge days (1,000 bike racks?) or a stadium that holds 60,000 (3,000 bike racks?). So we worked with USGBC to reasonably apply this to stadiums, arenas and other big public buildings with surge traffic to a realistic number of bike racks. In a similar vain, we helped adapt CO₂ monitoring standards for big public building projects like stadia to account for spikes on surge usage days.

GSB: I imagine that the high profile nature of stadia and arenas would make the vendors that architects and builders employ want to be a part of the LEED-ification movement.

CBJ: No doubt about it. The move to LEED at sports venues has been a great way to leverage conversations with materials manufacturers — paints, carpets and adhesives are just three examples — to come up with more environmentally friendly, healthy offerings.

GSB: So I get that sports stadium developers and designers of convention centers increasingly were interested in getting LEED certification five or six years ago. What drove some of them, in more recent years, to go for Gold — or Platinum for that matter?

CBJ: Well, there was interest among big public space projects in LEED Gold and Platinum even back to the early part of this decade. But the general thought was that doing so was too expensive. It took visionaries to break through that way of thinking, like Arthur Blank, owner of the Falcons…

GSB: …Along with Jed York of the San Francisco 49ers with Levi’s Stadium and Vivek Ranadive, owner of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings with Golden 1 Center

CBJ: …to see the value in LEED Gold or Platinum. I can speak to the Mercedes-Benz Stadium case as I worked on that project. Mr. Blank said “we’re going for LEED Platinum” early on in the process and he and his team never wavered. The project team saw that sustainability-oriented companies, who might not have become stadium sponsors otherwise, saw Platinum as a reason to sign on…

 

Five minute video featuring, among others, Carlie Bullock-Jones, tells Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s LEED Platinum story

 

GSB: …That is music to my ears — corporations deciding to sponsor a stadium  specifically because it goes for the high levels of LEED certification. And those sponsorship dollars help defray some of the added cost of going for Platinum! So when did Ecoworks Studio start working on the Mercedes-Benz Stadium project?

CBJ: Ecoworks Studio joined the 360 team in 2013, early on in the design process for Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Expansive thinking on what the stadium could be was a hallmark throughout the planning process. Stakeholder charettes or brainstorms were held at the Arthur Blank Foundation with local environmental nonprofits taking part. An innovative “What If” approach was part of the process in which pie in the sky ideas were encouraged. The broad question that started things was “What if a stadium could contribute to a more sustainable future?” Sub-teams drilled down to more specific questions. Our Green Team asked questions like “What if the water leaving the stadium was as clean as it was coming in?” and “What if we could store the kinetic energy fans create when they walk through the stadium?”

GSB: Did any of the ideas get put into practice?

CBJ: Many did, including installing urban gardens on the property. This strategy was also an opportunity to connect with the neighboring community. This might sound like small stuff but it was all of these little things, along with the consistent commitment to go for Platinum, which got the project over the finish line…

 

Carlie Scott Chris M-B Stadium

Carlie Bullock-Jones, flanked by Scott Jenkins (l), Mercedes-Benz General Manager, and Chris DeVolder of 360 Architects — now HOK (Photo credit: Ecoworks Studio)

 

GSB: Not only did Mercedes-Benz Stadium achieve Platinum certification, it earned 88 points, blowing by the minimum 80 point Platinum threshold. Congratulations on being a part of the team that made this happen. What other stadium and arena LEED certification projects has Ecoworks Studios worked on?

CBJ: Thank you. Mercedes-Benz Stadium going LEED Platinum was a classic case of “right teams, right time.” Beyond that, we are wrapping the LEED certification process for Little Caesar’s Arena in Detroit, the new home of the NHL’s Red Wings and the NBA’s Pistons. And we are working on LEED certification efforts for Welsh-Ryan Arena in Evanston, IL, the existing home of Northwestern University basketball as well as its training center. Back in Atlanta, we are working with Atlanta United of MLS on LEED certification for their training facility and with the Atlanta Hawks on getting LEED certification for Philips Arena…

 

Welsh-Ryan Northwestern

Ecoworks Studios is working on LEED Certification for the renovation of Welsh-Ryan Arena, home of Northwestern University basketball (Photo credit: Northwestern Athletics)

 

GSB: It is great to hear that Ecoworks Studios is so busy with LEED certification in sports venue world! I have one more question: What isn’t happening yet in the LEED certification end of the sports venue world that you think should be?

