The GSB Interview: Kunal Merchant of Lotus Advisory, Bringing Green-Sports to Sacramento, Oakland and Beyond

Kunal Merchant occupies a fascinating perch in the Green-Sports world. A member of the Green Sports Alliance board, the Bay Area-based Merchant has a background in business, politics, and social enterprise. And as co-founder of Lotus Advisory with his sister Monisha, Merchant has guided the sustainability efforts on state-of-the-art green stadium and arena projects, from Sacramento’s Golden1 Center — the first LEED Platinum indoor arena in the world — to the nascent Oakland A’s ballpark project.

GreenSportsBlog spoke with Merchant about his work on Green-Sports projects, with the Alliance, and where he sees the movement heading.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Kunal, I can’t wait to dig into your story which takes place at the intersection of sports, politics, and sustainability. Nothing juicy there…

Kunal Merchant: It has been a fascinating ride to this point, Lew. I came to the sports world from the political side, working as Chief of Staff for then Sacramento Mayor and ex-NBA All Star Kevin Johnson. I served in that role during his first term, between December 2008 and June 2012, which was a dramatic time. The Mayor took office right as the national economy was entering the Great Recession. Sacramento was particularly hard hit by double-digit unemployment and a foreclosure crisis. Morale was low, and right when the town thought it couldn’t get any worse, we found out that our beloved Sacramento Kings – the one and only pro sports team in town – wanted to leave town.

The team had been struggling both on and off the court for years, including several failed attempts to build a new arena to replace what had by then become the oldest and smallest arena in the NBA. The Kings’ ownership felt that their best shot was to start over in a new city, with Seattle being the most likely destination. It was a punch to the gut for Sacramento, and in the Mayor’s office, we knew that how Sacramento responded to this challenge would have implications far beyond sports for the city’s economic and civic identity.

GSB: So how did you go about dealing with the significant headwinds?

Kunal: That’s a topic for a much longer conversation! But, oversimplified, there were three key checkboxes on our “to-do list” to save the team: (1) prove that Sacramento was a viable NBA market; (2) recruit a new ownership group willing to buy the team and keep it in Sacramento; and (3) develop a plan to build and finance a new arena. The arena was arguably the most critical – and difficult item – particularly since, for a market the size of Sacramento, some form of public investment was going to be needed.

Taxpayers were understandably skeptical about putting public money towards a basketball arena. But after studying similar situations around the country, we in the Mayor’s Office concluded that, under the right terms and structure, we could deliver a public-private partnership for a new arena that would be a win for the Kings and for Sacramento. To get there, we needed to generate transformative economic and community benefits, something that was only possible if we used the arena to anchor the broader revitalization of our blighted and long-underperforming downtown core.

In that respect, Sacramento really reminded me of the Denver of my childhood in the 1980s. At that time, Denver was perceived as a classic “flyover city” by people on the coasts. But over several years, the community and city leaders pushed through smart and strategic investments that led to a positive change in the city’s economic and cultural trajectory. Things really took off in the 1990s, in part due to the energy generated by Coors Field, the downtown ballpark built to be the home of our new Major League Baseball team, the Colorado Rockies.

 

Kumal Merchant Headshot

Kunal Merchant, co-founder of Lotus Advisory (Photo credit: Lotus Advisory)

 

GSB: I remember visiting Denver during the late 1990s and saw how Coors Field had seemingly changed a whole neighborhood. Was the ballpark built by the team, the city or some combination? The reason I ask is that there are many studies showing that public investments in sports venues are not efficient uses of the public’s money. Where do you come down on that question?

Kunal: Great question. Like a stodgy and aging arena, I think the rhetoric around public financing for sports venues is in serious need of an upgrade. There’s way too much dogma on a topic filled with nuance.

In the case of Coors Field, the project was a public-private partnership, where taxpayers made a significant investment. As a local resident who saw that area before and after Coors Field, I would argue that the taxpayers’ investment paid off handsomely in catalyzing a true economic and cultural renaissance that continues to this day.

But the success of Coors Field doesn’t vindicate all forms of public financing. The reality is that every situation is different, and plenty of sports facilities – too many I would argue – receive public funding in amounts and terms that are truly terrible deals for the public. When we were developing the Kings arena deal, we studied up on the good, bad and ugly of prior public subsidy deals. And we were determined that any arena deal we cut with the Kings would protect taxpayers and generate strong economic and community benefits.

That process in Sacramento began by fighting to locate the new arena downtown, and resist temptations by some in town to “play small” and simply refurbish or rebuild at the old arena’s suburban location.

GSB: The old Arco Arena is north of the city, kind of by itself off of I-5.

Kunal: Yes. At the time it was built in the mid-1980s, that building size and location made sense. But by the 2010s, we had different civic imperatives around sustainability and urban planning. Beyond the economic appeal of a downtown location – analysts forecasted $150 million in new annual economic activity each year – we wanted the arena project to reflect the values of a community that cared deeply about the environment. So we set – and ultimately met – incredibly ambitious goals for green design, air quality, water efficiency, energy efficiency, transit, food, waste diversion, and so on.

GSB: What was your role in the project?

Kunal: My role evolved over the course of the project. At the start, I was the Mayor’s Chief of Staff, representing the Mayor and City in almost every facet of our work with the NBA, Kings, City and community to save the team and develop the arena plan. When the NBA voted to keep the team in Sacramento in May 2013, and approve the sale of the Kings to a new ownership group, I moved over to the team side as an executive focused on making sure we followed through on our promises to the community on the arena.

That meant finalizing the public process to approve the deal, negotiating key labor and community benefit agreements, and continuing to engage the community in this truly once-in-a-generation project. It also meant championing what became the most ambitious sustainability agenda of an NBA arena to that date, anchored around achieving status as the first-ever LEED Platinum indoor sports arena.

GSB: That’s quite a transition. How did working for a sports team differ from working in municipal government?

Kunal: Well, it’s safe to say that spending a Tuesday night at an NBA game is a bit more fun than at a City Council meeting! And I used to joke with friends – only half-kidding – that I could get more done chatting with various folks at a Kings game than I could ever do in one month at City Hall. There were obvious advantages to working in a private sector context in terms of speed, agility, and efficiency. But this deal was a true public-private partnership where both bodies were integral. What’s most powerful to me is that my spirit and purpose on this project never changed regardless of what my business card said; from beginning to end, this endeavor was always about doing something really big and historic and transformative for the people of Sacramento. And both the City and Kings wholly embraced that mindset.

GSB: What did you do after the arena took shape?

Kunal: As Opening Day for the Golden 1 Center got closer, I started getting calls from other folks in sports who were impressed by what we’d done in Sacramento and wanted to see if I could help out elsewhere. To his credit, then-Team President Chris Granger was extremely supportive, and I was able to transition from being a full-time employee to a consultant able to take on other work. As part of that transition, I launched Lotus Advisory with my sister Monisha as a strategy and management consulting firm focused on driving positive change at the intersection of business, government and community. Because of my background, I ended up specializing quickly on sports-related projects, while my MIT-educated sister took on high tech clients like Airbnb. In the years since, we’ve been lucky to work with an amazing range of clients in a variety of industries and sectors.

 

Kumal Merchant at Golden 1 Center

Kunal Merchant touring construction of the Golden 1 Center and the Downtown Commons in 2015 during his time as a Sacramento Kings executive. The $1.5 billion dollar project includes a LEED Platinum NBA arena, hotel, and retail and entertainment district that has been the primary catalyst behind the new economic and cultural renaissance unfolding in Sacramento’s long-struggling downtown core (Photo credit: Lotus Advisory)

 

GSB: What are some the sports projects on which Lotus Advisory has worked?

