GSB Football Preview, Part II: Philadelphia Eagles Earn ISO 20121 Certification for Sustainable Events, First Pro Team To Do So

With the American football season in full kick-off mode, GreenSportsBlog offers a two-part football preview as we take a look at two teams at different points on the sustainability spectrum. Yesterday, we spoke with Lauren Lichterman of the University of Texas-Austin Athletics Department, about the relatively new initiatives surrounding sustainability, especially the challenges of greening Longhorns football.

Today, we turn our attention to the Philadelphia Eagles. The Green-Sports pioneers and — oh yeah — Super Bowl LII Champions, recently became the first pro sports team to earn ISO 20121 certification for integrating sustainability practices into their management model.

To get the story of what ISO 20121 status is and how the Eagles attained it, GSB spoke with Norman Vossschulte, the Eagles’ director of fan experience, and Lindsay Arell, the sustainability consultant who worked with the team by assisting with the ISO framework, advising on strategies, and helping the through the final stage of certification.

 

 

With apologies to Tom Cruise as Jerry Maguire in the 1996 movie of the same name, it sounds like Lindsay Arell, President of Denver-based sustainable events consulting firm Honeycomb Strategies, had Norman Vossschulte, the Philadelphia Eagles director of fan experience, at “hello.” At least when it comes to ISO 20121 certification for sustainable events, that is.

“I met Lindsay at the 2014 Green Sports Alliance Summit in Santa Clara,” recalled Vossschulte. “We hit it off right away on sustainability, as she is an expert on ISO 20121 certification.”

 

(player/coach/executive name)

Norman Vossschulte, Philadelphia Eagles director of fan experience (Photo credit: Philadelphia Eagles)

 

Lindsay Arell

Lindsay Arell, president of Honeycomb Strategies (Photo credit: Honeycomb Strategies)

 

The Super Bowl champs have been Green-Sports winners for more than a decade, thanks in large part to the visionary leadership of Eagles Chairman/CEO Jeffrey Lurie and Christina Weiss Lurie, the President of the Eagles Charitable Foundation, and Eagles Social Responsibility .

 

ISO 20121: MORE SUSTAINABLE EVENTS MANUAL THAN A CERTIFICATION

But it turns out that, while certifications for green buildings like LEED are well established in North America, not much is known here about sustainable events-focused ISO 20121.

That was about to change, at least as far as the Eagles were concerned.

“When I met Norman, Lincoln Financial Field was already LEED certified, and its GO GREEN initiative had been in place for years,” recalled Arell. “But, as we talked, I got the sense that he and the team wanted to do even more with sustainability, wanted to differentiate themselves even further from the increasing number of teams that were starting to green themselves. And Norman made it clear that he wanted to make green fun. That conversation led me to think the Eagles needed to go for ISO 20121 certification.”

Going for a certification that sounds like a Dewey Decimal system classification doesn’t immediately say “fun” to me but, hey, what do I know?

Actually, what I’d like GreenSportsBlog readers to know is what ISO 20121 certification is…and isn’t.

“ISO 20121, created by the International Organization for Standardization, is an event management system standard designed to help event organizers and producers incorporate sustainability into their operations,” shared Arell. “It was developed and piloted during the London 2012 Olympics to accelerate the impact of their sustainability program.  ISO 20121 emphasizes continual improvement on a range of sustainability issues. This results in a venue or organization-based approach to sustainable operations that addresses the specific environmental impacts of an organization/venue while engaging all stakeholders.”

On the other hand, ISO 20121 is not metrics-based, nor is it point-based in the way LEED, BREEAM^ or other green certifications are.

To my way of thinking, LEED certification shows the world you have built a green stadium or other type of building. ISO 20121 shows the world you are committed to continual improvement of your sustainability program through an inclusive stakeholder engagement program — and, in the Eagles case, in a LEED certified stadium.

Vossschulte looked at ISO 20121 in yet another way: “ISO 20121 is more a sustainability manual than certification, and a fluid manual at that. So we engaged Lindsay in 2016 to take us on a deep ISO dive and help us figure out how we can make the ISO manual work for us. And that meant everyone in the organization.”

Arell, who had worked in sustainable events and venues since 2007 — one of her first big assignments was working to help green the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver — dove right in. She performed a “gap analysis” to determine what the Eagles needed to do to improve upon GO GREEN and achieve ISO 20121 status.

“The goal of our GO GREEN ‘Gap Analysis’ was to find out what was working and what could be improved upon,” recalled Arell. “By holding meetings with small groups of employees, we were able to learn, for example, that internal and external communications about GO GREEN could be much more effective. It turned out that GO GREEN needed a re-boot, a version 2.0.”

 

EAGLES ORGANIZATION GOES ALL-IN ON “GO GREEN 2.0” AND ISO 20121

To kick-start the re-boot and to put the Eagles on course to achieve ISO 20121 status, Arell collaborated with team executives to form four internal working groups or “communities” —  Engagement, Communications, Community and Operations, or ECCO —  to help the organization figure out how to close those gaps. Here’s Vossschulte’s take on each community:

  • Engagement: “How well are we engaging employees on sustainability and GO GREEN and how can we do better? I was involved with this working group, along with the VP of Human Resources, Kristie Pappal. We want to improve sustainability awareness and engagement from when someone is hired, through their daily activities. They need to see the Eagles’ commitment on coffee mugs, water bottles, on signage. We wanted it to become part of every employee’s DNA.”
  • Communications: “How is GO GREEN communicated, both internally and externally? Are we talking about it in our newsletters to staff? What about talking to fans through marketing, PR and through our players?”
  • Community: “Here we asked ourselves ‘when we go into the community, do we embed a sustainability message into that outreach?’ This working group involved our corporate responsibility, community relations and media relations teams.”
  • Operations: “The operations and facilities teams were already steeped in sustainability through GO GREEN and our work to earn LEED certification, so this was a great opportunity for us to further amplify and strengthen that focus.”

The work of each committee was rigorous and detailed — it took a year and a half to complete— and the results were significant:

  • The Communications team developed edgy and fun GO GREEN-themed billboards for the stadium concourses, ramps, and yes, even the restrooms. Per Vossschulte, “We thought that adding a sense of humor to our GO GREEN messaging would increase its memorability and impact.”
  • From the Engagement team came an interactive LED screen that was installed at the NovaCare Complex, the team’s practice facility down the street from Lincoln Financial Field. “It shows our employees how much energy our solar panels and wind turbines are producing every day, how much we recycle, and more,” said Vossschulte.
  • The Community working group offered 14,000 season ticket members “Go Green/Bleed Green” magnets. And wide receiver Mack Hollins has fully embraced the team’s sustainability culture. “Mack rides his bike to work,” shared Vossschulte. “And he was featured in a video that announced the site of the 2019 Green Sports Alliance Summit will be Lincoln Financial Field.”

