The GSB Interview: Tim Trefzer, on the Greenness of Atlanta’s Super Bowl LIII

Super Bowl LIII Week is in full swing in Atlanta, complete with red carpet galas, fan-fests, and Media Day, all leading up to Sunday night’s battle between the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams.

From a sustainability perspective, Atlanta has a leg up on other host cities since the game will be played inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the first LEED Platinum professional sports stadium in North America.

GreenSportsBlog spoke with Tim Trefzer, the Atlanta Super Bowl LIII Host Committee’s Sustainability Chair, to see what is going on green-wise beyond the stadium.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Atlanta has been the center of the Mega-Sports event and Green-Sports worlds over the past 18 months. Mercedes-Benz Stadium hosted the 2018 College Football National Championship last January and the Green Sports Alliance Summit in June. It also was the site of the Major League Soccer All-Star Game in July and MLS Cup in December. And of course this Sunday, Super Bowl LIII comes to town. And Tim Trefzer, you are at the heart of the Green-Sports action as Sustainability Chair of the Atlanta Super Bowl Host Committee. Thanks for talking with us at what must be a crazy busy time.

Tim Trefzer:  My pleasure. And yes, it’s been busy, really going back to the 2018 College Football Playoff National Championship, as I handled a similar sustainability role for that event as well. And we, along with Georgia Tech, will play host to the 2020 NCAA Men’s Final Four so we’ve got more mega-events coming down the pike!

 

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Tim Trefzer, sustainability chair of the Atlanta Super Bowl 53 Host Committee (Photo credit: Tim Trefzer)

 

GSB: That is not a surprise, what with Mercedes-Benz being the state of the art in stadium design across all metrics, including sustainability through its LEED Platinum status. So with that as backdrop, how has the Atlanta Super Bowl LIII Host Committee approached the event through a green lens?

Tim: We are working closely with Jack Groh of the NFL — he’s managed the league’s Super Bowl greening efforts for over two decades — to make the most of the league’s four sustainability pillars. Number one is Material and Resource Recovery. We are working with local Atlanta organizations on food, textile, and other material donations that will come from the game, the many ancillary events, and participating hotels. Our partners include the Atlanta Community Food Bank, Salvation Army, and Habitat for Humanity. We also assisted Verizon, an NFL environmental sponsor, with their annual E-waste recycling event in the run up to the Super Bowl. Ours was at Zoo Atlanta and it was a big success as 42,446 lbs. of electronics were collected, the most ever from this event!

 

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Some of the electronic waste collected as part of Verizon’s e-waste recycling event at Zoo Atlanta on January 19 (Photo credit: Fox 5 Atlanta)

 

GSB: Congratulations! What about pillar number two?

Tim: Urban Forestry. This is more than a tree planting effort. In collaboration with the City of Atlanta’s Office of Resilience and Trees Atlanta, we are supporting 13 projects, including community gardens, a 7.1-acre food forest with fruit trees and vegetable plantings, and even pollinator projects. Pillar number three is Super Kids, Super Sharing…

GSB: That’s been around for some time…

Tim: This is its 20th anniversary — it started in Atlanta, by the way. The program’s essence is a used sports equipment and school supply exchange that keeps footballs, soccer balls and more out of landfills and gives them a second life. Kids from donor schools bring their equipment to a facility where it is sorted; then receiving schools come in. It gets kids thinking about the circular economy at a young age and exposes them to other kids in the Atlanta area from different walks of life. Over 100 schools committed to take part. Last year, the folks at the Minneapolis’ Super Bowl LII Host Committee collected 46,000 items — we’re hoping to beat that when all is said and done.

 

Two minute video showing highlights from Atlanta’s Super Kids Super Sharing event

 

GSB: Good luck. Finally, what’s the fourth pillar?

Tim: Pillar number four is renewable energy. The NFL buys renewable energy credits to offset all of the electricity used at the stadium and everything surrounding it. That includes the host hotels, the Georgia World Congress Center

GSB: …The convention center campus adjacent to Mercedes-Benz Stadium where you are the sustainability director.

Tim: Exactly… Also, it’s not by accident that Centennial Olympic Park, the Georgia World Congress Center, and many hotels are a short walk from Mercedes-Benz Stadium, In fact, of the 15 major NFL events taking place during Super Bowl, 13 are taking place in or adjacent to the Georgia World Congress Center Authority’s downtown Atlanta campus (which includes the stadium, convention center, and Centennial Olympic Park). Of recent Super Bowls, the most taking place in the same vicinity has been seven.