In recent years, we’ve done a lot of work in soccer and baseball. I was the Chief Strategist for Nashville’s successful 2017 bid to join Major League Soccer, where we went from being on no one’s radar as a viable soccer city to finishing first in a twelve city race for the next expansion slot. A huge part of our success was powered by the people of Nashville – whose pride in their city is as strong as I’ve ever seen anywhere.

Similarly, I helped lead and advise Sacramento’s bid to join MLS for several years, particularly in shepherding their downtown stadium development plan through the planning, predevelopment and approval processes. The heart and soul of that bid are the supporters of Sacramento Republic, the United Soccer League (USL) Championship¹ club that took the city by storm when it launched in 2014 and has woven itself deeply into the cultural fabric of Sacramento with remarkable speed.

Currently, I’m working closely with the Oakland Athletics on their plans to revitalize the Oakland waterfront with a new privately-financed ballpark district near the Jack London Square area. It’s a really gorgeous project with a strong spirit of sustainability and environmental justice.

GSB: Very cool! What’s the status of Sacramento’s MLS bid? I know they’re looking to get to 28 teams by 2021 or 2022. Cincinnati United began play this month as the league’s 24th club, with Miami and Nashville set to join next year and Austin in ’21. So that means there’s one more slot left in the near term.

Kunal: Sacramento is one of two cities considered to be favorites for the 28th slot. I know that I’m biased, but I don’t think the competition is remotely close. Sacramento’s MLS bid stands alone as arguably the most resilient, mature, and comprehensive MLS bid in league history. Since embarking on the MLS journey in 2014, Republic FC has checked all the boxes time and again: a die-hard fan base, committed corporate support, a fully-approved and transformational downtown stadium plan; and a credible and committed ownership led by a formidable combination of Pittsburgh Penguins owner Ron Burkle and several local business leaders. MLS will be lucky to have Sacramento join its ranks and I’m cautiously optimistic that it will happen soon.

GSB: Good luck! When will the new stadium be ready and what are some of its green features? 

Kunal: Obviously the MLS stadium is contingent on entry into the league, but the stadium could likely be ready by either the 2021 or 2022 MLS season. As impactful as the Golden 1 Center is for Sacramento, the MLS stadium for Republic FC will be a game-changer in its own right.

The stadium will be built few blocks away from the Kings arena at a huge 240 acre site called the Sacramento Railyards that, when fully built out, will double the size of downtown Sacramento. The MLS stadium represents one of the first and largest major private investments in the Railyards in several decades, and will catalyze a historic wave of economic and community development. In terms of green features, the stadium will be another model of transit-oriented development, located a block from light rail, and a short distance by foot, bike, scooter, or rideshare from the rest of downtown. Republic FC has a terrific culture around local food and beer, so I’d expect some innovative sourcing strategies there as well.

 

Sacramento Republic MLS Stadium

Artist rendering of proposed Major League Soccer stadium in downtown Sacramento. The project will anchor an estimated $5B economic revitalization effort at Sacramento’s historic Railyards district (Credit: Sacramento Republic FC)

 

GSB: Turning to another long-running new stadium project, let’s talk about the Oakland A’s.

Kunal: The A’s have a truly visionary plan to revitalize the waterfront near Jack London Square through a new Major League Baseball ballpark. The project will be LEED Gold Certified and reflect a “ballpark within a park” theme, with an intimate 34,000 seat stadium nestled carefully into its urban surroundings. The ballpark is privately-financed and will anchor a new, vibrant waterfront district that will feature a mix of housing, including affordable housing, offices, restaurants, retail, small business space, parks and public gathering spaces. And the team is also showing tremendous leadership by leveraging the ballpark project to address longstanding environmental justice reform issues around air, soil and water quality faced by West Oakland residents for years.

 

Oakland Ballpark

Preliminary artist rendering for the proposed Oakland A’s ballpark near Jack London Square in Oakland. The project will be LEED Gold and reflect the A’s strong commitment to sustainable development and environmental justice (Credit: Oaklandballpark.com)

 

GSB: Add the A’s new ballpark to my sports bucket list. OK, before we go, let’s talk a bit about your work as a board member of the Green Sports Alliance. How did that come about?

Kunal: I’ve known and been a fan of the Green Sports Alliance since its earliest days, when Alliance leaders reached out to invite Mayor Johnson to the inaugural summit in Portland. The Alliance was hugely helpful in guiding my thinking on the Golden 1 Center, and I worked with the Alliance to help bring the Summit to Sacramento during the Golden1 Center’s inaugural season in 2017. I’ve continued to work closely with the Alliance since then, and at some point it just made sense to take on a more formal role. So, I joined the board last fall with a pretty important first project: co-leading the search for a new Executive Director. It was a fascinating process that yielded a terrific hire: Roger McClendon.

GSB: McClendon comes to the Alliance’s executive director role at a key inflection point in the Green-Sports movement. I like to say Green-Sports 1.0 — the greening of the games — is now almost if not quite a given. It was a necessary and obvious first step. But Green-Sports 2.0 — engaging fans, players and more to take positive environmental action, specifically on climate change — which is where I think is starting now, is a more complicated, heavier lift. What do you think?

Kunal: I totally agree. There are fundamental questions facing the green sports movement and the broader environmentalist community at the moment. The science around climate change grows more dire by the day, with the recent IPCC report advising that humanity has really just a handful of years left to aggressively decarbonize or face catastrophic consequences. So the cost of inaction is escalating. With that as backdrop, the Alliance is asking ourselves: what are we going to do? Our ethos has been to meet people where they are. Which means that if a league, an event, a team is aggressive on climate, we’ll support them. If they’re going slowly…

GSB: …Or not even talking climate at all?

Kunal: …we’re not going to push them too far beyond their comfort zone.

GSB: But doesn’t that imply that it’s ok for sports not to go fast enough? That seems risky at best.

Kunal: Well, it’s tricky. But here is a reason to be optimistic: things are impossible until they’re not. Looking at history, there are many social movements that looked bleak for years, or even decades, right until a period of rapid change that completely upended the status quo. I’m heartened by the younger generations — Millennials and Gen Zers — who will increasingly hold all institutions, including sports teams, accountable for the issue of climate change. The Alliance needs to be ready, and I think we’re taking important steps in that direction. If there’s one thing that I’ve come to appreciate deeply in my career, it’s that, with vision and leadership, sports can be an extraordinary platform for positive change. And on issues of climate, we can’t afford for sports teams, leagues, or fans to sit on the sidelines anymore.

GSB: With some well-timed and positive pushing from organizations like the Alliance, I’ll say. To be continued, Kunal!

 

¹ The USL Championship is the second-tier of North American professional soccer, one level below MLS.

 


 

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The GSB Interview: Lauren Tracy, Leading the USTA Efforts to Green the US Open

The US Open, New York City’s two-week late summer tennis fest that draws over 800,000 people, has been at the forefront of sustainable mega-sports events for over a decade. Lauren Tracy, the US Tennis Association’s (USTA’s) Director of Strategic Initiatives, has been involved with their greening efforts since its early years. GreenSportsBlog chatted with Tracy about the USTA’s sustainability history, how the US Open made out from a green perspective in 2018, and what to watch for going forward.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Lauren, as a mediocre but avid tennis player, I have a particular fondness for the USTA’s greening efforts, especially at the US Open. So I’m excited to talk with you about all of this. How did you get involved?

