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