CBJ: I’ll answer that with a “What If”: What if a stadium could help improve your health from wellness, fitness and nutrition perspectives? We should be looking at that and I think women sustainability practitioners in particular are well-positioned to play important roles in that arena, pun intended. I also believe we have the opportunity to focus on fan engagement initiatives.

GSB: I’m a bit disappointed that’s not the case now…

CBJ: Facilities can apply for and sometimes earn what are called “innovative points” – this would be the area in LEED where fan engagement could be included. This needs to be brought up with the USGBC as something to consider, that’s for sure. The impact can be far-reaching, going beyond the walls of the building.

GSB: Somehow I can picture Ecoworks Studios playing a key role in that conversation.

 


 

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GSB News and Notes: 49ers Take Part in UN Dialogue on Sport and Climate Action; Compostable Peanut Bags at KC’s Arrowhead Stadium; Sacramento Kings Put Spotlight on Sustainability for Fans

We are pleased to bring you a GSB News & Notes column full of firsts: The San Francisco 49ers represented the NFL in the first UN Dialogue on Sport and Climate Action. The first compostable peanut bags anywhere in the world are sold at Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium. And, the NBA’s Sacramento Kings host the first sustainability-themed fan engagement program at Golden 1 Center, their LEED Platinum certified arena (also a first!) 

 

49ERS PLAY IMPORTANT ROLE AT UN DIALOGUE ON SPORT AND CLIMATE ACTION IN GERMANY

The San Francisco 49ers, along with the Philadelphia Eagles, represented the NFL when leaders of global sports organizations and sustainability experts convened October 30-31 in Bonn, Germany at the inaugural UN Dialogue on Sport and Climate Action. Its primary goal was to develop collaborative approaches by which stakeholders at the intersection of Sport & Climate Change can contribute to achieving the long-term goals of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The gathering was a preliminary of sorts to the main event in Bonn: The 23rd session of the global UN Conference of the Parties, or COP 23. That larger summit was held to advance implementation of the Paris Agreement, the multi-national accord which aims to limit global average temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius and as close as possible to 1.5 degrees Celsius, and to build greater resilience to climate change.

You might have heard this is also the very agreement the United States, on the direction of President Trump, is planning to exit as of 2019. With Nicaragua and Syria having decided to join the Paris Agreement, that will leave the U.S. as the only country not to be part of the pact. Now, I’ve certainly heard of “American Exceptionalism” but this is ridiculous — along with wrongheaded and dangerous.

But, I digress.

Back to the 49ers.

The team earned its seat at the Sport and Climate Action table, thanks in large part to its LEED Gold certified Levi’s® Stadium, which opened in 2015. The Santa Clara-based stadium, which played host to Super Bowl 50 — generally regarded as the “Greenest Super Bowl Ever”^ — in 2016, is a leader among green-sports venues, as it features on-site solar, green roof, recycled water usage, composting and much more.

 

Levi's Stadium HNTB

Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, CA, LEED Gold certified home of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo credit: HNTB)

 

“Meeting with sports venues and organizations from around the world…really demonstrated that our Levi’s Stadium team is really well positioned to help lead the movement towards a more sustainable future for our industry,” said Pat Rogan, Levi’s Stadium Director of Engineering Operations, who represented the 49ers in Bonn. “The conference showed us there are many organizations as committed as we are to being environmentally responsible neighbors and that if we all work together, we can be meaningful resources for the rest of the sports industry.”

The UN Dialogue on Sports and Climate Action featured two full days of workshops, panel discussions, and keynote speeches focused on leveraging sport and its ability to influence fan behavior in areas like energy consumption, water conservation, and more. Group working sessions included assessments of the sports industry’s impact on climate change, the risks to sport from climate change and related potential governmental policy decisions, and the expectations of the sports industry to be climate change advocates. The groups also discussed what the sports industry can do to promote broader climate action.

Joining the 49ers and the Eagles at the UN Dialogue on Sport and Climate Action were a who’s who of world sport and green-sports, including:

“Rapidly halting greenhouse gas emissions and achieving a carbon-neutral economy in the next few decades requires a fundamental change from all sectors of the business world, including sports,” said Justin Zeulner, Executive Director of the Green Sport Alliance, who also attended the conference. “And few sectors cross cultural boundaries in the way that sports does.”