Lauren Tracy: I’m not a tennis junkie. From New York City’s northern suburbs, Dutchess County to be exact, and an MBA from Marist College in Poughkeepsie, I was excited to get a job at the USTA as a paralegal in nearby White Plains working on the pro tennis side. Back in 2010, the USTA executive director asked me to transition into the Executive Office in a project management role. It included overseeing some of the USTA’s organizational priorities, including our US Open environmental program, as well as to help develop what is now our “SafePlay” athlete safety program.

 

2019 USTA Leadership

Lauren Tracy, Director of Strategic Initiatives at the US Tennis Association (Photo credit: USTA)

 

GSB: These are very important and high profile…

Lauren: Yes! I was in the right place at the right time for sure.

GSB: When did the environmental programs come into the mix?

Lauren: It really started in 2007. When we dedicated the National Tennis Center to Billie Jean King she wanted to know what we were doing to lessen the US Open’s environmental footprint. The venue was named for her.

GSB: Billie Jean King: Women’s rights and gay rights pioneer — that we knew — but eco-warrior?

Lauren: That’s right! Our board was asking the same thing. We had only taken baby steps, green-wise, before then. We engaged industry experts to help us develop a comprehensive environmental program for the US Open. Those experts included Bina Indelicato, founder and CEO of eco evolutions, who now serves as a sustainability consultant for the USTA, as well as Allen Hershkowitz, who really pioneered the green sports movement.

GSB: What were some of the first sustainability initiatives under the Tracy Administration?

Lauren: It was an exciting time because the USTA gave us the direction to try new things. So that’s what we did. We would identify an opportunity to improve the environmental efficiency of an element of our operations at our site and start by conducting a pilot during that year’s US Open.

After the conclusion of that year’s tournament, we’d evaluate to see what worked well and what did not. If it worked, we’d roll it out the next year across the entire USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

A good example of that was composting. We piloted it in 2011 in the back-of-house operations with our concessionaire, Levy Restaurants. That was the easy part, as their chefs bought in from the beginning. We went big the first year, starting with the kitchens at Arthur Ashe Stadium, the largest venue on our campus…

GSB: …And, at 23,700+, the largest seating capacity of any tennis stadium in the world…

Lauren: Yes. Over the years, composting was eventually rolled out to the other kitchens on the site. We partnered with Levy, as well as the waste hauler and did a lot of training with kitchen staff. Understandably, there were some growing pains but now we have a program with a lot of buy-in and had a very successful New York City Department of Sanitation inspection. In fact, so much so that, by 2017, our overall waste diversion rate was greater than 90 percent!

GSB: WOW! That’s a quick turnaround the way I look at it. And it qualifies the US Open as a zero-waste event but you knew that already…

Lauren: You bet! We did even better last year, getting to 97 percent diversion. What got us closer to 100 percent, in addition to recycling and composting, was bringing much of our un-recycled, un-compostable material to Covanta’s waste-to-energy site out on Long Island.

GSB: How does it work?

Lauren: First of all, the facility is the cleanest place I’ve ever seen — and it’s a place where garbage is hauled! It is then burned in a safe way, with the resulting heat being used to cleanly power swaths of Long Island. Amazing.

GSB: I’ll have to check out that facility someday. Congratulations on 97 percent diversion. That’s terrific. Now I know that the USTA undertook a major construction initiative at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center a few years ago. Where did sustainability fit in?

Lauren: Well, in 2013, we started a five-year plan to strategically transform the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Those renovations and new builds would be done in an environmentally-friendly and -forward way. The first structure to earn LEED certification was our Transportation Building — which serves as the headquarters for our transportation operation, as well as the credential office during the three weeks of the qualifying tournament and the main draw. Then, in 2016 our new Grandstand stadium opened…

GSB: …I love the Grandstand. The third-largest playing venue on campus, with a capacity of 8,000, is stunning, architecturally speaking.

Lauren: I agree. It became our first LEED certified playing venue. And, as anyone who has been to the Open the last couple years knows, we tore down our second largest playing venue, Louis Armstrong Stadium, and built the new, 14,000 seat Louis Armstrong, opening it last year.

 

Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong Stadium, the new, LEED Silver certified 14,000-seat venue that opened in 2018. It is the second largest venue at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

 

GSB: …Another winner. It is a beautiful place to watch tennis. Did new Louis Armstrong become LEED certified?

Lauren: It did, earning LEED Silver status — the highest certification level on campus. Its natural ventilation system is a significant advance in terms of green outdoor venue construction is concerned. Overall, we’re very proud of the new Louis Armstrong Stadium, including from a sustainability perspective, as it represented the completion of the five-year strategic transformation of our campus that I mentioned earlier. And that we were able to finish on time in 2018, on the 50th anniversary of the US Open, made it extra special.

GSB: Great timing indeed. With the major construction complete in Flushing Meadow, what other environmental advances are you and the team working on? Is on-site solar going to be part of the mix?

Lauren: On-site solar is a question we get a lot. It’s tricky for us. While the facility is open all year, our attendance and electricity usage spikes for the three weeks of the tournament in late August-early September. And while we own the venues, the City of New York owns the land and so the solar conversation involves several parties. This doesn’t mean solar won’t happen, it just means it will take awhile. As for what else is next, I wanted to mention that our location is a plus, sustainability-wise. The New York City subway and Long Island Railroad have a station just outside the tennis center, which allows over 50 percent of all attendees to take mass transit, which a great number.

GSB: That sounds about right…

Lauren: Also, in addition to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, we also built our USTA National Campus in Orlando. The Welcome Center, which includes our staff offices, is LEED certified. Back to the Open, we’ve got some cool initiatives around recycling. In 2018, we started working with Ronald McDonald House up in the Hudson Valley of New York State. We sent them 9,000 metal tabs from tennis ball can tops. The metal tops are pure aluminum and they are able to earn some money from recycling it.

 

USTA National Campus

The LEED certified Welcome Center at the USTA’s National Campus in Orlando (Photo credit: USTA)

 

GSB: What a great idea? Can the USTA broaden that out beyond the Open to other tournaments and to the thousands of recreational tennis centers around the country with which you have relationships?

Lauren: This is something we’re exploring, Lew. Our sections across the country know about it; we hope they are able to bring it to their regions as well. As far as the used tennis ball cans from the Open are concerned, we send them to TerraCycle in Trenton, New Jersey…

GSB: …TerraCycle is an incredible company that specializes in a “zero-waste economy,” with state-of-the-art recycling and upcycling.

Lauren: That’s right. We send them our tennis ball cans and they break them down and recycle them. I also want to mention Imperfectly Delicious Produce. I love this program! We take imperfect-looking fruit and vegetables and use them in sauces and dips to eliminate unnecessary food waste. Finally, in 2018, we eliminated plastic straws, replacing them with paper straws.

GSB: Very cool. Now this would not be a GSB Interview if I didn’t ask about how the USTA goes about communicating its green initiatives to fans…So how do you do that?

Lauren: We do some marketing of our greening efforts, from content in our program magazine to our website. But we need to do more from a fan engagement perspective and are committed to doing that this year and in 2020.

GSB: I plan to be out at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center this summer and look forward to seeing what you and the team have done, fan engagement-wise.

 

 


 

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The GSB Interview: Summer Minchew, Making Sports Venues Greener and More Fan-Friendly

Summer Minchew, Managing Partner of Ecoimpact Consulting, has worked on several stadium and arena projects, helping them through the LEED certification process and much more.

GreenSportsBlog spoke with Minchew about Ecoimpact Consulting’s innovative approach to sustainability that combines environment and efficiency with human health and wellness.

 

GreenSportsBlog: How did you get in to the sports venue sustainability space?