GSB: Those are four strong pillars that the NFL and the Host Committee are building. Going beyond the NFL’s green work, at the Bay Area’s Super Bowl 50 in 2016, the local Host Committee made the environment the prime focus of their work, which is why I call it the Greenest Super Bowl Ever. That was not the case with Super Bowls LI (Houston, which did nothing as far as I could tell on the environment) and LII (Minnesota, which had a 91 percent waste diversion rate at the game among other local efforts, but they were focused mainly on health care, in part due to the sterling reputation of the Mayo Clinic). What is the Host Committee doing, from an environmental perspective, beyond the four pillars?

Tim: Great question, Lew. One main theme of the Atlanta Super Bowl LIII Host Committee’s work is civil rights and social justice, given the movement’s tremendous history in the city, from Martin Luther King Jr. to HBCUs^ like Morehouse College and much, much more. From public forums to public arts projects, Atlanta’s civil rights heritage has been on display in the run-up to Super Bowl LIII. That said, the Committee and our Sustainability Advisory Council — made up of leaders from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, top local corporations like Delta Airlines, nonprofits like Trees Atlanta, Scott Jenkins, GM of Mercedes-Benz Stadium and Board Chairman of Green Sports Alliance, and more — have been working for the better part of the past year on a variety of initiatives, including pushing the sustainability story surrounding Super Bowl LIII and Atlanta.

GSB: Communicating sustainability to fans? Music to my ears!

Tim: A video about recycling at the Airport is being shown around the city. On game day, there will be a full-page, sustainability-themed ad in the game program and we will have ambassadors on the concourses at Mercedes-Benz talking to fans about our sustainability efforts and encouraging recycling. But another reason that these large events keep choosing to come to Atlanta, in addition to the great venues and close proximity, is the fact that they’re LEED certified. In addition to Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Georgia World Congress Center is the largest LEED Gold certified convention center in the world and many of the other event venues are also certified. Arguably, Atlanta is one of the greenest places for conventions, sports, and events anywhere.

GSB: Will there be sustainability-themed scoreboard messaging and/or video shown in-stadium before or during the game? And will CBS Sports and/or CBS Sports Network air that kind of video during the almost endless pregame coverage? That last question is really for the NFL but I thought you might have some inside information.

Tim: Discussions about video board messaging were still ongoing as of a couple of weeks ago. No firm word yet has come across my transom. And you’re right about airing environmental PSAs — that’s the purview of the NFL and CBS. For our part, we will be tracking recycling and waste diversion rates; the Host Committee communications team is working with the NFL and the Georgia World Congress Center Authority to spread the word to the massive amount of media who will be here.

 

M-B Stadium

Sustainability-focused messaging on the Mercedes-Benz Stadium video board during an Atlanta United MLS match in June. Will similar messaging greet Super Bowl LIII fans on Sunday? Stay tuned (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

 

GSB: Will the Host Committee track media pick up of Super Bowl LIII sustainability stories or is that the purview of the NFL?

Tim: I’m sure this is something we could do on social media and include in a report following the event.

GSB: We will take you up on that, Tim. In the meantime, enjoy the game.

 

^ HBCUs = Historically Black Colleges and Universities

 

 


 

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The GSB Interview: Ben Shardlow, Sustainability Committee Chair of the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee

The Bay Super Bowl 50 Host Committee held what is widely regarded as the “Greenest Super Bowl Ever” in February, 2016. Unfortunately, sustainability took a step back earlier this year as the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee did very little, green-wise, for Super Bowl LI. Now, the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee gets its shot to move the sustainability ball forward at gleaming US Bank Stadium, the home of the Vikings currently seeking LEED certification that opened in 2016. How will the city and Host Committee fare, green-wise? We spoke with Ben Shardlow, the Chair of the Host Committee’s Sustainability Committee, to find out.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Ben, I had hoped that, when the Bay Area Super Bowl 50 Host Committee hosted the “Greenest Super Bowl Ever” in 2016, all subsequent host committees would follow their lead. Alas that was not the case in Houston this past February as that committee did little to nothing in terms of the environment. Yes, the NFL did its carbon offset programs as they do every year. But for sustainability to “pop” at a Super Bowl, it’s really up to an activist host committee to make that happen. So, with that as preamble, I’m anxious to hear what the Minnesota Super Bowl LII Host Committee has planned for the big game on February 4th sustainability-wise, as well as for the festivities leading up to it. But before that tell our readers how you got to the committee in the first place…

Ben Shardlow: Well, Lew, an urban planner and designer by trade; I’m the Director of Urban Design for the Minneapolis Downtown Council and Downtown Improvement District. Have been with those organizations since 2012. As part of that work, I do a lot of advocacy regarding downtown’s public spaces – tree canopy, Complete Streets, transit investments, things like that.

