The GSB Interview

Jim Nolan, New England Patriots COO, On Greening Gillette Stadium

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Most football fans — aside from those who live in New England, of course — will be glad that Sunday’s Super Bowl LIV will be a Patriots-free zone when the Kansas City Chiefs take on the San Francisco 49ers in Miami.

Why such glee?

It’s jealousy, plain and simple, born of the Pats’ dominance on the field over the last two decades. Since 2001, they’ve won an unfathomable six Super Bowl championships and a staggering 17 of the last 19 AFC East Division titles¹.

Less well known is New England’s stellar greening record over the same time period.

It was at the dawn of the 2000s that the team designed and then built Gillette Stadium. Even though it was the Dark Ages as far as the Green-Sports movement was concerned, Robert Kraft and the rest of the Pats ownership team made sustainability and environment key tenets of the new stadium.

GSB spoke with Jim Nolan, currently the COO of Kraft Sports Entertainment and who was with the company at the time, about the greening of the Patriots and Gillette Stadium.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Jim, I hear in your voice the slightest hint of a Boston or New England accent. Am I right to assume that you’re from the area?

Jim Nolan: You are correct, Lew. I’m a local kid, from Dedham, Massachusetts. Grew up an avid fan of the Bruins, Celtics, Red Sox and Patriots.  Studied Economics and Accounting at the College of the Holy Cross

GSB: In nearby Worcester…

Jim: Exactly! I went to work in the corporate accounting world at the Boston office of Ernst & Young.

GSB: How did you get from Ernst & Young to the Patriots?

Jim: Well, when Robert Kraft bought the Pats in 1994, Ernst & Young had been doing audit and tax work for his various other businesses, including Foxboro Stadium. I worked on various Patriots and stadium audits starting in 1994, and then joined the Pats and Kraft Sports in 1996 on the accounting team as financial controller.

We started planning and designing Gillette Stadium in the 90s and in 2003, just a couple of years after the stadium opened, we began planning a mixed-use development adjacent to the stadium, now known as Patriot Place. It was at that time that I transitioned to the operations side.

GSB: How does one go from accounting and finance to operations? Did you have to take special courses?

Jim: No special course, just real-time experience. During construction and the opening of Gillette Stadium, everyone was involved across multiple disciplines. Gillette Stadium was so much bigger and more complex than its predecessor, Foxboro Stadium, that it afforded many of us the opportunity to expand the scopes of our responsibilities.

That allowed me to transition from a discipline that looked at history and the past from a bit of a distance…

 

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Jim Nolan at Gillette Stadium (Photo credit: Dwight Darian/Kraft Sports + Entertainment)

 

GSB: …That would be finance?

Jim: Yes. On the other hand, with operations and events, you’re on the front line in real time. The most important thing is the next thing.

GSB: Is that the operations version of Coach Belichick’s “Do your job mantra?”

Jim: That’s right.

GSB: And your job now is the COO of Kraft Sports + Entertainment. What does that entail?

Jim: Really it has to do with anticipating and managing anything that is on the horizon for us, both in terms of the short- and long-term future. And that includes the New England Patriots and New England Revolution, concerts and special events at Gillette Stadium and other activities in and around the stadium and at Patriot Place, the 1.3 million mixed-use lifestyle complex adjacent to the stadium.

GSB: That is a big job, indeed. So, you’ve been with the organization for 24 years. When did KSE and the Patriots make the environment a priority?  

Jim: Both Robert and Jonathan Kraft have made the environment and energy efficiency high priorities in their development projects, both with the construction of the stadium and the Patriot Place development.

GSB: What were some of the greening initiatives that went into the stadium back then?

Jim: There were several. We were the first stadium with a waste water treatment plant on site, recycling and reusing all grey water created in all the toilets and urinals at Gillette Stadium and Patriot Place. It is the largest private wastewater treatment plant in New England.

GSB: I had no idea…

Jim: …Also, it turned out that the old Foxboro Stadium parking lots and the adjacent racetrack were built over the Neponset River. When we designed Gillette Stadium we chose to ‘daylight’ the river, creating acres of wetlands around it and earning the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Award for Excellence in 2002.

Then, once Gillette Stadium opened, we rigorously looked to reduce operating inefficiencies.

For example, anytime we turned the heat or the air conditioning on in one suite, it went on in a large group of suites. This was fine on game days when every suite was in use, but was very inefficient for small events. So, we deployed individual Siemens controls to every suite, significantly reducing our energy consumption.

Gillette Stadium was an early adapter of LED lighting once it became feasible in the late 2000s. Eventually, every light in the stadium, including the field lights, was an energy efficient LED.

GSB: Impressive. What about solar?

Jim: Solar came into the picture in 2007 once we opened Patriot Place, home to dining, entertainment, retail and office space as well as two hotels and a healthcare facility.