Summer Minchew: Well, Lew, I’m a bit of a rarity in this business in that I have stadium design in my blood. I grew up in Kansas City and my dad happened to be a lead project sports architect…

GSB: No WAY!

Summer: Yes WAY!! My dad worked on the Moda Center, home of the Portland Trail Blazers; the AT&T Center, home of the San Antonio Spurs; and Bankers Life Arena, where the Indiana Pacers call home, along with many more. I grew up around sports architecture. Funny thing, though: I’m not a sports fan. But even as kid I loved drawing designs for buildings…

GSB: …Funny thing is, when I was a kid I used to draw stadiums. Only thing was, I had no drawing talent. You clearly had it. So what did you do?

Summer: I went to Kansas State in Manhattan…

GSB: Manhattan, Kansas, the “Little Apple.” I’ve never been.

 

summer minchew melissa key

Summer Minchew (Photo credit: Melissa Key)

 

Summer: It’s a great place. I went to the College of Architecture Planning and Design. During my college internships, I worked for a few of the sport architecture firms in Kansas City …

GSB: …Kansas City is basically the hub for sports architecture, right?

Summer: That’s right. So when I graduated from college I moved to Charlotte and worked for a firm that was the associate architect on the Spectrum Center, home of the NBA’s Hornets. This experience became my foundation in sports architecture. From there, I moved to working mostly on interiors for corporate office space.

GSB: What do you mean by “interiors”?

Summer: Interior architecture and design. I love its focus on how humans interact with a space and how that space impacts humans. Consider that Americans spend approximately 90 percent of their time indoors. That connection is what drew me to sustainability: Green design is good design, it’s good for people, good for the planet.

GSB: That’s…good! What happened next?

Summer: I moved to Washington, D.C. in 2008 and worked for a firm called Envision Design, which has since merged with Perkins & Will. In 2006, the District passed the D.C. Green Building Act — all new non-residential public buildings were now required to pursue LEED certification. I was in the right city at the right time — and fortunately my mentors already had incredible sustainability ethos’, so it was a great place to be. One of my favorite projects while I was in D.C. was working on the design team for the US Green Building Council’s headquarters. Not surprisingly they wanted their space to be LEED Platinum. It was so great working on a project where the sustainability charge was client and mission driven, it really pushed the team to maximize the project’s performance. This was a phenomenal experience.

 

USGBC HQ Eric Laignel

Interior shot of US Green Building Council’s Washington, D.C. LEED Platinum-certified headquarters (Photo credit: Eric Laignel)

 

GSB: Sounds amazing. What did you do with that experience?

Summer: Having discovered my love for, and gaining expertise in the green building certification process, I began working with Ecoimpact Consulting in 2010. Quickly I came to manage all of the firm’s green building certification projects.

I worked with Penny Bonda, one of the firm’s founders, and eventually became her partner. She is truly incredible, an active participant in the green building industry since its very early stages. Penny pioneered the development of the LEED for Commercial Interiors rating system and co-authored Sustainable Commercial Interiors. I was contributing author on the second edition of the same book, published by Wiley and Sons in 2014. Penny retired in 2017 — but still serves as a trusted advisor to the firm.

GSB: Sounds like you and Penny were — and still are — a great team. What does Ecoimpact Consulting do?

Summer: The bulk of our work is management for green building project certifications, often supplementing a project team that needs to bolster their expertise in LEED.

From a LEED perspective, a sports venue can be a challenging building type. The prescriptive requirements in the LEED rating system can be difficult to adapt to sports projects, especially open-air venues.

GSB: What are prescriptive requirements?

Summer: With venues you have fluctuating operating hours and occupant densities, untraditional floor plans and less defined indoor and outdoor spaces than other building types. You have to know the rating system well in order to interpret the requirements and make sure you are meeting your intended goals. But it can also present some great opportunities to push the envelope and I’ll tell you, the challenge is worth it.

I don’t need to tell your readers that sports architecture is a very high-profile building type. Venues are meant to draw attention, attract fans and create a sense of place. Stadiums and arenas are more than just buildings, they are the physical embodiment of the brand. Increasingly the brand is not only about the league and the franchise but also about sustainability, community outreach, social and economic responsibility; and these building types have an amazing platform to reflect those values.

You can see the immediate impact in outcomes like a LEED certification and then hopefully a ripple effect in the influence of sustainable design and operations choices. I love the work!

GSB: Sounds like it. When you look at sports venues from human and sustainability perspective, what are you looking for?

Summer: We look at sustainable strategies not only from an efficiency perspective but also from human health and wellness points of view. For example, a venue with access to public transit not only reduces transit related greenhouse gas emissions and hardscape related heat island and stormwater management issues, it provides fans with increased opportunities to be physically active and better air quality for the surrounding neighborhoods. Access to natural light not only reduces overhead lighting costs but studies also show that access to daylight and views in the built environment positively impacts the health and productivity of building occupants. You get the idea. In any building, and sports venues are no exception, one of the most critical measures of building performance is occupant satisfaction.

GSB: No doubt about it. While you are a LEED AP and have been talking about LEED, it sure sounds like your work is more focused on the WELL standard.

Summer: Not necessarily. If you look at the point allocation of LEED, credits related to climate change represent the largest percentage of available points but coming in at a close second are credits related to human health. LEED does not simply evaluate energy, water and waste reduction, an integral component is the indoor environment including occupant comfort. WELL takes the human health and wellbeing baton to the next level, focusing on nutrition, fitness, mood and even sleep patterns of building occupants…

GSB: So it sounds like your work takes into account LEED, along with using WELL-type principles. Can you give an example of a stadium or arena project that is an example of the Ecoimpact Consulting approach?

Summer: We served as sustainability consultant on Audi Field, the home of D.C. United of Major League Soccer that opened last summer. We worked with Michael Marshall Design, the associate architect for the project supporting Populous. It’s a great venue, from its location to its design, its energy efficiency, on-site renewables and operational waste reduction strategies. Audi Field sits on what was a brownfield site — it had been a scrapyard before. It’s in the Southwest Waterfront area of Washington, which is making a comeback, close to the D.C. Metro’s Green line.

 

Audi Field Ecoimpact

Exterior of Audi Field, home of D.C. United (Photo credit: Ecoimpact Consulting)

 

GSB: That’s right. Nationals Park, home of the Washington Nationals and the first LEED certified MLB stadium, is nearby and was an important anchor for the area’s revitalization. I haven’t been there yet but Audi Field is high up on my newly created Green-Sports Venue Bucket List. Talk more about Ecoimpact’s involvement with the project…

Summer: Well, we helped shepherd the project through LEED certification — Audi Field ultimately earned LEED Gold certification…

GSB: Congratulations!

Summer: Thank you. The project earned 64 points. One of the most visible sustainability features is their prominent bike valet which includes 190 spaces for cyclists. The team also found ways to dramatically reduce water use, ultimately achieving reductions in the 40 percent range. Another focus for D.C. United was on community benefits.

GSB: What do you mean by community benefits?

Summer: There are significant opportunities to promote socially responsible practices in the design, construction and operation of buildings. Engaging in labor agreements will help to ensure that construction workers are paid prevailing wages and are provided workforce development opportunities. Community Benefits Agreements (CBAs) help to ensure that the needs of the surrounding community are being met. And of course, these types of considerations can help a project achieve LEED points as well.

For D.C. United it meant looking at the stadium design, construction and operations through the lens of social equity in the local community…or, put another way, by linking up the stadium project with the needs of the community. D.C. United developed a CBA that lays the groundwork for a lasting relationship between the team and the residents of the neighboring community. In addition to their youth programs; a successful soccer club and scholarship program for D.C. United summer camps, D.C. United will connect the new stadium to the community by making the facility and meeting rooms available for community use, participating in a summer job program, and engaging in local outreach for employment. In the end, adhering to the CBA enhances the club’s brand.