 

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles

 

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles

Two examples of sustainability-themed signage on display at Lincoln Financial Field (Photo credits: Philadelphia Eagles)

 

The result of this work was the creation of a sustainability playbook. Before applying for ISO 20121 certification, the Eagles had to show could “walk the green talk”, or, in football parlance, could “run the plays in their sustainability playbook.”

That meant over a year of setting sustainability plans, implementing them, and reporting on the outcome. Once the team and Arell were satisfied with the performance of the program, they submitted documentation to a third-party auditor for ISO 20121 review. A series of meetings with the auditor ensued in which the documentation was analyzed and discussed in detail. Finally, the Eagles achieved ISO 20121 certification earlier this year.

But the process didn’t end there.

You see, continual improvement is a hallmark of the ISO 20121 standard. So, the working groups still meet regularly to discuss new goals and initiatives. According to Arell, that aspirational quality is what makes this standard so effective: “It builds upon itself. There is not magic number that finally indicates ‘we are sustainable.’ The Eagles continue to improve their game…both on and off the field.”

 

WILL ISO 20121 CATCH ON BEYOND PHILLY?

Now that the Eagles and Lincoln Financial Field have blazed the ISO 20121 trail for North American sports, will other teams and venues soon follow?

Arell sure hopes so: “ISO 20121 emphasizes collaboration between departments and so going through the certification process ensures that sustainability becomes deeply seeded in an organization. The ability for a team and/or a venue to tailor their own path to ISO certification is another point in its favor.”

Vossschulte sees some early interest in ISO 20121 among his NFL counterparts and expects that interest to build.

But first, there’s a Super Bowl banner to raise at Lincoln Financial Field when the 2018 NFL season kicks off against the Atlanta Falcons tomorrow night. And when Eagles fans enter the stadium, they will see the sustainability banners and LED displays that prove beyond a shadow of a doubt, as Lindsay Arell puts it, that “you can be a Super Bowl winning team in Philadelphia and GO GREEN at the same time.”

 

^ BREEAM = LEED’S British equivalent

 


 

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Dynamic Energy Networks Brings Renewables, Resiliency to Stadiums and Arena

June’s Green Sports Alliance Summit took place at Atlanta’s LEED Platinum jewel, Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Forward thinking and acting Arthur Blank, owner of the Falcons and Atlanta United, directed the people who designed and built the stadium to do whatever it took to get the country’s first Platinum designation for a pro sports stadium.

The community-minded Blank also made sure that the stadium would serve the adjacent West Side neighborhood: Local residents helped build and are helping to operate Mercedes-Benz Stadium. And, in the case of a natural disaster or other type of emergency, the stadium will be transformed into a resilient community center.

But what if an owner is not as committed to the environment and/or the community as Mr. Blank, and/or doesn’t have as deep pockets?

Enter the innovative investment platform, Dynamic Energy Networks (DEN), backed by the Carlyle Group, along with its powerful global technology partner, Schneider Electric.

DEN brings deep experience in energy infrastructure investment and design, especially as it relates to distributed energy resources and Microgrid solutions. DEN/Carlyle has the experience and long-term vision to take on complex infrastructure projects such as stadia and arenas.  

Schneider Electric is leading the digital transformation of energy management and automation and has deep experience in energy efficiency upgrades at sports venues across the world.

As long-term investors, DEN stands behind these solutions, taking on the financial risk on behalf of owners, venues, and other sports organizations.

GreenSportsBlog spoke with Karen Morgan, President and CEO of DEN, to get a sense of the “Art of the Possible” as it relates to the delivery of resilient, reliable, secure and sustainable solutions at stadia and arenas.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Karen, your input on the “The Art of the Possible: New Business Models to Achieve Your Community’s Energy Goals” panel at the Green Sports Alliance Summit in June, was a master class on the business of large scale renewable and microgrid projects, the trend towards distributed energy generation and what that can mean for stadiums, arenas and the communities they serve. We will get into that in a bit, along with how Dynamic Energy Networks fits into the Green-Sports world. But first, how did you get into the renewable energy business?

Karen Morgan: I’ve been in renewable energy in the United States for the past 12 years. Prior to that, I explored energy efficiency and renewable generation solutions in Central Europe. But my introduction to renewables came back in 1995, when we started a company that evolved from a data driven network to a trading platform for commodity chemicals.

 

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Karen Morgan, President and CEO of Dynamic Energy Networks (Photo credit: Dynamic Energy Networks)

 

GSB: Commodity chemicals trading? That seems like an unusual way in to the renewables world…

KM: That’s how most people react but we became a “Poster Child for Renewables” of sorts. Because, when you think about it, solar panels turn solar power into electricity because of…

GSB: …Chemicals!

KM: Exactly!

GSB: So what parts of the renewable energy business have you been in?

KM: I started on the development side, then we put together various financing structures to fund projects, providing advisory and development services. We focused on the commercial & industrial (C&I), municipality, educational and other markets. Eventually we co-founded an investment platform — RET Capital five years ago — which owned and operated utility scale solar and wind assets.

GSB: What was that like?

KM: We were located in California, and it was like the Wild, Wild West out there with solar. Of course, the industry grew up in no time and it is quite amazing to see how rapidly markets have evolved in and around renewable energy and adjacent utility-like services.

GSB: What led you to form Dynamic Energy Networks and what does the company do?

KM: Well, we formed DEN to address a MASSIVE macro-problem: The vulnerability of the existing centralized electricity grid to extreme weather and other natural disasters, as well as terrorism, cyberattacks and more. Working with our partners, we offer the expertise, capital and technical capabilities to design, build, own and operate decentralized microgrids at scale. Densely populated urban centers, university campuses and more are our targets. DEN/Carlyle quarterbacks the microgrid development process from concept to operation by bringing experienced, sophisticated and flexible capital solutions. And Schneider Electric adds essential state-of-the-art digital technology know how, with hundreds of microgrids already built and installed, to allow all aspects of our microgrids to communicate seamlessly with each other.

 

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Karen Morgan speaks on a panel with Mark Feasel (l), VP Smart Grid at Schneider Electric andAndrew Marino (r), Managing Director at The Carlyle Group (Photo credit: Microgrid Knowledge)

 

GSB: Sounds like you’ve put together a microgrid All-Star team with DEN. Can you give an example of a project DEN is working on?

