The GSB Interview: Reduction In Motion’s Kelsey Hallowell, Helping to Efficiently Reduce Waste at Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium

Kelsey Hallowell is a Professional Trash Talker.

She plies that unusual trade for Reduction In Motion, a forward-leaning waste reduction consultancy in Baltimore. One of Kelsey’s clients is the Maryland Stadium Authority which, among other things, owns Camden Yards (home of baseball’s Orioles) and M&T Bank Stadium (home of the NFL’s Ravens).

GreenSportsBlog talked to Kelsey, whose official title is Communications and Outreach Coordinator, about the unique aspects of working with sports venues.

And talking trash.

GreenSportsBlog: Kelsey, I love your job title! How does one get to be a professional trash talker?

Kelsey Hallowell: Well Lew, for me it started out as a little girl in Duxbury, Massachusetts. I was always outside playing – the joke with my family is as a toddler, my parents would set me beside them as they gardened, and I would eat handfuls of dirt.

GSB: Uh…Another way of saying you have “an appreciation for the environment”

KH: YES! Then I ended up attending Washington College, a small liberal arts school in Chestertown on the Eastern Shore of Maryland…

GSB: Sounds like an outdoorsy place…

KH: …It is. In fact, I got to be a part of the first cohort of something called the Chesapeake Semester. It was amazing. Rather than being stuck in a classroom, we went out into the environment, into the field to learn. Talked to and worked with farmers, scientists, and historians for environmental causes throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

 

Kelsey Headshot Color

Kelsey Hallowell, trash talker at Reduction In Motion (Photo credit: Reduction In Motion)

 

GSB: What a great program! I can see how you would end up in the trash talking, waste reduction business.

KH: Actually I started in the recycling and waste world while at Washington College. I worked with the Center for Environment & Society (CES), which is linked with the college and Chestertown. CES focuses on social and environmental issues.

GSB: What was your role?

KH: I worked on a variety of projects. Not too surprisingly, I was one of a handful of students who helped with recycling on campus. We got into the nitty gritty of it, which was a great experience.

GSB: What do you mean by nitty gritty?

KH: We collected the recycling by hand, separating glass by color, while also separating plastics, metals, paper and cardboard. We also helped to reinvigorate composting on campus and started a campus garden.

GSB: Not glamorous but it sounds like a great training ground…What did you do once you graduated?

KH: While I was still at Washington College, I went to a presentation by an alum who worked at Reduction In Motion. I thought, “what they do is really cool.” One thing led to another and, in 2012, I became a trash talker at Reduction In Motion.

GSB: So what does Reduction In Motion do?

KH: The company was started in 2002 by Bill Griffith. He worked for a long time in the hazardous and medical waste industry. He saw how much waste went into the red bags designated for regulated medical waste and how much of that didn’t really belong there. Bill also realized that hospitals — and many other types of businesses and venues — really had very little idea about their waste: how much they generate, where it goes, how much it costs…

GSB: How could hospitals not know how much their waste hauling cost?

KH: That’s what Bill asked! So he launched the company to help hospitals and other healthcare facilities understand their waste streams better, more efficiently deal with it, and save money by doing so. I started as a Greening Facilitator for hospitals in Baltimore City.

 

Bill Griffith at Audit

Bill Griffith, founder of Reduction In Motion, taking part in a waste audit (Photo credit: Reduction In Motion)

 

GSB: What is a Greening Facilitator?

KH: I basically helped the ‘waste generators’ – clinicians, administrative staff, food service and waste handlers (housekeeping and facilities) – make sure the different types of waste went into the correct waste or recycling stream.

GSB: How did the doctors and hospital staff react?

KH: Some were really into it, some not so much. A few hospitals really got it. One had an already-established Green Team by the time we arrived. We worked with them to use compost to help fertilize a garden they had established.

GSB: That sounds like a real success.

KH: It was. We’ve found that one of the keys to success for our clients is to stick to the basics: What and how much waste are you generating? With recycling, what kind of bins do you have? Is signage clearly communicating what goes into which bin? Are you following where the waste and recycling goes after it leaves your premises?

GSB: Simple, yet important.