 

Ben Shardlow

Ben Shardlow, Chair of the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee Sustainability Committee and Director of Urban Design for the Minneapolis Downtown Council and Downtown Improvement District (Photo credit: Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee)

 

GSB: Urban planning and hosting a sustainable Super Bowl? That sounds like a natural fit…so how did you get to the Host Committee?

BS: The Minneapolis Downtown Council and the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee are partners, so a number of my colleagues are serving on committees to support planning work in various roles…

GSB: So you are a volunteer for the Host Committee?

BS: Yes. And as a local guy, I’m really excited to be part of it.

GSB: When did the sustainability effort get started?

BS: I got involved in April 2016, starting with an invitation from Dave Haselman, COO for the Host Committee. I was glad to hear that I wouldn’t be alone in the effort. The Host Committee’s Leadership 52 initiative has placed two vice chairs on all 26 volunteer committees, all of whom are rising leaders from Host Committee sponsors with deep subject matter experience.

GSB: Who are your vice chairs on sustainability?

BS: One is Bridget Dockter, Manager of Policy and Outreach for Xcel Energy. Bridget is an important local leader in renewable energy, playing a key role in staffing Minneapolis’ Clean Energy Partnership which looks to achieve aggressive sustainability goals through constant innovation. And, from the “you couldn’t make this up” file, the other is actually my twin sister! Eliza Clark is Director of Sustainability and Environment for Andersen Corporation, and she’s got great expertise in sustainability issues as broad as LEED, energy efficiency, supply chain issues and pollinator habitat. She’s working with other major Minnesota companies to design and build a true circular economy through the Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition. Really cool stuff. So it’s great for me to be able to collaborate and learn from both Eliza and Bridget.

 

Bridget Dockter

Bridget Dockter, Vice Chair of the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee Sustainability Committee and Manager of Policy and Outreach for Xcel Energy (Photo credit: Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee)

 

Eliza Clark

Eliza Clark, Vice Chair of the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee and Director of Sustainability and Environment for Andersen Corporation (Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee)

 

GSB: So, if that’s the volunteer leadership team, how have you worked with the Host Committee staff?

BS: We’re fortunate to have Alex Tittle as our liaison within the Host Committee’s leadership team. He’s VP of Business Connect and Corporate Affairs. What an amazing guy! A decathlete at The Citadel, he was charged with achieving the inclusive workforce goals for construction of US Bank Stadium. Under his leadership, that project significantly exceeded targets in terms of women and minorities.

GSB: The sustainability team certainly seems like it is of championship caliber!

BS: Thanks!

GSB: So what are the pillars of Super Bowl LII’s sustainability efforts?

BS: I see four main strategies:

  1. Super Bowl LII as a showcase for how Minneapolis, Saint Paul, and the broader region are sustainable places to host major events. When we host a big event, like the 2014 MLB All-Star Game at Target Field, sustainability assets are front and center. Our area is set up that way. Both Minneapolis and St. Paul have compact downtowns that are connected by transit. The 2014 opening of the Green Line Light Rail system was a crucial advance. It links downtown Minneapolis to the University of Minnesota to downtown St. Paul to all the area’s sports venues — US Bank Stadium (Vikings), Xcel Energy Center (Wild, NHL), Target Field (Twins, MLB), Target Center (Timberwolves, NBA, Lynx, WNBA), the yet-to-open Allianz Field (Minnesota United, MLS) and CHS Field (Independent League Baseball’s Saints). The airport is close by and connected to downtown Minneapolis by light rail. And our major venues have impressive sustainability credentials, starting with a 4.3 MW solar array at the airport, to the 113,000 square foot green roof on Target Center, to the Minneapolis Convention Center’s renewable energy program to Target Field’s LEED Silver certification for both New Construction and Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance, to CHS Field’s substantiated claim as the greenest ballpark in America. With all of that infrastructure in place, we have built in advantages in competing for major events that value sustainability.  All of this puts the region in play for Super Bowls as well as Final Fours and World’s Fairs. US Bank Stadium is under consideration as a venue for the expected joint US-Canada-Mexico bid to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup.
  2. The Legacy Fund. The Host Committee is giving away weekly health and wellness grants over 52 weeks, spread out around the entire state. This program isn’t under our committee’s purview, but we’ve coordinated efforts with them.