KM: Sure! We are working with a coalition of partners to integrate a large-scale series of microgrids, which include electric vehicle infrastructure and distributed energy resources, to meet sustainability goals set by the governor of the state. While working within the framework of a multi-billion dollar redevelopment project with over 30 different companies involved, DEN and Schneider Electric will ensure the avoidance of a SINGLE POINT OF FAILURE and provide for a resilient, reliable, decentralized, and secure energy system to this critical infrastructure.

GSB:…That is a BIG DEAL! So is it fair to say that solar panels on the roof of a home or a solar powered car port in the parking lot of a stadium would be examples of decentralized or distributed generation as compared to the centralized power plant-sub-station model?

KM: That’s right. Now with intelligent control systems, like those developed by Schneider Electric, various renewable and traditional energy generation systems can be distributed throughout a localized site, such as a mixed-use stadium complex or a college campus. Within these sites, energy assets such as, solar, wind, energy storage, fuel cells, and combined heat and power (CHP), can be networked to support each other and deliver electricity to the customer in the case of a grid outage or the failure of a single, centralized source. Schneider Electric’s Ecostruxure controls harden microgrids against cyber security breaches and mitigate the risk of a cyber-attack on the centralized grid, ensuring an uninterrupted power supply for the customer.

GSB: This sounds like DEN is involved in the early days of a powerful and important mega-trend towards decentralized generation and microgrids. Where do sports venues fit in?

KM: In many industry sectors, including sports, the opportunity to “island” away from the grid in the case of an outage or security breach or storm, and achieve resilience, did not truly exist until recently. That is, where some of the technology may have been available, the economics did not make sense and the optimization tools were not commercially available. In addition, the size and complexity of such systems were not attractive to third party capital. As advanced technology has become increasingly available, and costs continue to decline, third party capital is becoming more interested in decentralized, “two way” flexible energy solutions. DEN is well suited to lead the charge here as Carlyle wrote the playbook on flexible long-term contracts for infrastructure globally. DEN is able to leverage thirty years of experience, knowing how to transfer risk away from owners by providing predictable long-term service agreements, eliminating the capital expense associated with completing large, infrastructure projects. So we operate the microgrid; the venue owner simply pays for the electricity they use and for resilience services.

GSB: What do you mean by resilience?

KM: Resilience in this case means providing reliable, clean and ongoing generation so the venue performs at peak whenever necessary, especially during unexpected outages. Venues become a safe haven for people to seek refuge when there is a local, regional or national emergency. The benefit of integrating microgrid and distributed energy resource solutions is having the ability to operate the stadium at an appropriate level for a prescribed period of time, independent of the utility grid. This is essential, in terms of business continuity, safety for fans, employees and the broader community

GSB: So you don’t have a tragedy as was suffered by the people of New Orleans at the Superdome during Katrina in 2005…

KM: That’s right. This is particularly relevant in the face of increasing intensity of extreme weather events like storms, wildfires and droughts. Resilience also means that sports organizations can trust that they will have a reliable source of energy when bidding for mega-events like the Super Bowl or the FIFA World Cup.

GSB: That has to be crucial for organizations like the IOC and FIFA. Going back to something you said earlier…what do you mean by experienced or sophisticated capital?

KM: DEN and the Carlyle Group have decades of experience working on critical infrastructure investments, in particular complex projects with long sales cycles that involve the C-suite.

GSB: So the capital is not only experienced and sophisticated, it is also patient.

KM: Exactly. Carlyle’s initial commitment of $500 million of flexible capital with no cap is a great launch pad to build out a multi-billion dollar energy infrastructure portfolio. And we’re hitting the market at the right time. The cost of renewable energy generation, energy storage, and other advanced resilient infrastructure technologies, continues to decline precipitously.

GSB: Which all sounds ideal for sports venues…

KM: Absolutely. As mentioned earlier, sports venues are part of a community’s critical infrastructure. They matter! For the most part, they’re centrally located. They’re tied to a region’s transportation infrastructure. When there’s an emergency, that’s where people go for toilets, cots, and much more. We saw what happens when this critical infrastructure failed back in 2005 with the Superdome and Katrina. Contrast that with how well stadiums and arenas performed last summer in Houston during Hurricane Harvey. Major improvements have already been made and we’re working to accelerate the pace in what we see as an underserved market. The stadium or arena as a sports venue on game day, as a resilience center during emergencies and potentially, as a source of electricity to the grid or surrounding other critical infrastructure on non-game days…

 

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Thousands of evacuees lived under squalled conditions inside the Superdome while they waited to be evacuated after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in August, 2005. Microgrids, of the sort developed by Dynamic Energy Networks, can turn large venues into places where the public finds relief from natural and other disasters (Photo credit: Willie J. Allen, Jr.)

 

GSB: ….Meaning that, depending on the regulatory environment, if a stadium or arena has on-site solar, on non-game days, it can sell the electricity coming from the panels to the grid — or to homes and businesses in the immediate area if they are connected via microgrid. Does Dynamic Energy Networks have any sports venue clients yet?

KM: Not yet. We and Schneider Electric made a strategic decision to reach out to the sports industry, starting by attending the Green Sports Alliance Summit in Atlanta. Our friends Dusty Baker and Bernard King…

GSB: …respectively, the former Washington Nationals manager and member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame

KM: …who spoke at the Summit have both been involved in the solar business since their playing days. We look forward to working with both Dusty and Bernard, both sustainability leaders!

GSB: Phenomenal! Especially since Bernard King is a hero of mine as I am die-hard Knicks fan — which means I’ve been dying hard for two decades! I look forward to a follow up GSB interview with you about DEN’s first sports projects.


 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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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SunTrust Park, LEED Silver Home of the Atlanta Braves: Can a Stadium in the Suburbs Be Green?

SunTrust Park, now in its second season as home of the National League East-contending Atlanta Braves, earned LEED Silver certification, thanks to a number of innovative Green-Sports features. But situating the ballpark in suburban Cobb County, far from the MARTA rapid transit system, begs the question: How green is SunTrust Park? GreenSportsBlog toured the ballpark — as well as The Battery Atlanta, the adjacent mixed-use development — as part of the recent Green Sports Alliance Summit to find out.

 

EARNING LEED SILVER CERTIFICATION AT BREAKNECK SPEED

Building a $672 million stadium, from design to Opening Day, in 30 months is challenging.