KH: That’s really it. Set it up and help maintain the program.

GSB: You then moved up from Greening Facilitator to your current trash talking position: Communications and Outreach Coordinator. What does that entail?

KH: Well, we’re a small operation with less than 10 employees, so the job has a bit of everything in it. I help support our clients, from Virginia to New Jersey, with educational materials and the aforementioned signage. Management of our website and social media, developing presentations, and supporting sales are also parts of my day to day.

GSB: Sounds busy and also varied. Now, what is the Reduction In Motion business model?

KH: Good question. We call ourselves “waste-based sustainability consultants” and we mostly work on a monthly fee basis. Recently, a project-specific model has become popular. We show cost savings to our clients by increasing the amount of waste that goes to recycling and composting and cutting the amount that goes to trash, because sending waste to landfills is more expensive. Our metrics for success are diversion rates and money saved. But things have gotten much more challenging recently.

GSB: Why is that?

KH: Recycling just became infinitely more difficult because China — where the US and many other countries sent most of its recycled material — enacted a new law, banning the import of American recycling because there was too much contamination.

GSB: I heard something about that. How much contamination is too much?

KH: It needs to be less than 0.5 percent but the US was sending recycling to China with contamination rates north of 15 percent. That’s one big reason why we emphasize examining waste streams at the client site to make sure they’re not contaminated.

GSB: So where’s the recycling going to go if not China? Can we keep it here?

KH: Great question. The domestic recycling infrastructure needed to support the recovery of the materials we were previously sending to China needs to be greatly expanded if we are going to keep it all here. To truly fix the issues the recycling industry is facing today, manufacturers need to get involved. How2Recycle.info is a great website that explains not only the confusion consumers are facing when trying to recycle but it also addresses how to solve the problem. We need standardized, clear, concise messaging included on the products we buy every day. All packages should be labeled so the consumer can quickly and easily determine how to dispose of everything the package contains the right way. Think of a box of cereal. There is the outer box and the inner bag containing the cereal. Most consumers are well aware that the outer box can be recycled but get confused when it comes to the inner bag. They think, “it’s plastic so it can go into the recycle bin too,” but that’s just not the case. This could be solved if a label was printed on the outside of the box in an easily viewable spot, clearly explaining that the box is recyclable but the plastic bag is not. Standardization of information labels on packaging materials will do a great deal to cut down on contamination rates found in today’s recycling stream. Once the disposal of packaging materials has been standardized, the materials recovery facilities (MRFs) can get to work on how best to recover the materials here in the US, increasing jobs and eliminating the need to export recycled material out of the country.

GSB: We should do a separate interview about what needs to happen to build domestic recycling infrastructure. But for now, let’s talk about how Reduction In Motion got into working with sports venues…

KH: Sports venues are different than hospitals. Hospitals run and generate waste 24-7. Sports fans are at a venue for a few hours and not every day. But when they do go to a game, they generate huge amounts of waste in a relatively short time. Our first sports clients were two two minor league baseball teams in Maryland, Aberdeen IronBirds, who play at Ripken Stadium and the Frederick Keys, whose home base is Harry Grove Stadium. We received a grant from the state to conduct waste audits for them. From there, we moved up to the big leagues as we started to work with the Maryland Stadium Authority. It operates Camden Yards, the home of the Orioles, and M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Ravens.

 

RIM Minor League Baseball

Reduction In Motion team members and volunteers sort trash and recycling generated at a Frederick Keys game at Harry Grove Stadium as part of a grant-funded project by Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) in 2015 (Photo credit: Reduction In Motion)

 

GSB: What do you do for them?

KH: We conducted waste audits as part of both stadiums’ LEED certification efforts, including identifying all the waste that’s generated, from plastic to metal to glass to compostables and more. That led to us working with the Stadium Authority to help the venues understand and improve their diversion rates. We developed fan and staff education content about which types of waste goes into what bin.

GSB: I know there are studies saying that fans care about the environment but do they really care about putting the right type of waste into the right bin?