One thing Patriot Place has is acres of roofs, all painted white to reduce the heat island effect. Since the roofs are flat, they’re ideal for solar. So, in 2009 we installed 2,600 solar panels which generates 1.1 million kilowatt hours (kWh) annually.

We really tried to maximize our solar panel capacity in Patriot Place. When we added shaded canopies covering the pedestrian walkways, we even installed translucent solar panels atop those canopies.

 

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Patriot Place North Marketplace rooftop solar arrays and shade canopies with translucent panels (Photo credit: Brandon Kwok/Patriot Place)

 

GSB: Is there solar at Gillette Stadium and/or in the parking lots?

Jim: No. The Gillette Stadium structure is not conducive to solar and it would be difficult to maintain solar-topped carports in the parking lots because of the need to plow each space in the winters.

GSB: Makes sense given that you get lots of snow during most winters. The green innovations you’ve mentioned to this point took place during Gillette Stadium’s and Patriot Place’s early years. What if anything have you and the KSE team done recently?

Jim: I’d like to highlight our new CoGen facility and the addition of fuel cell technology.

We built a 500 kilowatt (kW) CoGen plant on site in 2018; it went online this year. It provides heat and hot water 24-7-365 and is an added source of electricity. Powered by natural gas, we use 100 percent of the electricity and 100 percent of the heat generated by the plant.

On fuel cell, we’d been looking at it for years to provide additional electricity supply and also backup in case the grid went down, but it was not efficient enough. It was too costly. But, as time went on the efficiency went up, costs came down and the ROI became favorable.

We went live with a 2 mW Bloom Energy Box system in late 2019, which combined with the CoGen facility, can cover the entire base energy load at Gillette Stadium. It’s an ultra-efficient way to convert natural gas to electricity.

Now if the grid goes down during a soccer match or football game, we can finish the game off the grid without interruption through these two new technologies along with our standard 2 mW diesel generator.

 

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Exterior of Gillette Stadium's 500 kW CoGen plant (Photo credit: Craig Beberman/Kraft Sports + Entertainment)

 

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Gillette Stadium's 2 mW Bloom Box fuel cell system from Bloom Energy (Photo credit: Craig Beberman/Kraft Sports + Entertainment)

 

GSB: So there won’t be anything like the half-hour delay caused by a power outage at the New Orleans Superdome during Super Bowl XLVII in 2013. What’s next for Gillette Stadium and Patriot Place, green-wise? Is energy storage via battery part of the plans?

Jim: We are looking into battery storage, but don’t have any firm plans in place yet. We’re also looking to install an anaerobic digester that will turn organic matter into energy through our Bloom Energy Box.

GSB: Shifting to transportation — fan travel is the #1 source of emissions for most sports — does KSE have plans for electric vehicle (EV) charging stations? And what about mass transit?

Jim: When EV penetration started to pick up in our area, we installed a couple of charging stations at Patriot Place. Now EV usage is really growing — several players, coaches and staff drive them. We know we need to be a leader in EV charging, especially since more and more of our 2 million fans who come to Gillette Stadium every year and the 12 million who come to Patriot Place will be driving EVs in the very near future.

So, with that in mind, we signed a deal in 2019 with our energy partner Enel for 25, two-sided charging stations throughout the campus. This gives us 50 charging ports that are evenly distributed throughout the site for ease of use for staff and guests. And that’s just the start.

On mass transit, we have an MBTA station adjacent to the stadium and Patriot Place that runs service to and from Boston and Providence on game days. Between 3,000-4,000 fans take the train to each Patriots game and we are looking to add additional trains on game day in the future. And last October we opened up the station for Park & Ride commuters to Boston and reverse commuters from Boston on Monday through Friday. So far, it has been a great success and we have seen ridership grow from week to week and month to month. With the volume of parking we have onsite adjacent to the station, it has been easy to use and convenient for the riders

 

GSB’s Take: Kudos to Kraft Sports + Entertainment’s environmental record at Gillette Stadium and Patriot Place. The Patriots are, along with the owners of the Philadelphia Eagles and Seattle Seahawks, showing the green way in the NFL.

How can KSE do even better, green-wise? They should:

  1. Communicate its strong green green and climate change-fighting record more powerfully to Patriots fans and visitors to Patriot Place.
  2. Aim BIGGEST from a green POV for the new Revolution soccer-only stadium, once the location is settled (still TBD) and design begins in earnest. What might that look like? Here’s one idea: Build and operate a “carbon negative” stadium, one that removes more carbon from the atmosphere than it emits.

 

¹ As a fan of the New York Jets — an AFC East Division rival of the Pats — staggering is a kind word to describe the last 19 seasons.

 


 

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