Building a stadium so it qualifies for LEED certification in 30 months is, well, beyond challenging.

That was the task Rex Hamre, sustainability manager for real estate services firm JLL, and team was given by the Atlanta Braves at the start of the SunTrust Park design and construction process in 2013.

“Everything we did had to be done fast,” explained Hamre during a tour of the ballpark and the adjacent residential and commercial development, The Battery Atlanta. “For example, the process was so fast that we weren’t able to have a prototype for LED lights. There was some risk involved because we didn’t know if the quality of the lights would be good enough from a baseball point of view — those were early days for LEDs. We had to convince management the LEDs would work. We were able to do so and the lights worked great: they’re 50 percent more efficient than the old metal halides and were easier to install.”

 

Rex Hamre

Rex Hamre of JLL (Photo credit: Engineers for a Sustainable World)

 

Efficiency is not the only benefit the LEDs bring to SunTrust Park. “The LEDs provide us with ‘Instant Restrike’. Metal halide bulbs get very hot. When they overheat, they can turn off and can stop a game. They take between 15 to 30 minutes to re-boot or ‘restrike’. When LEDs turn off, they restrike immediately.”

 

SUNTRUST PARK: COOLLY EFFICIENT, IN A BIG (ASS) WAY

Efficiently cooling a big venue like a baseball stadium — especially in the steamy Atlanta summer — is a big challenge. For SunTrust Park to improve on cooling efficiency vs. its smaller predecessor, Turner Field, made the test even tougher.

“We have 200,000 square feet more to air condition at SunTrust Park than at Turner Field,” Hamre acknowledged. “Despite that significant difference, we are more efficient at SunTrust Park due to an incredibly efficient central AC system. Also we paid very close attention to design of the building envelope*, which also helped a lot.”

 

SunTrust Park Ballparks of Baseball

SunTrust Park, LEED Silver certified home of the Atlanta Braves (Photo credit: Ballparks of Baseball)

 

Braves management decided to invest more upfront for HVAC and chillers, with the confidence that the investment would pay off within 5-10 years.

“We looked at a variety of chillers,” Hamre said. “The chiller we chose was best from a carbon emissions perspective.”

And then, of course, there are the Big Ass Fans.

I know what you’re thinking.

“What happened to the propriety that is the hallmark of GreenSportsBlog?”

Not to worry.

Big Ass is a brand name for really, really big fans. We’re talking 22 feet by 16 feet fans.^ I saw them interspersed throughout SunTrust Park. Let’s just say they are aptly named.

And they are very energy efficient.

 

Big Ass Fans 2

One of the energy efficient Big Ass Fans at SunTrust Park (Photo credit: Atlanta Braves)

 

Also big is the 40,000 gallon water resiliency tank that is helping SunTrust Park, along with its neighboring mixed-use development, The Battery Atlanta, recycle 50 percent of its H₂O.

 

THE BATTERY ATLANTA: GOING GREEN ALONGSIDE SUNTRUST PARK

Sustainability is embedded in the DNA of The Battery Atlanta, which opened at the same time as SunTrust Park. The Battery Atlanta:

  • Boasts three residential buildings with 531 apartments (aiming for LEED certification), office buildings and a retail strip, filled with sports bars, cafes, apparel shops, a 4,000 person entertainment theater, a four-star hotel, and more
  • Is the home of Comcast’s new LEED certified southeast regional headquarters
  • Has 63 electric vehicle (EV) chargers, including several Level 3 fast-chargers (80 percent charge in 30 minutes)

 

The Battery Atlanta ajc

Aerial view of The Battery Atlanta mixed-use development in the foreground with SunTrust Park in the rear (Photo credit: ajc.com)

 

Neither solar power nor energy storage are part of the SunTrust Park/The Battery Atlanta as of now. But, as the economics for both continue to improve, there appears to be the available physical space required.

 

NOW, ABOUT BUILDING A BALLPARK IN THE SUBURBS…

The 1992 opening of Camden Yards, home of the Baltimore Orioles kickstarted the positive trend of locating new baseball stadia in or near urban centers, close to mass transit.

A notable exception are the Atlanta Braves.

Ownership’s (Liberty Media Group) decision to build SunTrust Park in the northern suburbs of Cobb County, far from the MARTA light rail system, was controversial. Critics, including GreenSportsBlog, argued that leaving centrally located and a relatively young Turner Field (20 years-old when the Braves left after the 2016 season) for an area with limited mass transit was the wrong choice from a carbon footprint perspective. Consider that fan travel is the biggest component of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) at a sports event. Unless someone rides a bike, walks or takes a local Cobb County bus, odds are, fans going to SunTrust Park are going to drive — or take an Uber or Lyft.

It should be noted that Turner Field, now the home of Georgia State University football, is not as centrally located as I thought: it is about one mile south of downtown. Thus it is not that close to MARTA — it takes an estimated 20-25 minutes to walk from the closest station.

 

Turner Field Georgia State

Turner Field, formerly the home of the Atlanta Braves, in its new football configuration for Georgia State University (Photo credit: Curbed.com)

 

Turner Field will be much closer to mass transit as early as 2024 thanks to a new, $48.6 million MARTA Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line, funded in part by a $12.6 million federal government grant. Construction is scheduled to commence in 2021 on the BRT# line that will connect Turner Field to Atlanta’s downtown and midtown areas.

Ironically, according to a March 7, 2018 story in Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC) by David Wickert and J. Scott Trubey on the federal grant, “The Atlanta Braves wanted a direct connection to MARTA when they were in talks with the city to remain at the former Turner Field, before the ballclub left for the new SunTrust Park in Cobb County.”

Would the BRT line have been enough to have kept the Braves at Turner Field? We will never know.

We do know that the Braves report that, when they were looking for locations for the new ballpark, they created a “heat map” showing the location of each ticket sold. The map shows SunTrust Park to be 12 miles closer to the majority of those addresses than Turner Field. If that is true, then it is possible that the move to the suburbs is saving on vehicle miles driven because the new ballpark is closer to the team’s fan base.

Long term, as the population increases in fast-growing Cobb County, the push for new mass transit that would feed into SunTrust Park and The Battery Atlanta, including BRT and HighRoad Rapid Transit (monorail), is expected to grow. But the politics of getting big mass transit infrastructure projects funded is a fraught process, to say the least. So it’s anybody’s guess as to when mass transit will come to SunTrust Park.

Of course, Liberty Media Group could have made mass transit access a moot point if it had chosen a site close to an existing MARTA station for its new stadium. I’m not expert enough on Atlanta mass transit, real estate and demographics to know if that was a real option. But, as the saying goes, where there’s a (green) will there’s a (greener) way.