KH: Some do but some don’t. That’s why it’s so important to establish and roll out a plan, then continue to engage with the key stakeholders, like leadership, operations teams and the fans. By focusing on bin selection, placement, color-codes, and messaging, we try to make it as easy as possible for fans to do the right thing. This approach allowed us to help the University of Richmond with their 2017 ‘Rethink Waste’ basketball game: Recycling contamination was reduced by 54 percent from their baseline and compost was collected at a 93 percent compliance rate! For more details on how we did it, you can read the full story here.

GSB: …So that’s where talking trash comes in!

KH: …You got it! The truth is it’s easier to do the right thing if we make it easy.

GSB: So true. How are Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium doing, diversion rate-wise?

KH: Both have improved over the past several years. Camden Yards’ diversion rate increased from 10 percent in 2012 to 30 percent in 2017. M&T Bank Stadium is doing great; in 2017 they were up to a 58 percent diversion rate, an increase of 40 percent since 2011! Similarly, we’ve had good success in the college sports world. We helped the University of Richmond achieve an 87 percent landfill diversion rate at the aforementioned ‘Rethink Waste’ basketball game.

 

UR (2) RIM

Reduction In Motion and University of Richmond’s student volunteers conducting waste audits during a 2017 Spiders men’s basketball game (Photo credit: Reduction In Motion)

 

GSB: WOW! Congratulations. You make this sound easy but I know it isn’t. What factors might hold down a sports venue’s diversion rate?

KH: Buy-in and consistency. Ensuring you have an understanding of the operations while getting leadership’s understanding and approval can be a tricky balance, and that’s where we come in. Recycling seems easy, but achieving a high, uncontaminated diversion rate will take time and energy. And it takes even more time and energy to maintain and further improve your diversion rates. Things are always changing, whether it be the workforce, those in leadership roles, and, as seen in the China case, the rules of recycling.

GSB: Stadium workers have tough jobs so the communications have to be powerful and the incentives need to be real for them to consistently do the right thing regarding waste. Is sports a growing sector for Reduction In Motion?

KH: It is. More and more, pro and college teams and venues are embracing sustainability — we saw that phenomenon in person at the Green Sports Alliance Summit in Atlanta last month. We also see that fan engagement on recycling and other environmental initiatives is on the rise.

GSB: Hallelujah!!

KH: Definitely! In fact we are providing guidance and ideas to the Maryland Stadium Authority on fan engagement.

GSB: That’s great to hear, Kelsey. Congratulations on your and Reduction In Motion’s success to date. I look forward to hearing about how you and the company will go beyond Maryland’s borders to talk trash and thus help green more sports venues.

 


 

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

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

 

THOUGHT LEADER WORKSHOP TAKES ON CLIMATE CHANGE AND SPORTS

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

 

Colin Tetreault

Colin Tetreault (Photo credit: Arizona State University)

 

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

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

Which was great.

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

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

 

DOES ESPN DESERVE ITS “ENVIRONMENTAL LEADERSHIP AWARD”

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

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

 

Kevin Martinez - March 5, 2013

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

 

These accomplishments deserve to be commended.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You get the idea.

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

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

 

Francesca Summers

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

 

ARTHUR M. BLANK WINS COMMUNITY CHAMPION AWARD

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

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

 

GSA Arthur Blank-headshot

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

 


 

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Let’s Start a Movement to Get the Sports Media to #CoverGreenSports

Longtime readers of GreenSportsBlog know I believe that Green-Sports 1.0 — the greening of stadia and arenas — has been a great success. They also know I believe that Green-Sports 2.0 — engaging the 65-70 percent of humans who are sports fans on environmental issues, including climate change — is the more important yet far heavier lift.

For Green-Sports 2.0 to have a chance of meaningful success, the media — sports and otherwise — needs to do a much better job of sharing the many inspirational Green-Sports stories with its sizable audiences. It says here that the media won’t do so on its own. So we, the GreenSportsBlog community, need to push them. And that starts today with the launch of the #CoverGreenSports hashtag. 