GSB: The focus on health and wellness makes sense to me, given the leadership Minnesota has shown with the Mayo Clinic and major health insurers…but where does the environment come in? I harken back to the great green work done by the Bay Area Super Bowl 50 Host Committee. Their Legacy Fund gave millions to several Bay Area environmental nonprofits…Houston, to the best of my knowledge, did nothing at all in this area, with Super Bowl LI. Will the Minnesota Host Committee do something similar to the Bay Area?

BS: I think the answer is yes, especially when you look at the Legacy Fund through the lens of the social aspects of sustainability. We have coordinated with the Minnesota Department of Health to provide grants for capital projects in communities of need. Some of the $2.5 million in grants that have been awarded already indeed have environmental aspects and benefits, with more to come as the project works toward awarding $4 million. For example, our grant to the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe will help their community build a community garden, supplying healthy food in an area where access is lacking. And human health and wellness is, of course, closely linked to environmental health. The Host Committee has also partnered with the NFL, Verizon and Andersen Corporation to fund 14 habitat restoration and urban forestry projects across the state of Minnesota, resulting in the planting of 12,724 trees and 4,000 native species.

 

MN UrbanForestryPosterHorizontal

The Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee, in partnership with the NFL, Verizon and Andersen Windows have planted more than 700 trees as part of their Urban Forestry Initiative for Super Bowl LII (Infographic Credit: Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee)

 

GSB: Got it. OK back to the pillars…#3?

BS: #3 is to be the best local partner we can be for the NFL’s sustainability efforts. A couple of examples to note here:

  • We’re assisting the NFL with expanding their material diversion and recovery program. This has entailed connecting the NFL with local community service organizations on repurposing event materials that would otherwise go into the landfill. Fortunately, our awesome committee members have great connections with local organizations that are already doing that work.
  • Similarly, we’re working with the NFL on other major sustainability events, such as the recent partnership with Verizon for their E-Waste Drive. That event was held a couple of weeks ago at the Minnesota Zoo, and the results blew past events out of the water. The community responded tremendously, donating 42,000 lbs. of electronic waste. The NFL has several well-established programs like these, and we see our role as local resources to support great outcomes.

 

MN EWaste

Minnesota set a “Super Bowl Environmental Program record” for an e-waste recycling event by collecting more than 42,000 pounds of electronic waste. (Photo credit: Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee)

 

GSB: That’s a lot of cell phones and computer monitors! And what’s the 4th pillar?

BS: Our 4th pillar is our collaborative, inclusive committee structure. I know that might sound touchy-feely but it’s substantive. We want to improve over time in the sustainability outcomes we achieve for our major events, and you can’t do that without partnerships and real relationships. Our sustainability committee has representatives from five or six Host Committee sponsors with deep green roots, local government sustainability experts and corporate practitioners. It can be challenging to work this way, but I expect it will be worth it in the end because we’ll learn things we can apply together in the future. Like I said earlier, we’re all volunteers so everyone wants to work on this…

GSB: So it sounds like you have an “Open Source,” startup kind of culture…

BS: Exactly. We’ve collectively come up with way more projects than the group has bandwidth to execute, so I fully expect a long tail of side projects generated by dialogue in our sustainability committee after Super Bowl LII.

 

US Bank Stadium MPR News

US Bank Stadium, site of Super Bowl LII on February 4, 2018 (Photo credit: MPR News)

 

GSB: I’ll be interested to see what those side projects turn out to be. How will fans, both locally and beyond, find out about the sustainability programs? This issue is a big concern of mine. I mean, despite all the great sustainability work done by the Super Bowl 50 Host Committee, a minuscule fraction of people actually were aware of it. Why? Because the Committee, the NFL and CBS, the network that broadcast that game, didn’t promote it. What will the sustainability committee and the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee more broadly due to insure this doesn’t happen again?

BS: I hear you. We certainly are aware of what the folks at Super Bowl 50 were able to accomplish, sustainability-wise and we’ve worked to learn from their example. Fans at the Minnesota Super Bowl will see some of the fruits of our efforts but just what that will turn out to look like is still being determined. Stay tuned as those decisions have to be made in the not-too-distant future. And, remember, our greening efforts are taking place in a region where sustainability and the climate change fight are already deeply embedded. For example, we live and work in a region that just had an all-night, public art shows that highlight both climate change themes and the idea of healthy urban and rural places.

GSB…Sounds like Minnesota and the Twin Cities are set up to host a sustainable Super Bowl. And we will stay tuned for sure on how that sustainability is communicated to  fans at the game and beyond.

 


 

 

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