 

* Building envelope = the physical separator between the conditioned and unconditioned environment of a building
^ There are also 14 feet x 8 feet Big Ass Fans at SunTrust Park
# BRT lines run with limited stops and operate in a mix of exclusive lanes and shared roadways.

 


 

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2018 Green Sports Alliance Summit Recap: Substance and The Art of the Possible

The eighth Green Sports Alliance Summit that concluded Wednesday in Atlanta was the most substantive of the five such events I’ve attended. From the plenary sessions to the workshops to the stadium tours to the conversations with vendors at their booths, the hallmark for me was that I learned a ton!

With that as backdrop, here is a final recap of the substantive Green Sports Alliance Summit 2018.

 

PANEL DISCUSSES MICROGRIDS FOR SPORTS VENUES

“We are in the Excuse Removal business!'”

Karen Morgan, President and CEO of Dynamic Energy Networks, began “The Art of the Possible: New Business Models to Achieve Your Community’s Energy Goals” panel discussion with that proclamation.

 

Karen Morgan

Karen Morgan, President and CEO, Dynamic Energy Networks (Photo credit: Dynamic Energy Networks)

 

What excuses are Morgan and her team aiming to remove from the lexicon of sports owners?

That their stadia and arenas can’t become hubs of a microgrid — a form of distributed electricity generation that brings together a small network of electricity users with a local source of supply that, in the main, functions independently of the grid — because doing so is too costly, technologically challenging, and/or just too different.

Moderated adroitly by Anne Kelly, Ceres’ Senior Director, Policy, “The Art of the Possible” offered a detailed tutorial on the potential of microgrids to benefit not only sports venues but the surrounding community.

Morgan set the stage: “Our team invests in microgrid projects, often including solar and other renewables, taking on the financial risk from property owners. Our capital, provided by the Carlyle Group, one of the world’s largest private equity firms, is invested upfront. Property owners pay our investors back over time through power purchase agreements (PPAs), energy services agreements and other such vehicles. Schneider Electric contributes critical software integration expertise.”

Key members of the Dynamic Energy Networks microgrid All-Star team joined Morgan on the panel.

Mark Feasel, Vice President Electric Utility Segment and Smart Grid at Schneider Electric, evangelized about microgrids’/distributed generation’s three most powerful features:

  • Digitization: “Data profoundly is transforming the effectiveness of energy assets. Solar, for example, has become exponentially more efficient thanks to digitization.”
  • Decarbonization: “Distributed generation allows for the faster integration of renewables. We see decarbonization rates of up to 85 percent in distributed generation networks.”
  • Decentralization: “For 100 years, energy was supplied to homes and businesses from a massive central hub, and consumers were passive. Now, with distributed generation, customers are proactive actors, getting more reliable, sustainable and predictable energy, sometimes at lower cost.”

Andrew Marino, Co-Head of Carlyle Group and a member of Dynamic Energy Networks’ Board of Directors, offered this take: “We see microgrids as a massive opportunity for distributed, integrated sustainable energy and a huge investment opportunity. And it’s not only renewables and storage. Electric vehicles are also part of the mix. All of our EV conversations involve integrating them with microgrids.”

Where does sports fit in?

Morgan said “Sports venues can be laboratories for energy innovation.” She then imagined the integration of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Philips Arena^ and Georgia World Congress (convention) Center  — the three structures form a triangle of sorts — via battery-powered energy storage: “This would become a resilient center for disaster relief. Sports venues are where the community goes. Five years ago, back up power was exclusively diesel-based, meaning it was dirty and took a half-hour or more to ramp up — remember the blackout at the 2013 Super Bowl in New Orleans. Now we can leverage solar, dispatch a battery for resilience. It is cleaner, quicker, more reliable and at a lower price. Microgrids will help venues win the right to host the best and biggest events. So, to team owners, venue owners, I say be leaders on microgrids and distributed generation.”

 

CARBON UNDERGROUND PRESIDENT SAYS KEY SOLUTION TO CLIMATE CHANGE IS…UNDERGROUND

“There is no solution to climate change that does not include drawing carbon back down from our atmosphere. And there is no mechanism with the scale and immediacy to draw enough carbon back down to mitigate climate change other than the restoration of soil. Doing so will be transformational.”

So said Larry Kopald, Co-Founder and President of The Carbon Underground, as a lead-in to a brief presentation Tuesday afternoon about his organization’s important but not-so-well-known work.

Kopald asserted that “According to the United Nations, mismanagement of soil has resulted in a loss of as much as 70 percent of topsoil worldwide. And that loss of topsoil is a big contributor to climate change. If we continue at the current pace, the UN predicts we may have as little as sixty years left before the soil-based foundation for feeding the planet is gone.”

The good news is that restoring health of our soil can happen quickly, will reduce atmospheric CO₂ levels, increase the water supply and is now seen by many, including Big Food, as a winning investment. According to Mr. Kopald:

  • One acre of healthy soil stores 25,000 gallons of water
  • Per a UCLA study, restoring health to our soil, and thereby increasing our water supply and beginning to reverse climate change, will reduce healthcare costs by up to 25 percent
  • The largest food companies — Danone, General Mills and Unilever among them — support The Carbon Underground and are moving towards a system of “regenerative agriculture,” farming and grazing practices that, among other benefits, reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity – resulting in both carbon drawdown and improving the water cycle.
  • Individuals can do so as well, through The Carbon Underground’s “Adopt-a-Meter” program. For as little as $5, folks can adopt a meter of degraded soil and bring it back to health.

 

 

 

How can the sports world chip in? It seems that sports played outside, on grass and dirt like golf, soccer, baseball, and football, should support the work of groups like The Carbon Underground. Healthy soil is something almost all humans are in favor of — why not make it the centerpiece of a fan engagement program?

 

 

A MISSED OPPORTUNITY

After Kopald’s presentation, he moderated “Food, Fans and Farmers: Teaming Up for a Healthier Planet.” Panel members Will Witherspoon (sustainable farmer and ex-NFL linebacker), Robby Sansom (COO/CFO of Epic Provisions, maker of bars from 100 percent grass-fed animal protein), and Will Harris (fourth generation cattle farmer), all agreed that animal-based foods play an important, essential role in our diets.

Beyond the panel, there is clear disagreement about that point.