GSB: It’s almost like D.C. United is mirroring the neighborhood approach of English soccer clubs, as well as those from other European countries. By that I mean that, soccer fans across the pond are often tied to the teams of their local neighborhood and vice versa. Smart.

Summer: Smart indeed. D.C. United gets it. Another sports venue project that is serious about social equity, just across the Anacostia River in the Southeast section of D.C., is the Washington D.C. Entertainment & Sports Arena developed by Events DC and Monumental Sports & Entertainment. The new, 4,200-seat home of the WNBA’s Washington Mystics, Capital City Go-Go of the NBA’s developmental G League, and the training center for the NBA’s Washington Wizards sits on the revitalized St. Elizabeths East campus. Similar to Audi Field, we worked with the associate architect, Michael Marshall Design, in support of Rossetti, the lead architect to manage the LEED certification process — the final certification from USGBC is still being finalized at this point but Silver is anticipated.

The project features green roof areas, onsite stormwater retention systems and energy efficient systems. And, like Audi Field, this project has a great community outreach and engagement story. Events DC developed a CBA in partnership with neighboring residents that supports educational opportunities for youth, creates local business opportunities, and creates community enrichment activities. Touted by D.C. officials as “bigger than basketball” the project is estimated to generate 300 permanent and 600 construction jobs, and is part of an ongoing redevelopment that will transform the 180-acre St. Elizabeths campus into a thriving mixed-use community.

 

Washington Sports & Ent Arena Kelly Soong

Washington D.C. Entertainment & Sports Arena (Photo credit: Kelly Soong)

 

GSB: Very cool, Summer. I guess I need to add the D.C. E&SA to my bucket list, too!

 

 

¹ RISE = Resources to Inspire Students and Educators

 


 

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GSB News and Notes: Oracle Park Goes LEED Platinum; Climate Change Forces Move of Speed Skating Race; Nike to Go 100% Renewable Energy via Partnership with Iberdrola

With pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training this week, it’s fitting that we lead off our GSB News & Notes column with a baseball story: Oracle Park (formerly AT&T Park), the home of the San Francisco Giants, just became the first LEED Platinum venue in MLB.

Elsewhere, an iconic Dutch speed skating race is moved to Austria because of the effects of climate change. And Nike continues to push on the sustainability front, pledging to generate all of its energy for its European operations from renewable sources

 

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS BALLPARK BECOMES FIRST MLB VENUE TO EARN LEED PLATINUM CERTIFICATION

Oracle Park, formerly AT&T Park and home of the San Francisco Giants since 2000, is one of the best places to watch baseball in the major leagues¹. With McCovey Cove in San Francisco Bay beyond the right field bleachers and the Oakland Bay Bridge off in the distance, the vistas and atmosphere are sublime. Oh yeah, and the Gilroy Garlic Fries are simply beyond.

 

Gilroy Garlic Fries

Oracle Park’s famous and delicious Gilroy Garlic Fries (Photo credit: Wally Gobetz/Flickr)

 

Less obvious to the senses — aside from the solar panels outside the right field wall — are the ballpark’s many green features. Hopefully that will begin to change as Oracle Park recently became the first venue in the big leagues to receive LEED Platinum Certification, the highest possible designation from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). It had earned LEED Gold status in 2015.

 

 

Solar at AT&T

Solar panels outside Oracle Park’s right field stands, overlooking McCovey Cove in San Francisco Bay (Photo credit: San Francisco Giants)

 

Moving up from LEED Gold to Platinum for existing buildings is not easy. The structure must be best-in-class in every category imaginable, including water efficiency; energy and atmosphere; materials and resources; indoor environmental quality and innovation in design. Able Services (building maintenance) and Goby (data analytics) were key players in helping Oracle Park make the grade. Greening initiatives included:

  • Demonstrating a more than 75 percent reduction in conventional commuting trips for employees;
  • Offsetting 50 percent of its energy use through renewable energy credits;
  • Diverting more than 94 percent of waste from landfill through an aggressive recycling and composting program;
  • Instituting water-efficient landscaping – resulting in a more than 50 percent reduction in water usage from improved irrigation technology systems;
  • Installing LED Field Lights for over 55 percent energy reduction in field lighting.

“For years, the San Francisco Giants have been steadfast in their pursuit of a sustainable environment at Oracle Park,” said Paul Hanlon, Major League Baseball’s Senior Director of Ballpark Operations and Sustainability. “Through their extensive recycling and environmental efforts, which includes consistently recording waste diversion numbers of 94 percent and greater since 2012, the Giants have achieved the impressive feat of having Oracle Park receive the first LEED Platinum Certification among MLB ballparks, and thus continuing to be a leader throughout all of sports. We commend their efforts, and look forward to their continued growth.”

“We have been committed since opening this park 19 years ago to making it the most sustainable and greenest ballpark in the country,” added Jorge Costa, Giants’ Senior Vice President of Operations and Facilities for Oracle Park. “From the time we opened our gates, we have been working to achieve LEED silver, gold and now platinum certification. We will continue to refine and reevaluate our sustainability and efficiency practices to remain an environmental leader in the operation of Oracle Park,”

 

CLIMATE CHANGE FORCES MARATHON SPEEDSKATING EVENT TO MOVE FROM NETHERLANDS TO AUSTRIA

After soccer, speedskating is arguably the most popular sport in the Netherlands. And the tradition of speedskating outdoors on natural ice can be considered the Dutch equivalent of apple pie in the U.S.

So what to do when climate change results in winters so warm that the Dutch waterways don’t freeze consistently enough to make speedskating possible?

According to “Racing the Clock, and Climate Change,” a piece by Andrew Keh in the February 7 issue of The New York Times, the Dutch have adjusted to the new reality by moving the Elfstedentocht, one of Netherlands’ most iconic speedskating events — to Austria of all places.

Per Keh, the Elfstedentocht, is “a one-day, long-distance speedskating tour through 11 cities of the Friesland province. [It] has been held casually since the late 1700s and more officially since 1909…Covering a continuous route of about 200 kilometers — about 124 miles — the Elfstedentocht takes place only when the lakes and canals of Friesland develop 15 centimeters (almost six inches) or more of ice…That was once a relatively common phenomenon; lately, it has been exceedingly rare. From its [modern] inception in 1909 to 1963, the Elfstedentocht was held 12 times. Since then, there have been three, most recently in 1997.”

 

Elfstendocht

The last Elfstedentocht, the one-day distance race through 11 Dutch cities, was held in 1997. (Photo Credit: Dimitri Georganas/Associated Press)

 

Some wonder if it will ever be held there again. “The chances of an 11 Cities Tour decrease every year because of global warming,” Geert Jan van Oldenborgh, climate researcher at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, told Keh. “That should be a good incentive for the Dutch to do something about it.”

The Dutch have long led the way on renewables and energy efficiency in an effort to reverse the effects of climate change. But because the Netherlands is both low lying and exposed to the see, its people have also needed to show the way on climate adaptation. That goes for speedskating, so the Dutch figured out a work-around for the Elfstedentocht, which translates to “11 cities tour”.

“Every winter, close to 6,000 people from the Netherlands make a pilgrimage to Weissensee, Austria (population 753),” wrote Keh. “Climate migrants of the sports world, they seek the cold and the ice of this town’s enormous, asparagus-shaped lake. Known as the Alternative Elfstedentocht, the relocated race has been embraced by the Dutch, [since it launched in 1989], as the chance to skate the same, staggering 200-kilometer distance (roughly the driving distance between Los Angeles and San Diego) their ancestors did.”

