Greening the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games Seattle

How great is it when an iconic cause-based event like the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games embraces another cause — in this case, environmental sustainability? We’re talking really great.

GreenSportsBlog spoke with the sustainability team for Special Olympics USA 2018 Seattle — Karlan Jessen, Director of Volunteers and Sustainability; David Muller, Sustainability Consultant; and Tim Reeve, Sustainability Advisor — to find out how it came together, what worked well and what could’ve been better.

 

It was about a year before the July 1, 2018 Opening Ceremonies for the Special Olympics USA Games Seattle took place at Husky Stadium on the University of Washington campus, and an environmental sustainability plan was nowhere in sight.

And, since there had never been a sustainability effort at any of the three prior quadrennial USA Games, the odds were that Green would not be a part of the 2018 version.

Karlan Jessen, David Muller and Tim Reeve collectively and figuratively said “to heck with those odds,” and formed a Sustainability All-Star team of sorts. They created and implemented a greening program in what had to be record time.

 

Special Olympics Karlan_Headshot

Karlan Jessen (Photo credit: Karlan Jessen)

 

Special Olympics David Muller and Tim Reeve

David Muller (l) and Tim Reeve at the University of Washington (Photo credit: David Muller)

 

Jessen’s experience owning two used sporting goods stores, managing bicycle tours and running events made her an ideal pick for the Director of Volunteers and Sustainability role. Muller has deep experience consulting on sustainable events, focusing on environmental impact mitigation and positive social impact. And the Vancouver-based Reeve heads Reeve Consulting Group, a sustainability advisory firm. He’d worked with the Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics on sustainability and responsible sourcing issues.

 

“I THOUGHT THERE SHOULD BE A SUSTAINABILITY EFFORT SO I RAISED MY HAND”

As general planning for the Seattle Special Olympics got started in earnest, Jessen started to get questions about sustainability from some of the event’s existing corporate partners. “ESPN in particular asked about what could be done. Nothing was being planned at the time” Jessen recalled. “I thought there should be a sustainability effort, and even though we only had a year or so to make it happen, I raised my hand. I knew David from our sustainability studies at the Bainbridge Graduate Institute (which later merged with Presidio Graduate School), so it was natural to team up with him.” It wasn’t long before Reeve joined to make the group a triumvirate.

The team quickly established a plan that was made up of six sustainability pillars. Four were environmentally focused, while the other two fall in the social portion of the broad Environmental-Social-Governance (ESG) definition of sustainability:

Environmental Pillars

  1. Waste/Recycling
  2. Transportation
  3. Food/Beverage
  4. Sourcing

Social Pillars

  1. Accessibility/Inclusion
  2. Legacy/Education

Microsoft, based in nearby Redmond and the title sponsor of the 2018 USA Games, quickly bought into the social pillars. “Education and legacy were very important to Microsoft,” Jessen noted. “Inclusion, especially fair hiring practices, also was a big deal to them. And when you think about it, the Special Olympics demonstrates inclusion by its very existence!”

“Education and legacy was a home run,” chimed in Reeve. ”

 

BIGGEST ENVIRONMENTAL SUCCESSES: WASTE AND TRANSPORTATION

The environmental sustainability portion was more challenging. The success stories came from waste and transportation.

“Our waste-to-recycling program and food donations programs worked really well, thanks in large part to the University of Washington food service team,” reported Reeve. “Recycling is one of the most highly visible examples of a greening program at a sports event so we had to get that right. And we did.”

 

Special Olympics Green Team Volunteers success story

Green Team Volunteers sorting recycling, compost, and food donations (Photo credit: Tim Reeve)

 

Coca-Cola pitched in by bringing their reverse vending machines to the event. Fans and athletes would put empty plastics into the machine and a 5¢ donation would be made to Special Olympics for each donation. Per Muller, “Final numbers were not made public but it’s safe to say that thousands of bottles were recaptured.”

“Transportation was also a big win — that’s where we saw the biggest greenhouse gas emissions reductions,” added Muller. “The University of Washington was a great set up — it’s compact, very walkable and is located on a transit route. There is a robust bike share infrastructure at UW. Energy efficient shuttles ferried athletes and their families to and from events. And Lyft provided discounted as well as free ride sharing.”

 

Special Olympics Light Rail

Athletes and coaches taking light rail to T-Mobile Park (formerly Safeco Field) for the Special Olympics’ Night at the Ballpark (Photo credit: Cori Dixon)

 

The nearly 4,000 athletes and their families noticed Seattle’s greening efforts around the Special Olympics.

“We had numerous conversations with athletes and their families during the Special Olympics and they were really impressed by the city’s commitment to making this a green event,” recalled Reeve. “A sustainability passport was provided for the athletes for things like transportation so they were involved with the greening effort almost as soon as they arrived in the city.”

In a survey conducted after the Special Olympics among athletes and their families by Brian McCullough of Seattle University showed that 60 percent said, “My attitude toward environmental sustainably has improved due to the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games initiatives.”

 

TIME WAS THE SUSTAINABILITY TEAM’S BIGGEST ENEMY

Here’s a note to the leadership group that is organizing the 2022 Special Olympics USA for Orlando: Jessen, Muller and Reeve agreed that a year was not nearly enough time to maximize the effectiveness of a sustainability plan.

“Lack of time really challenged us in terms of getting buy-in on the value proposition of a robust sustainability effort from the CEO and Executive Committee,” noted Reeve. “That kind of early support would have been crucial in terms of being woven into the budgeting and sourcing processes, as well as securing sustainability-focused sponsors. That would have helped us on food donation, signage and more.”

The team had a plan to offset emissions but there was no budget for it.

“About 90 percent of event emissions came from air travel,” Muller said. “We were looking at offset costs ranging from $25,000-$60,000 but there was no budget for it. Had we started earlier, we certainly could’ve found a partner to fund the offsets.”

What kind of time frame would be ideal to develop and manage an effective sustainability effort at a Special Olympics?

Consider that planners for the FIFA 2026 World Cup in Canada, Mexico and the USA will have eight years to get sustainability right, and the organizers at the LA 2028 Olympics will have had eleven years since being award the Games in 2017.

Now, no one is saying that the Special Olympics USA is of a similar scale as those two mega events.

Given that’s the case, what is the ideal length of time to put a sustainability plan in place that the team would be proud of?

The verdict was unanimous:

“Three years!,” said Judges Jessen, Muller and Reeve.

 

 


 

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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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