In fact, that same evening, the Alliance hosted a screening of the new documentary film, “The Game Changers.” Per the Alliance, “it tells the story of UFC fighter James Wilks as he travels the world for the truth behind the world’s most dangerous myth: that meat is necessary for protein, strength and optimal health.”

 

 

With that in mind, it says here that Wilks — who was at the Summit for a post-screening Q&A — should have been a part of Kobald’s “Food” panel. Having an athlete who thrives on a plant-based diet in a discussion with animal farmers would have been fascinating and illuminating.

 

James Wilks

James Wilks (Photo credit: vegan-fighter.com)

 

Also missing from the panel was a discussion of the climate change impact of animal-based foods — it is accepted science that it takes between seven to ten times more energy to get animal-based food to one’s plate than plant-based food.

So this was an opportunity missed — hopefully a fuller discussion about food can be part of the 2019 Summit lineup in Philadelphia.

 

CLEMSON UNIVERSITY PLAYS LONG GAME WHEN IT COMES TO BRINGING RECYCLING TO MEMORIAL STADIUM

Eleven years.

That’s how long it took Tom Jones, Director of Custodial, Recycling, Solid Waste and Special Events at Clemson University, and his team to get recycling fully embedded at Memorial Stadium, the 81,500 seat home of Tigers football.

Talk about playing the long game.

As Jones told the story at the “Engagement through Operations, Staff, Fans, and Community” workshop, the Clemson athletics department was very resistant to the introduction of recycling bins at the stadium and, even more so, in the suites — they felt it would be a big annoyance. His approach: Listen to them, overcome their objections one by one, and advance recycling slowly.

“You’re not going to get anywhere trying to tell the athletics department what to do,” advised Jones. “We kept at it with a ‘soft sell’ approach. We showed them that, by having fans, whether in the tailgate area or in the stadium, separate their waste into trash and recycling would make the trash haul much lighter and quicker. They liked that. Then we showed them that the cost of recycling would be the same or lower than the cost of trash hauling. That got their attention. We got students to volunteer. That got their attention, too. But we didn’t pester them. Slowly, they started to come around. Finally, in recent years, the athletics department started coming to us, asking us to help them. Because we were solving problems. And now we have a solid partnership with athletics based on trust.”

 

Clemson Recycle

Blocks of recycled cans and bottles collected by Clemson student volunteers at a home football game in 2014 (Photo credit: Clemson Newsstand)

 

BEST LINE OF THE SUMMIT

At the same “Engagement” workshop, moderator Monica Rowand, Sustainability Coordinator at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, had us break into groups. Our task was to come up with ways to improve recycling rates among fans, stadium/arena staff and the community. One of the folks in our group was Kelsey Hallowell, the head of waste reduction consultancy Reduction In Motion. When I asked what she does day-to-day, she replied “I get paid to trash talk!”

If Kelsey had a microphone, she would’ve dropped it.

See you in Philadelphia next June!

 

 

^ Philips Arena: Home of the Atlanta Hawks

 


 

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GSB News & Notes: Boston University and Eversource Partner to Save Energy at Hockey Arena; Adidas Sells One Million Shoes Made from Recycled Plastic Ocean Waste; One Man Uses Soccer to Teach Sustainability in Rural South Africa

GSB News & Notes spans the globe to bring you the constant variety of Green-Sports: Boston University’s men’s and women’s hockey teams are powerhouses. Off the ice, thanks to a partnership with utility Eversource, BU hockey is saving power at Agganis Arena. Adidas reaches a major Green-Sports milestone by selling its one millionth pair of shoes made from recycled plastic ocean waste. And a soccer-loving environmentalist in South Africa shows how one man can make a difference. 

 

COLLEGE HOCKEY POWERHOUSE BOSTON UNIVERSITY SAVES POWER IN PARTNERSHIP WITH EVERSOURCE

Boston University is a collegiate sports rarity in that neither football nor basketball are king. That honor goes to hockey as the Terriers, both men and women, are a true powerhouse. The men’s program has won five national championships and appeared in 22 Frozen Fours since 1950. The relatively young women’s program, only in its 10th year of Division I play, is still looking for its first national title but they have advanced to two Frozen Fours. And now, its home rink, the sparkling 7,200-seat Agganis Arena, is becoming a green-sports power by using significantly less of it.

And that makes BU MBA and lifelong Boston sports fan Jeff Pollock very happy.

You see, Pollock leads marketing, product management and development for Eversource, the utility company that serves the Boston area and 50 percent of Massachusetts overall, as well as 50 percent of New Hampshire and more than 70 percent of Connecticut. Developing and implementing innovative energy efficiency programs is a big priority for Eversource; marketing those programs is the responsibility of Pollock and his team.

 

Jeff Pollock_Eversource

Jeff Pollock of Eversource (Photo credit: Eversource)

 

Colleges and universities are ideal energy efficiency customers for Eversource since they are very big and high-profile energy users. BU, the largest landowner in Boston, has a major impact on local real estate. And men’s and women’s hockey is about as high profile as it gets in the BU universe.

 

Agannis Arena

Agganis Arena, home of BU men’s and women’s hockey (Photo credit: Boston University)

 

Since 2014, Eversource and BU have had a strategic agreement which takes a holistic approach to deliver the most energy savings to the university and help achieve its Climate Action Plan goals to reach zero carbon emissions by 2040. The project at Agganis Arena is an important part of that effort.

“We see athletics as a huge opportunity for carbon emissions reductions and cost savings, with lighting, heating and cooling being the prime levers,” said Pollock.

At Agganis Arena, a lighting upgrade from fluorescents to longer-lasting, efficient LED’s resulted in a 65 percent reduction in electricity usage. The quality of light improved, exceeding NCAA standards, making it easier for players and fans to see the puck. And the lighting retrofit went beyond just the bulbs. “We outfitted Agganis with a state-of-the-art lighting control system that can be managed remotely,” noted Pollack.

I think these are good first steps — steps that many greening sports venues have taken. And, though BU actively promotes its green efforts through its Sustainability@BU website and social media channels, the university, with Eversource’s support, can do more. A strong next step would be to tell its greening story directly to fans at Agganis Arena — engaging them to take similar environmental actions at home — via scoreboard messaging and other signage.

Beyond BU, Eversource has done energy efficiency work at Fenway Park and has also worked with the University of Connecticut on energy-saving improvements at Gampel Pavilion, the home of women’s and men’s basketball. In addition to an LED lighting system, the upgrade included the installation of variable-frequency drives (VFDs) to regulate air handlers and the replacement of the original chillers and cooling towers with modern equipment for more efficient heating and cooling.