The key difference, aside from location between the original and the Alternative Elfstedentocht, is that the latter snakes 16 times through a 12.5 kilometer course laid out on the lake in Weissensee, rather than running through 11 towns.

 

Alternative

The Alternative Elfstedentocht snakes, serpentine-style, on a lake in Weissensee, Austria (Photo credit: Pete Kiehart, The New York Times)

 

And while the thousands of skaters who trek to Austria are appreciative that the Alternative Elfstedentocht exists and of their hosts’ hospitality, most hope to be able participate in the original at least one more time.

Erben Wennemars, 43, and a professional speedskater, embodies that spirit.

“I’m an eight-time world champion, I won two Olympic medals, but I would throw it all away for the Elfstedentocht,” Wennemars told Keh. “There are a lot of people who have gold medals. But if you win the Elfstedentocht, you’ll be known for the rest of your life.”

 

NIKE PARTNERS WITH IBERDROLA TO REACH 100 PERCENT RENEWABLE ENERGY GOAL FOR ITS EUROPEAN OPERATIONS

Nike Just Did It.

“It”, in this case, refers to the company’s recent partnership with Iberdrola, a clean energy producer based in Spain. The goal is to accelerate Nike’s progress on sourcing 100 percent of its energy from renewables for its European operations.

According Nike’s Chief Sustainability Officer Noel Kinder, the new Nike-Iberdrola team “catapult[s] us ahead of the timeline that we outlined three years ago when we joined [The Climate Group’s] RE100, a coalition of businesses pledging to source 100 percent renewable energy across all operations.”

 

Noel Kinder

Noel Kinder, Nike’s Chief Sustainability Officer (Photo credit: Nike)

 

Iberdrola looks to be an ideal partner for Nike.

The only European utility to be part of Dow Jones Sustainability Index since its inception in 2000 certainly talks the clean energy talk. On the hope page of its website, above the fold: “we are committed to a sustainable, safe and competitive business model which replaces polluting sources of energy with clean ones and intensifies the decarbonization and electrification required worldwide.” And it is putting its money where its mouth is, investing more than €32 billion by 2022 in the electrification of the economy.

 

¹ In order, my five top favorites of the 20 or so MLB ballparks I’ve visited are 1. PNC Park (Pittsburgh Pirates), 2. AT&T Park, 3. Wrigley Field (Chicago Cubs), 4. Fenway Park (Boston Red Sox), 5. Camden Yards (Baltimore Orioles)

 


 

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Post-Super Bowl LIII GSB News and Notes: Eco-Athlete Chris Long Wins Man of Year Award, Budweiser Wind Power Ad 2nd Most Watched Spot Online

The New England Patriots knocked off the Los Angeles Rams 13-3 in a defensive struggle to win Super Bowl LIII at Atlanta’s LEED Platinum Mercedes-Benz Stadium, their sixth championship of the otherworldly 18 year Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era. The environment played a small but, it sez here, increasingly prominent role vs. recent Super Bowls. So before the pro football world turns its attention to free agency in March, April’s NFL Draft and the race to Super Bowl LIV in Miami¹ next February, here is a quick rundown of the Green-Sports happenings that surrounded yesterday’s Super Bowl LIII

 

EAGLES’ CHRIS LONG, FOUNDER OF WATERBOYS, WINS WALTER PAYTON NFL MAN OF YEAR AWARD

While Eagles stalwart defensive end Chris Long did not win a third consecutive Super Bowl ring last night — he played important roles in Philadelphia’s championship in 2018 after winning one with the Patriots the year before — he did earn the prestigious Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award. It honors a player’s volunteer and charity work, as well as his excellence on the field.

Long’s — and his Chris Long Foundation’s — main charitable initiative is Waterboys, a program that has united NFL players, professional athletes and sports fans to raise funds and awareness to provide clean drinking water to East African communities in need. By February 2018, Long’s goal of building 32 clean water wells, one for every NFL team, was met. Long has now set a goal of providing clean water to one million people.

“I am honored to be named the 2018 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year and to join the long line of men who have received this prestigious honor,” Long said in a statement. “I am humbled by the support we have received from my peers who have donated to our various matching-campaigns, the commitment and perseverance displayed by the [military] veterans who have climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro with me each year, and the generosity of our fans who have made vital contributions to our foundation over the years.”

 

Chris Long Eagles Man of Year

Chris Long, after winning the 2018 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award (Photo credit: Philadelphia Eagles)

 

Click here and here for GreenSportsBlog’s coverage of the Chris Long-Waterboys story.

 

BUDWEISER WIND POWER AD GETS VALUABLE ON AIR MENTION

Budweiser’s Super Bowl ad, “Wind Never Felt Better,” which featured Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ In The Wind” to highlight the the brand’s commitment to wind power, was the second most watched ad online, with 24.3 million views during and immediately after the game. Only Amazon’s “Not Everything Makes The Cut,” drew more online eyeballs, with 33.4 million views.

 

 

 

In addition to that sizable online audience, 100 million or so people were exposed to the 45 second ad on the CBS Sports TV broadcast. And, when the ad was over and the game broadcast was about to resume, play-by-play man Jim Nantz intoned “Budweiser, powered by the wind.” That extra branding, which further cemented the mainstreaming of wind power for a massive viewership, is the cherry on top to what I thought was a solid B+ ad.

 

Nantz Wolfson Romo CBS

CBS play-by-play broadcaster Jim Nantz (l), flanked by sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson and color commentator Tony Romo (Photo credit: CBS Sports)

 

Some ad critics, like Chicago Tribune media reporter Steve Johnson, did not like “Wind Never Felt Better” as much as I did.

Per Johnson’s review, “A Dalmatian. Clydesdales. Amber waves of grain. Bob Dylan, singing about blowing wind. Budweiser trots out all the icons as the horse and dogs are revealed to be traveling through a wind farm. It’s meant to underscore the giant beer’s commitment to sustainable energy, but the message is about as clear as a hazy IPA, a type of beer Bud decidedly is not. ‘Now Brewed with Wind Power,’ says the large type in the ad. ‘Renewable electricity from wind power is one type of energy we use to brew,” says the small [type]’, which you can read if you freeze the screen.”

There is some truth to Johnson’s critique. After all, the viewer has to wait for 30 seconds or so before she/he gets clued in to the Budweiser-wind power connection and that’s too long, especially in this era of micro-attention spans.

Still, it says here that Johnson missed the big picture: An ad promoting wind power reached an audience of at least 110 million people on TV and another 24 million online. 

 

GREENSPORTSBLOGGER TALKS GREEN-SPORTS ON SUPER BOWL-THEMED PODCAST

One final Super Bowl LIII-themed note: I was pleased to talk Green-Sports with Marc de Sousa Shields on his excellent The Sustainable Century podcast a couple of days before the big game.

Marc opens the 24-minute interview by saying, “there are more sports fans than there are sustainability fans and we’ve gotta convert them!”

 

Marc de Sousa Shields

Marc de Sousa Shields, host of The Sustainable Century podcast (Photo credit: Marc de Sousa Shields)

 

I like the way Marc de Sousa Shields thinks!

Click here to listen to the podcast.

 

¹ My way-too-early pick for the Super Bowl LIV matchup is the Philadelphia Eagles vs. Indianapolis Colts.

 


 

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A-List Panel Discusses the Future of Sustainable Sports Venue Design at Gillette Stadium

The New England Patriots have been on the “Leading Edge” of pro football since 2001. After all, they are about to play in their ninth Super Bowl¹ in the 18-year Belichick-Brady era on Sunday when they take on the Los Angeles Rams in Atlanta.