 

 

Since I launched GreenSportsBlog almost five years ago, I’ve found there are two opposing forces in the sports-greening movement:

#1: The sports world is greening rapidly: And that pace has picked up to the point where:

  • LEED certification for stadia and arenas is considered the cost of doing business. In fact, the biggest question is often not IF a venue will go for LEED, but will it go for Platinum or “settle” for Gold,
  • Zero-waste games — to qualify, stadia or arenas must divert 90 percent or more of food waste from the landfill — are increasingly commonplace, as are on-site solar panel installations, electric vehicle (EV) charging stations, and much, much more.

#2: A precious few sports fans know about this: Despite an increased number of fan engagement efforts by a gaggle of teams and leagues recently, I would bet real money on the accuracy of this statement.

Absent any meaningful data on sports fan awareness of Green-Sports initiatives (note to the Green Sports Alliance — a quantitative, projectable study, updated over time, is much needed here) the best I can offer right now is this nugget of anecdotal data:

In early April, I moderated “The Intersection of Sustainability, Sports and Business,” a panel discussion held at the NYU Stern School of Business and hosted by their Center for Sustainable Business. Before turning to the panel, I asked the audience if they knew that Ohio State home football games are zero-waste, that the Super Bowl offsets all of the direct emissions associated game, and more.

 

Zero-Waste 1

Zero-Waste 2

Zero Waste Stations and signage, Lower Level Concourse at Ohio Stadium, home of Ohio State football. The stadium has been Zero-Waste — diverting more than 90% of food waste from landfill — since 2013 (Photo Credit: Lewis Blaustein)

 

Maybe two or three hands moved skyward in response to each question — a tiny number considering there were 50-60 people in the room.

Not good, I thought.

We need to get awareness about Green-Sports waaaaay up among sports fans. How high? Given the existential nature of the climate crisis I would be satisfied with awareness levels similar to the number of people who know that you can save 15 percent or more on car insurance by switching to GEICO!

 

GEICO Ad Age

Awareness of Green-Sports approaching awareness levels of nearly ubiquitous GEICO ads? Now THAT would be surprising…and welcome (Photo credit: Ad Age)

 

The only way we get that close to that exalted neighborhood is through significant sports media coverage of the great, sports-greening advances happening virtually every day in many corners of the sports world.

Not so fast, you say! “TV networks and cable sports outlets like ESPN and Fox Sports want their announcers talking about the games. They don’t want them talking about the environment!”

Of course, the game is the thing during a broadcast, but it’s not the only thing.

Sportscasters often bring up the causes promoted by the league, teams and/or athletes they’re covering. Those mentions are sometimes prompted by a contractual relationship — i.e. when the NFL sponsored Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, the networks that broadcast the games in the U.S. (CBS, Fox, ESPN, and NBC) ran breast cancer-related public service announcements (PSAs). Or sometimes an announcer will organically bring up the cause-related work of a player he/she is covering (I’m making this up: “LeBron James scored 40 points tonight, which means $4,000 is donated to the LeBron James Family Foundation.”)

Environmental issues, especially climate change, need similar oxygen on sports broadcasts, no matter the medium.

But that won’t happen unless the broadcast and cable networks airing sports events, along with the websites, newspapers, and magazines that write about them believe there is an audience for environmentally themed content.

That means green-minded sports fans are going to have let the ESPNs, the CBS Sports’ of the world know that the sports-greening movement is important to them. That also holds true for sports websites like TheRinger.com and SI.com, news websites like npr.com and Slate.com as well as sustainability-focused sites like GreenBiz.com.

Fans should reach out to sportscasters who are active on social media and who are known for speaking about issues beyond the playing field. Bob Ley (@BobLeyESPN), the long-time host of ESPN’s “Outside The Lines,” is Exhibit A. Peter King (@SI_PeterKing), the long time Sports Illustrated NFL writer, and author of the must read MMQB (Monday Morning Quarterback) column on SI.com, is Exhibit B.

Newscasters with an expressed interest in sports (there are a lot of them!) should also be contacted. Mike Pesca (@pescami), host of The Gist podcast — which tackles sports along with other topics — on Slate.com, needs to be in the know about Green-Sports. And Alabama Crimson Tide, Red Sox and Liverpool F.C. fanatic Joe Scarborough (@JoeNBC) should be added to the list. I’m sure you can come up with more.

And that’s where #CoverGreenSports comes in.