 

ADIDAS REACHES A MAJOR MILESTONE: ONE MILLION SHOES SOLD MADE FROM RECYCLED PLASTIC OCEAN WASTE

In a recent appearance on CNBC, adidas CEO Kasper Rorsted — discussing where the global sportswear company decides to invest its money — when he casually mentioned that “we last year sold one million shoes made out of ocean plastic”.

The astonishing figure was achieved through its partnership with Parley for the Oceans, a nonprofit which works to reduce plastic ocean waste and, in the process, protect ocean wildlife.

It is estimated that each adidas UltraBOOST Parley sneaker reuses 11 plastic bottles. Each shoe’s “upper” (the part that goes over the top of the foot) is made from five percent recycled polyester and 95 percent waste plastic (plastic bottles, containers, etc.) dredged from the ocean around the Maldives, an archipelago that is existentially threatened by climate change off the southern coast of India. Most of the rest of the sneaker — including the heel, lining, and laces — is also made from recycled material. 

 

adidas

Adidas UltraBOOST Parley sneakers, made from 95 percent ocean waste. (Photo credit: adidas)

 

The partnership with Parley for the Oceans is a powerful example of adidas’ commitment to sustainability. “That’s where we invest money – companies that have the technology that we need, companies that have materials that are unique,” shared Mr Rorsted during the CNBC interview. “We are investing much more in [partners] that make a step forward in sustainability, or makes the manufacturing process much more sophisticated”.

 

SOCCER INSPIRES ENVIRONMENTALISM IN RURAL SOUTH AFRICA

Is it true that “one person can make a difference” on vast, global issues like conservation and pollution? A lone environmentalist in a remote part of South Africa is working to prove the truth of this adage by using sports to educate young people about sustainable practices.

Raymond Langa, living near St Lucia on the country’s east coast, was so concerned with the environmental problems in his community that he decided to take matters into his own hands.

“I am always frustrated by the environmental degradation activities taking place in areas of significance for conservation,” said Mr. Langa to the Zululand Observer. “My area has many wetlands with an abundance of wildlife, seasonal birds and waterfowl. I have identified one area which is very significant to the entire village, but households living next to it dump all types of filth into it”.

 

Raymond Langa

Raymond Langa (Photo credit: iSimangaliso.com)

 

So Mr. Langa teamed up with the iSimangaliso Wetland Park to teach local young people about the importance of sustainability and environmental protection. The park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, spanning 1,270 square miles — roughly twice the size of London — along the coast. The park is home to a stunning range of biodiversity, including coral reefs, dunes, forests and rare animals, such as the black rhino, African leopard and dolphins.

Langa’s idea was to teach young people about the importance of their spectacular neighborhood and the wildlife in it by hosting a sports event on the grounds of one of the villages bordering the southern section of the World Heritage Site.

The iSimangaliso and Dukuduku Sports Tournament, organized by Langa, featured soccer and netball — an offshoot of basketball — for school children. At the same time, workshops were hosted on conservation, environmental care and sustainable tourism.

 

Zululand Reporter

Raymond Langa and his student-athletes at the iSimangaliso and Dukuduku tournament in eastern South Africa (Photo credit: Zululand Observer)

 

In a sign that the initiative was paying immediate dividends, one participant told the Zululand Observer, “I have gained more than I was expecting to from today’s game. I learned the importance of iSimangaliso and why the youth should protect the environment”.

 

 


 

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Green-Sports Startups, Part 3: Phononic, Disrupting the Refrigerator Market via Luxury Suites

Well-known global corporations, from BASF to Nike to Tesla, have waded into the Green-Sports waters. While it makes sense for them to do so from PR and mission points of view, Green-Sports, for now, represents a small aspect of these companies’ businesses.

Then again, there are startups for which Green-Sports is a significant part of their business. Last year, GreenSportsBlog launched an occasional series, Green Sports Startups that focuses on small (for now) companies that see the greening of sports as existential to their businesses’ prospects for success. Our first such newbie was Nube9, a Seattle-based company committed to making recyclable sports uniforms in the U.S.A. from American fabrics. We followed that with a profile of Underdogs United, a startup looking to help sports teams already talking the green talk to walk the green walk by selling them renewable energy credits generated by crucial greening projects in the developing world.

Today we feature Phononic, a technology startup that sees sports arenas and stadia as a key target market in its audacious ambition to disrupt the set-in-its-ways refrigeration market, leading to a meaningful reduction of carbon emissions.

 

After talking with Tony Atti, the energetic, Pied Piper-like founder and CEO of Durham, North Carolina-based Phononic, for maybe two-three minutes, I was ready to stop the interview.

Instead, I wanted to get out there and sell his market disrupting, carbon emissions-reducing refrigerators. And I’d never sold a refrigerator before!

But before I started selling, I thought I should write the story of how Atti got into the refrigerator-disruption business — “we want to be the ‘Tesla of Refrigeration” — and how big a deal Phononic’s advance can be for the sports world and far, far beyond.

 

Phononic: Bringing Solid State Semiconductor Innovation to Refrigeration

“I grew up in Buffalo, New York — Go Bills! — and ended up getting a PhD in chemistry at the University of Southern California,” recalled Atti. “Then, quite by accident, I fell into working at a boutique venture capital fund in New York City back in the early 2000s.”

 

Tony Atti

Tony Atti, founder and CEO of Phononic (Photo credit: Tony Atti)

 

The firm’s bread and butter were startups incubated at universities, with a focus on sustainability and energy technology companies. They also took the unusual approach of placing their top executives in operational roles at some of the companies in which they had invested. So Atti went down to the Research Triangle area near Raleigh, North Carolina to work with one of the firm’s companies.

More Atti: “I did an 18-month stint in North Carolina; when that ended I pursued other opportunities, including in Silicon Valley. It was in Northern California that I met the co-founder of Phononic in 2009. At that point, it was just an idea, and a very long shot at that.”

So, what was Phononic’s long-shot, unique selling proposition?

“Phononic is an exemplar of what tech-based venture capital is all about: disruption through solid state semiconductor innovation. This kind of innovation transformed the computer, data, solar power, and lighting businesses — and much, much more,” shared Atti. “Phononic exists to demonstrate that it’s possible to bring solid state semiconductor innovation — that is to say microchips — to refrigeration and other cooling. Our goal was and is simple: To disrupt the 100+ year old domination of compressor and Freon-based refrigeration.”