Thus, it is fitting that the first Leading Edge Sustainable Stadium Design Conference was hosted by Excel Dryer and D|13 at the Pats’ Gillette Stadium last month.

The conference’s centerpiece was a discussion among a panel of Green-Sports All Stars.  They took a deep dive into the past, present and especially the future of green sports venue design and operations, with an emphasis on how to make stadiums and arenas as energy efficient and fan-friendly as possible.

 

The opportunity to earn Continuing Education Unit (CEU) credits along with the chance to throw and catch passes on the same field as Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski were likely what drew architects — as well as contractors, property managers and more — to Gillette Stadium on a foggy January night for the Leading Edge Sustainable Stadium Design Conference. 

 

excel dryer gillette scoreboard

View from the field at Gillette Stadium during the Leading Edge Sustainable Stadium Design Conference (Photo credit: Excel Dryer)

 

But it was the panel discussion, moderated by Joe Khirallah of Green Bear Group, on the Green-Sports movement’s past, present and future, that kept the audience’s rapt attention.

“At several points during the discussion, I looked out to the audience and noticed that no one was looking at their cell phones,” observed panelist Scott Jenkins, GM of Atlanta’s LEED Platinum Mercedes-Benz Stadium and Board Chair of the Green Sports Alliance. “Not one person. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before, and I’ve been on a lot of panels.”

 

PATRIOTS, GILLETTE STADIUM: GREEN-SPORTS INNOVATORS SINCE 2002

According to conference host and panelist Jim Nolan, who as COO of Kraft Sports + Entertainment (KSE) is responsible for operating Gillette Stadium as efficiently as possible, sustainability has been a core tenet since the building opened in 2002.

“I am fortunate to work for an owner — Robert Kraft — who cares about the environment,” Nolan shared. “Our number one priority is to reduce fossil fuel consumption. Second is to do as much as we can to reduce our waste stream. Every innovation we consider is examined through both financial and green lenses. We say ‘go’ on new cleantech innovations when they become economical.”

Examples of KSE’s “gos” include:

  • An on-site system that converts waste water into gray water for use in the bathrooms and elsewhere throughout Gillette Stadium and neighboring Patriot Place, the 1.3 million square foot retail, restaurant and entertainment complex
  • Energy efficient LED lighting, now illuminating the stadium and 90 percent of Patriot Place
  • On-site solar, which now powers more than half of Patriot Place

Next up for Gillette and Patriot Place is a 2.4 megawatt (mW) fuel cell, expected to be fully operational next year. “Once we’re up and running, the entire campus will be off the grid,” reported Nolan. “We will also have a food waste converter that will produce methane gas — which will then go into the fuel cell to generate additional electricity.”

 

SUSTAINABLE SPORTS VENUES ARE A MARKETABLE ASSET

To Scott Jenkins, stadium and arena owner-operators who push green innovations reap more benefits than cost reductions and efficiencies, as important as those are.

“Most sustainability investments are clear winners for stadium and arena projects,” Jenkins asserted. “They show fans and the community that the team and the owner are purpose driven, which greatly enhances brand value. And sustainability can generate incremental revenue in the form of new, ‘green-focused’ sponsors. Forward-leaning owners like the Krafts and Arthur Blank — who pushed us to build Mercedes-Benz Stadium to earn LEED Platinum certification — believe that just building to code is like being OK with being a C student. They have to be A students.”

Chris DeVolder, lead architect on the Mercedes-Benz Stadium project and Managing Principal at HOK², chimed in that Blank “constantly pushed everyone who worked on the project to not only ‘think about what’s next’, but also ‘what’s next after what’s next’. Things like turning waste into energy to heat water, offering affordable vegetarian and vegan food options, and more.”

 

PATS CONNECT FANS TO SUSTAINABILITY IN GILLETTE STADIUM RESTROOMS

Panelist Summer Minchew, Managing Partner of Washington, D.C.- and Charlotte, NC-based Ecoimpact Consulting, and a veteran of several venue projects, offered that fans are a key element to the Green-Sports equation.

“It may sound obvious, but a positive fan experience at a sports venue is absolutely key,” Minchew said. “What is not always so obvious to stadium designers, managers and owners, is that sustainability, from environmental, health and wellness points-of-view, goes hand in hand with a great fan experience.”

According to Jim Nolan, the Patriots have been a bit late to the “fan engagement” party but they are making significant strides in the right direction. Working with energy partner NRG, the team communicates its solar story to fans via signage mounted on massive pillars near the stadium’s entry gates.

Once inside Gillette, fans experience the leading edge of sustainable stadium design when they dry their hands in the restrooms via a unique, high-velocity, two-phase drying process. The XLERATOR® from Excel Dryer — one of the sponsors of the Leading Edge conference — blows large water droplets off the hands in a couple of seconds in Phase 1. Then, in Phase 2, the heat evaporates a residual moisture layer that we feel but don’t see. This makes the drying process about three times faster than conventional hand dryers, resulting in an 80 percent reduction in energy usage.

But that’s not the XLERATOR’s greenest feature.

Replacing paper towels is.

A Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) showed that the XLERATOR was the catalyst for up to a 75 percent reduction in carbon footprint when compared to 100 percent recycled paper towels. That might seem counterintuitive but, after one-time use, paper towels go straight to the landfill. So XLERATORs help reduce paper production, transportation emissions, water usage, waste and more.

“The XLERATOR is a win-win-win-win for us,” enthused Nolan. “First, it’s clearly better for the environment. Second, it saves time and manpower as our staff spends much less time cleaning paper from the floor and refilling paper towel dispensers. Third, that allows staff to respond more quickly to other fan issues. Fourth and most importantly, the fans prefer the XLERATOR to paper, so they have a better experience.”

 

excel dryer panelists

From left, Jim Nolan, COO of KSE and host of the Leading Edge Sustainable Design Conference welcomes fellow panelists Summer Minchew, Chris DeVolder, Scott Jenkins, moderator Joe Khirallah, and Bill Gagnon, Vice President of Sales and Marketing with event sponsor Excel Dryer  (Photo credit: Excel Dryer)

 

 

Guests at Gillette Stadium’s Optum Field Lounge this season got to experience another futuristic hand drying “win” with the recent installation of a next-generation sink system from Leading Edge sponsor D|13.

“The system features, from left to right, liquid soap dispenser, water faucet, and the XLERATORsync®, in one contained unit,” Nolan said. “It keeps water in the sink, which is better for the environment. Maintenance visits are reduced. It is the most sustainable, hygienic way to wash your hands. We’re excited to be the first stadium to feature the D|13 Sink System.”

 

patpatriot

Leading Edge Sustainable Design Conference attendees, including Pat Patriot, had the opportunity to try out the new D|13 Sink System (Photo credit: D|13)

Will Mercedes-Benz Stadium be the second? Too early to tell. After all, Scott Jenkins and the rest of the staff are busy getting ready to sustainably welcome the Patriots, Rams and 70,000+ fans for Super Bowl LIII on Sunday.

 

¹ The nine Super Bowls of the Belichick-Brady era: 2002 (Pats over Rams), 2004 (Pats over Panthers), 2005 (Pats over Eagles), 2008 (Giants over Pats), 2012 (Giants over Pats), 2015 (Pats over Seahawks), 2017 (Pats over Falcons), 2018 (Eagles over Pats), 2019 (Pats vs. Rams)
² HOK is a global design, architecture, engineering and planning firm

 


 

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The GSB Interview: Tim Trefzer, on the Greenness of Atlanta’s Super Bowl LIII

Super Bowl LIII Week is in full swing in Atlanta, complete with red carpet galas, fan-fests, and Media Day, all leading up to Sunday night’s battle between the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams.