When we (and that means YOU!) hear about a Green-Sports story, through this blog or anywhere else, we need to reach out to the folks listed above via social media with the #CoverGreenSports hashtag. Here’s what I mean:

Ex-UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen is expected to be selected in the top 10 in Thursday’s NFL draft. For argument’s sake, let’s say he’s selected by the Buffalo Bills (per my column a couple of weeks back, I hope he ends up with the New York Jets. But I think they’re going to pass on him in favor of Baker Mayfield so Rosen will shuffle off to Buffalo.) Any green-minded Bills fans should reach out to the team and to the local broadcast stations with a tweet that could go something like this: @Josh3Rosen is a member of the @BuffaloBills! How gr8 is THAT!? We have a QB that will lead us to the #SuperBowl and who cares about #climatechange! Please tell Rosen’s green story. #CoverGreenSports

If you’re not a Bills fan, you could still craft a tweet tailored for the national media (ESPN, Fox Sports, etc.): @Josh3Rosen, new @BuffaloBills QB, is also an #ecoathlete. Tell his green story during Bills games — millennials and GenZ viewers will thank you. Don’t be afraid of those opposed; Green-Sports a winner. #CoverGreenSports

And — now this is really important — we also need to give BIG shout outs to those who ARE ALREADY COVERING Green-Sports and who may start to use the #CoverGreenSports hashtag. That is a small club for now but membership is growing slowly but surely. We can be the catalyst that accelerates the growth trend.

I will tweet the #CoverGreenSports hashtag (and use it on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn) whenever appropriate – to “nudge” those who need to cover it or to “fame” those who already, wisely, are. Will you retweet? Are you with me?

Let’s DO THIS!

Of course we can’t just do this willy-nilly; a strategic approach is what’s needed. Since hashtags and connecting with influencers are not my bailiwick, I reached out to someone who lives and breathes strategic influencer outreach.

Andrea Learned (@AndreaLearned) is a Seattle-based, self-described “communications strategist, with deep expertise in influencer relations.” Sustainability is one of her primary beats on Twitter. Andrea has made it a cause to generate interest in urban cycling-for-transportation by promoting the #Bikes4Climate hashtag as part of the broader #Cities4Climate movement.

 

Andrea.Profile.HardiePic

Andrea Learned (Photo credit: Hardie Cobbs)

 

In a free-flowing conversation a few weeks back, Andrea enthusiastically offered these suggestions:

  • “Map out an influencer strategy that goes beyond the tried and true, established ‘influencers’ — in the environmental space, that might mean Leo DiCaprio — to find new up and comers.”
  • “Find social media influencers who are interested in sports and climate. Athletes and non-athletes. Use the community you already know and expand from there. For example, I am always attuned to climate journalists who also happen to be big city bikers. Those writers have the potential to be climate action INFLUENCERS in capital letters “
  • Reach out to them with Green-Sports messaging and #CoverGreenSports and retweet their responses. Love them UP for even mentioning green-sport elements in any of the reporting they do already. “

Suffice to say, while I will be on the lookout for new influencers to move the #CoverGreenSports hashtag, I realize I already am connected to a great group influencers — y’all!

So please help spread the #CoverGreenSports hashtag. I promise you three things:

  1. Doing so will take a minimal amount of time, and
  2. It will be fun, and
  3. Your impact per minute spent has the potential to be massive!

 


 

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

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

 

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

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

GSB: War EAGLE!!

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

 

Carlie Headshot

Carlie Bullock-Jones (Photo credit: Ecoworks Studio)

 

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

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

 

Raleigh Conv Center Barnhill

Raleigh Convention Center (Photo credit: Barnhill Contracting Company)

 

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

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

GSB: Like the aforementioned convention centers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Carlie Scott Chris M-B Stadium

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

 

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

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

 

Welsh-Ryan Northwestern

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 


 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

US Bank Stadium Glass Paint

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

 

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

 

Bruce Fowle HiRes

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Javits Exterior Upgraded Glass

 

Javits Interior Upgrade

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

 

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

But I digress. Back to the birds.

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

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

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

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

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

 

Bird Advocates MPR

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Jerry Bahls

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

 

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

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

 

 


 

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