At the outset, the company operated virtually, with development partners from the University of Oklahoma, Cal-Tech and the University of California-Santa Cruz working with Phononic to prove the technology worked. Atti then decided to locate the company in North Carolina, setting up shop on North Carolina State University’s Centennial Campus in Raleigh from 2010-2013. By 2014, he had moved Phononic’s offices to nearby Durham, where the company designed and manufactured semiconductor chips to meet four critical criteria — efficiency, scale, manufacturability and cost — that would determine its ultimate viability.

 

Nobody Believes In Us!

Nobody believes in us! has served as a powerful motivational fuel for some of the great upsets in sports history. It also fueled Atti and his Phononic team during the early days.

“We flew around the world with our chips and our performance data, but no one believed in us. You have to understand that the incumbents in the refrigeration markets, like fossil fuel companies, were resistant to change beyond all reason. That just made us work harder. So, we went to the step of ‘product-izing,’ which means we built a prototype refrigerator around the chip, to show the skeptics that our technology was superior in the lab and in an actual refrigerator.”

Chips are indeed superior to Freon and compressors on a host of metrics: Reduced energy usage, far less pollution, reduced noise and weight, no vibration, better use of space and more. And, by 2016, Phononic had a finished refrigerator prototyping and began mass production, manufacturing more than 3,000 small-sized refrigerators over the past 18 months.

Initial Target Markets: Life Sciences, Healthcare and Hospitals

If you haven’t figured it out by now, Atti subscribes to the “Go Big or Go Home” philosophy of life. Taking down the compressor-Freon refrigerator market is one example. Another are the big, competitive, and challenging markets he chose to tackle first: Life sciences, healthcare and hospitals.

“With life sciences and healthcare, refrigeration absolutely cannot fail,” asserted Atti. “So, we went right for it, in the high-pressure world of neo-natal units, with a ‘We Protect the Sample’ mantra. Our refrigerators had to protect the drugs 100 percent of the time. We did that. Our surveys of hospital staff to get their takes on the user experience came back strongly positive. So, we knew we had something.”

 

Next Up: Stadium and Arena Luxury Suites

Food and beverage was the next market Phononic would try to penetrate. To do so, Atti felt that managers of luxury and club suites at sports arenas and stadia would be particularly interested in the unique value his disruptive refrigerator could provide.

As Atti tells it, “There are many advantages of a Phononic vs. a compressor-based refrigerator for suite operators. Our current models are small, ‘dorm room style’ and also larger built-in refrigerators, the perfect size for suites. The Phononic microchip-based system takes up less space than a compressor — so our storage capacity is significantly greater in the same physical footprint. Our product makes little to no noise. Our temperature controls are more accurate. Phononic refrigerators need much less maintenance than do compressor-based refrigerators, as there are no moving parts in a chip-based system. And the security system, which uses electronic keyboard technology, is superior. These are all big advantages.”

Atti didn’t have to look far for a sports venue at which to test his luxury suite idea: PNC Arena just down the road from Durham in Raleigh, home to the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes, NC State men’s basketball, as well as concerts and other events.

Chris Diamond, Vice President of Food and Beverage for the arena, bought in early: “I was on board from day one. I’m from Niagara Falls; Tony’s an energetic Buffalo guy, so we Western New Yorkers got each other. More importantly, the Phononic system was a clear improvement for us on a number of key metrics vs. traditional refrigerators for our loge boxes— The Phononic refrigerator was quiet; our refrigerators were noisy. The Phononic refrigerator did not heat up; ours would get very hot. The new system needs next to no maintenance — all we need is a tech that can change a motherboard every once in a great while.”

 

Chris Diamond

Chris Diamond, vice president of Food and Beverage at PNC Arena in Raleigh, NC (Photo credit: Chris Diamond)

 

Soon after, two Phononic refrigerators were deployed in each of PNC Arena’s seven loge boxes — the undercounter/built-in units are not big enough for the arena’s more spacious suites yet. Diamond brought a key wine vendor to an event, not letting him in on the change: “The guy was blown away by the quiet of the new units — he couldn’t believe it! He told me ‘I want one for my house!'”

 

Phononic fridge PNC Arena

Phononic refrigerator in one of the loge boxes at PNC Arena (Photo credit: PNC Arena)

 

The seven loge boxes are clearly just the beginning of the Phononic-PNC Arena relationship.

“I told Tony that there’s enough work here for Phononic for five years and more if you can get me bigger refrigerators,” declared Diamond. “I need them for our 51 larger suites but that’s just the start. A big trend in stadium and arena food service is ‘Grab & Go’, small, mobile stands. This summer, I want to be the first arena to use Phononic to cool its ‘Grab & Go’ installations.”

 

Phononic’s Environmental Benefits Important for PNC Bank Arena

While Phononic refrigerators’ reduced maintenance costs and quiet operation are certainly important to Diamond and the PNC Arena team, so too are its environmental benefits.

Per Diamond, “Since we opened in 1999, the environment has been an important operational consideration — it needs to be, as we see 1.5 million visitors annually. Recycling has been big since day one, as has the minimizing of waste. So, the environmental advantages of Phononic got our attention.”

 

Tony Phononic

Tony Atti with a Phononic refrigerator (Photo credit: Phononic)

 

Phononic’s most disruptive environmental feature is the elimination of Freon, a major greenhouse gas contributor, from the refrigeration the process.

“Over the next 30 years, it is expected there will be as much CO pumped into the atmosphere from refrigeration and air conditioning as there will be from cars,” noted Atti. “There has been a necessary move to eliminate or reduce the amount of Freon from the refrigeration/cooling process while maintaining the compressor system, but potential replacement substances present other problems. Phononic is completely different and its operation actually uses CO₂ as opposed to generating or releasing it. And less maintenance visits means fewer transportation-related CO₂ emissions. The refrigeration industry needs disrupting and Phononic is positioned to do it.”

 

Loge Boxes at PNC Arena Are Just the Beginning

Phononic is talking to other arenas about their innovative refrigeration system. “Many arenas and stadiums are seeking environmentally sustainable solutions, not only from the ‘it’s the right thing to do’ perspective, but also to save money, to drive profitability,” said Atti. “We are selling a variety of ‘refrigerator as a service’ options for 2018 that will appeal to sports venues, including a small ice cream freezer that will move from suite to suite. Bigger versions of our ‘undercounter’ style refrigerator are in development — they will allow us to go beyond suites to servicing the arena or stadium bowl. Consumer models are in our medium-term plans as well.”

Sounds to me to like Atti’s goal of Phononic becoming the “Tesla of Refrigeration” is not at all farfetched.

And I’m ready to start selling!

 


 

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