From a sustainability perspective, Atlanta has a leg up on other host cities since the game will be played inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the first LEED Platinum professional sports stadium in North America.

GreenSportsBlog spoke with Tim Trefzer, the Atlanta Super Bowl LIII Host Committee’s Sustainability Chair, to see what is going on green-wise beyond the stadium.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Atlanta has been the center of the Mega-Sports event and Green-Sports worlds over the past 18 months. Mercedes-Benz Stadium hosted the 2018 College Football National Championship last January and the Green Sports Alliance Summit in June. It also was the site of the Major League Soccer All-Star Game in July and MLS Cup in December. And of course this Sunday, Super Bowl LIII comes to town. And Tim Trefzer, you are at the heart of the Green-Sports action as Sustainability Chair of the Atlanta Super Bowl Host Committee. Thanks for talking with us at what must be a crazy busy time.

Tim Trefzer:  My pleasure. And yes, it’s been busy, really going back to the 2018 College Football Playoff National Championship, as I handled a similar sustainability role for that event as well. And we, along with Georgia Tech, will play host to the 2020 NCAA Men’s Final Four so we’ve got more mega-events coming down the pike!

 

trefzer, tim 2017(11)

Tim Trefzer, sustainability chair of the Atlanta Super Bowl 53 Host Committee (Photo credit: Tim Trefzer)

 

GSB: That is not a surprise, what with Mercedes-Benz being the state of the art in stadium design across all metrics, including sustainability through its LEED Platinum status. So with that as backdrop, how has the Atlanta Super Bowl LIII Host Committee approached the event through a green lens?

Tim: We are working closely with Jack Groh of the NFL — he’s managed the league’s Super Bowl greening efforts for over two decades — to make the most of the league’s four sustainability pillars. Number one is Material and Resource Recovery. We are working with local Atlanta organizations on food, textile, and other material donations that will come from the game, the many ancillary events, and participating hotels. Our partners include the Atlanta Community Food Bank, Salvation Army, and Habitat for Humanity. We also assisted Verizon, an NFL environmental sponsor, with their annual E-waste recycling event in the run up to the Super Bowl. Ours was at Zoo Atlanta and it was a big success as 42,446 lbs. of electronics were collected, the most ever from this event!

 

super bowl liii zoo atlanta

Some of the electronic waste collected as part of Verizon’s e-waste recycling event at Zoo Atlanta on January 19 (Photo credit: Fox 5 Atlanta)

 

GSB: Congratulations! What about pillar number two?

Tim: Urban Forestry. This is more than a tree planting effort. In collaboration with the City of Atlanta’s Office of Resilience and Trees Atlanta, we are supporting 13 projects, including community gardens, a 7.1-acre food forest with fruit trees and vegetable plantings, and even pollinator projects. Pillar number three is Super Kids, Super Sharing…

GSB: That’s been around for some time…

Tim: This is its 20th anniversary — it started in Atlanta, by the way. The program’s essence is a used sports equipment and school supply exchange that keeps footballs, soccer balls and more out of landfills and gives them a second life. Kids from donor schools bring their equipment to a facility where it is sorted; then receiving schools come in. It gets kids thinking about the circular economy at a young age and exposes them to other kids in the Atlanta area from different walks of life. Over 100 schools committed to take part. Last year, the folks at the Minneapolis’ Super Bowl LII Host Committee collected 46,000 items — we’re hoping to beat that when all is said and done.

 

Two minute video showing highlights from Atlanta’s Super Kids Super Sharing event

 

GSB: Good luck. Finally, what’s the fourth pillar?

Tim: Pillar number four is renewable energy. The NFL buys renewable energy credits to offset all of the electricity used at the stadium and everything surrounding it. That includes the host hotels, the Georgia World Congress Center

GSB: …The convention center campus adjacent to Mercedes-Benz Stadium where you are the sustainability director.

Tim: Exactly… Also, it’s not by accident that Centennial Olympic Park, the Georgia World Congress Center, and many hotels are a short walk from Mercedes-Benz Stadium, In fact, of the 15 major NFL events taking place during Super Bowl, 13 are taking place in or adjacent to the Georgia World Congress Center Authority’s downtown Atlanta campus (which includes the stadium, convention center, and Centennial Olympic Park). Of recent Super Bowls, the most taking place in the same vicinity has been seven.

GSB: Those are four strong pillars that the NFL and the Host Committee are building. Going beyond the NFL’s green work, at the Bay Area’s Super Bowl 50 in 2016, the local Host Committee made the environment the prime focus of their work, which is why I call it the Greenest Super Bowl Ever. That was not the case with Super Bowls LI (Houston, which did nothing as far as I could tell on the environment) and LII (Minnesota, which had a 91 percent waste diversion rate at the game among other local efforts, but they were focused mainly on health care, in part due to the sterling reputation of the Mayo Clinic). What is the Host Committee doing, from an environmental perspective, beyond the four pillars?

Tim: Great question, Lew. One main theme of the Atlanta Super Bowl LIII Host Committee’s work is civil rights and social justice, given the movement’s tremendous history in the city, from Martin Luther King Jr. to HBCUs^ like Morehouse College and much, much more. From public forums to public arts projects, Atlanta’s civil rights heritage has been on display in the run-up to Super Bowl LIII. That said, the Committee and our Sustainability Advisory Council — made up of leaders from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, top local corporations like Delta Airlines, nonprofits like Trees Atlanta, Scott Jenkins, GM of Mercedes-Benz Stadium and Board Chairman of Green Sports Alliance, and more — have been working for the better part of the past year on a variety of initiatives, including pushing the sustainability story surrounding Super Bowl LIII and Atlanta.

GSB: Communicating sustainability to fans? Music to my ears!

Tim: A video about recycling at the Airport is being shown around the city. On game day, there will be a full-page, sustainability-themed ad in the game program and we will have ambassadors on the concourses at Mercedes-Benz talking to fans about our sustainability efforts and encouraging recycling. But another reason that these large events keep choosing to come to Atlanta, in addition to the great venues and close proximity, is the fact that they’re LEED certified. In addition to Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Georgia World Congress Center is the largest LEED Gold certified convention center in the world and many of the other event venues are also certified. Arguably, Atlanta is one of the greenest places for conventions, sports, and events anywhere.

GSB: Will there be sustainability-themed scoreboard messaging and/or video shown in-stadium before or during the game? And will CBS Sports and/or CBS Sports Network air that kind of video during the almost endless pregame coverage? That last question is really for the NFL but I thought you might have some inside information.

Tim: Discussions about video board messaging were still ongoing as of a couple of weeks ago. No firm word yet has come across my transom. And you’re right about airing environmental PSAs — that’s the purview of the NFL and CBS. For our part, we will be tracking recycling and waste diversion rates; the Host Committee communications team is working with the NFL and the Georgia World Congress Center Authority to spread the word to the massive amount of media who will be here.

 

M-B Stadium

Sustainability-focused messaging on the Mercedes-Benz Stadium video board during an Atlanta United MLS match in June. Will similar messaging greet Super Bowl LIII fans on Sunday? Stay tuned (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

 

GSB: Will the Host Committee track media pick up of Super Bowl LIII sustainability stories or is that the purview of the NFL?

Tim: I’m sure this is something we could do on social media and include in a report following the event.

GSB: We will take you up on that, Tim. In the meantime, enjoy the game.

 

^ HBCUs = Historically Black Colleges and Universities

 

 


 

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