Back in Santa Clara, the 49ers are committing to take the necessary steps that will enable them to sign and live up to the UN’s Climate Neutral Now Pledge:

  1. Measure and report their greenhouse gas emissions for an agreed-upon period of time
  2. Reduce their greenhouse gas emissions as much as possible
  3. Offset remaining emissions with UN Certified Emission Reductions (CERs)

Per a statement from the team, these commitments and acts of leadership “are designed to help inspire the growing movement of governments, companies, and individuals [to take] proactive actions to mitigate the impact of climate change, a movement that the 49ers are determined to help lead.”

 

COMPOSTABLE PEANUT BAGS AT KANSAS CITY’S ARROWHEAD STADIUM

Most of the 74,929 fans left Arrowhead Stadium in a funk on Sunday after the hometown Kansas City Chiefs’ 26-14 loss to the Buffalo Bills, their fifth defeat in the last six games. Those fans were likely unaware of perhaps the best thing to happen at the game — the introduction of compostable bags of peanuts, which concessionaire Aramark says is a first for sports. The Chiefs and Aramark made the compostable bags a reality by teaming up with bag maker/Green-Sports leader BASF and Hampton Farms, which is among the country’s top peanut suppliers.

 

Compostable Peanuts Aramark

Compostable peanut bags, made of a material developed by BASF, were introduced by the Kansas City Chiefs and its concessionaire, Aramark, at Sunday’s game vs. the Buffalo Bills (Photo credit: Waste360)

 

Aramark, which sells 15,000 bags of peanuts every season at Arrowhead, said Chiefs officials approached them to find ways to comply with the team’s Extra Yard for the Environment waste reduction and diversion-from-landfill initiative.

As part of the 18-month developmental process, BASF worked with Missouri Organic Recycling in Kansas City to test packaging prototypes and ensure the final product met composting guidelines for quality and safety. The product is the first commercially available peanut bag to be made from BASF’s certified compostable ecovio biopolymer and Epotal adhesive.

The Chiefs are selling the peanuts for $5.75 per bag, the same price as the old bags made of non-compostable materials. Fans at Arrowhead can dispose of empty bags at compost bins or leave them under their seats for postgame pickup and sorting.

Paul Kearns, BASF’s business development manager, said, “We welcome the opportunity to demonstrate to snack producers and users of flexible packaging that compostable is a viable waste reduction strategy.”

“Over the past few years we have put an increased focus on our sustainability program, Extra Yard for the Environment, and have worked to find new, innovative ways to reduce our organization’s carbon footprint,” added Brandon Hamilton, Chiefs vice president of stadium operations. “We have received tremendous support from our partners, such as Aramark, and have been fortunate to work with…organizations like BASF and Hampton Farms, who are dedicated to helping us meet our goals.”

Philadelphia-based Aramark’s main objective, pending additional testing at other NFL stadia, is to expand the compostable bag concept to include all peanuts sold for all of their food clients.

 

SACRAMENTO KINGS “SPOTLIGHT” SUSTAINABILITY AT RECENT HOME GAME

On November 20, the Sacramento Kings Foundation hosted the first Spotlight Night of the 2017-18 season at Golden 1 Center, supporting regional non-profits using NBA basketball as an agent of change in the community. While the Denver Nuggets walked away with a 114-98 victory, it was Yolo Farm to Fork — a nonprofit whose work educating students on the importance of locally grown fresh food and reducing waste through school gardens — who won the night and earned its place in the “Spotlight.”

 

Spotlight Night Kings

 

“Sustainability is one of our core values, and we’re passionate about how we can continue to reduce our impact on the planet,” said Kings President of Business Operations John Rinehart. “Through our Spotlight Nights, we’re able to support the work of incredible non-profits by sharing our stage with over 17,000 fans to raise awareness.”

During Spotlight Nights, a Sacramento-area nonprofit will “take over” the arena and engage Kings fans through in-arena programming, social media, concourse activations, and more. The Spotlight on Sustainability Night was the first in this season’s three-part series with future game nights focusing on health and education.

Yolo Farm to Fork took over the arena, sharing their message at an informational table and with special farm boxes in the suites and lofts in the arena. They educated fans on best practices for growing in-season produce, composting techniques and incorporating farm-fresh food into school lunches – thus helping Sacramento area residents reduce their environmental impact.

The Kings made sure fans were engaged and entertained, with a “Veggie Race,” videos featuring farm-to-fork trivia, as well as sharing some of the team’s innovative practices that helped Golden 1 Center become the world’s first LEED platinum arena while earning GreenSportsBlog’s “Greenest New Stadium/Arena” award for 2016.

 

 

 


 

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