Twin Cities Rule US Green-Sports: Vikings, U of Minnesota, St. Paul Saints LEED the Way

“Which metro area is the Green-Sportsy-est in the US?”

While coastal areas like San Francisco-Oakland-Santa Clara and Seattle might come to mind first, it says here that Minneapolis and St. Paul, smack dab in the heartland of the country, wins the title.

In fact, the Twin Cities’ Green-Sportsy-ness runs so deep that we can’t cover it all in one post.

We started things off last week with our look at the sustainability efforts surrounding the recent NCAA Men’s Final Four at US Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Vikings.

Today, in the first of our four-part Twin Cities Rule US Green-Sports series, we examine the greenness of three of the area’s many sports venues. 

The tour starts at US Bank Stadium. Then we get on the light rail’s Green Line and head east across the Mississippi River to the University of Minnesota to check out TCF Bank Stadium, home base for Gophers football. Finally, we hop back on the eastbound Green Line ride, ending up in St. Paul and CHS Field, home of the Saints, an innovative independent baseball club.

 

PEAKS AND VALLEYS GETTING TO ZERO WASTE AT US BANK STADIUM

Bradley Vogel, sustainability coordinator at US Bank Stadium, has seen a lot since he arrived in November 2016 after wrapping up his Masters Degree in Sustainability Management at the University of Minnesota.

His rookie year coincided with the Minnesota Vikings’ first season at the viking ship-shaped building. Then he and his operations team had a mega-event doubleheader for which to prepare: Super Bowl LII in February 2018 and April’s NCAA Men’s Final Four.

 

Bradley Vogel headshot

Bradley Vogel (Photo credit: MSFA)

 

Pressure came with the Super Bowl-Final Four back-to-back for Vogel and his team. 

Management wanted US Bank Stadium to achieve LEED Gold for Building Design and Construction — it ultimately earned that certification last year — but the waste diversion rate was too low at the outset.

“Our diversion rate was only 15 percent in Year One, July 2016 to June, 2017,” Vogel recalled. “But our director of operations Curtis Schmillen had a huge plan to turn that around. So in Year Two, we added compost in our back-of-house (kitchens) operations and throughout the rest of the stadium. It helped that Hennepin County and the city of Minneapolis are committed to composting.” 

ESPN’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) team played a big role with composting as well. “They are composting experts,” reported Vogel. “ESPN’s X Games became an annual event at US Bank Stadium starting in July 2017, and so they helped us get past some of the pitfalls that come with trying to compost at a big event.”

With the help of funding for composting from Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA), which owns the building, and the state, US Bank Stadium upped its diversion rate to 46 percent in 2017.

But, with Super Bowl LII upcoming in February 2018, MSFA management was not satisfied. 

“Management and NFL Environmental asked ‘what can do to make US Bank as green as possible by Super Bowl LII?,” Vogel said. “The answer: Get us to zero waste — at least 90 percent diversion. And despite an up-and-down 2017, we knew we had the ability to get to 90 percent diversion, especially since, per Minneapolis law and MSFA policy, everything had to be compostable or recyclable, including things like ‘to go tubs’ and cutlery.”

When it came time for the Super Bowl, concessionaire Aramark upped its game on compostables. Pepsi had “bin guards” to make sure fans placed their waste in the correct bins. When all was said and done, the post-game sort revealed that the US Bank Stadium team, like the Philadelphia Eagles, were winners, as the diversion rate came in at 91 percent.

 

Jack Groh NFL Environmental Bradley Vogel

Jack Groh of NFL Environmental gives instructions to Pepsi bin guards prior to Super Bowl LII (Photo credit: Bradley Vogel)

 

US Bank Sort board Bradley Vogel

Waste Sort Board educates US Bank Stadium staff on the proper ways waste should be disposed (Photo credit: Bradley Vogel)

 

But achieving zero waste for a Super Bowl, with sponsors and the NFL pitching in is one thing. Doing it for a full, 10-game Minnesota Vikings campaign, without that outside assistance, is quite another. The US Bank Stadium sustainability team notched a solid 72 percent rate for the 2018 season but they fell short of Super Bowl LII’s 91 percent diversion level.

Vogel believes the lessons learned at the Super Bowl and the Men’s Final Four (a lower-than-expected 64 percent diversion rate, due in part to back-of-house issues that were specific to that event), will help his team get US Bank Stadium and the Vikings over that season-long zero waste hump this fall.

“We’ve maximized our compost rate back-of-house,” Vogel noted. “Now we’re working on getting our fan-facing, front-of-house composting to similar levels. That’s how we’ll get to zero-waste on a season-long basis. In the meantime, our overall sustainable approach earned US Bank Stadium LEED Platinum for Operations and Maintenance (O&M) status, making us the first stadium to attain that level. Official certification will come in June or July.”

 

UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA: LOOKING TO SWITCH TO RECYCLABLE PROMOTIONAL ITEMS AT GOPHERS FOOTBALL GAMES TO INCREASE DIVERSION RATE

Getting to zero waste for a full season is also goal for University of Minnesota football. The Gophers play their games at TCF Bank Stadium, their 50,000 seat, LEED silver home adjacent to the light rail’s green line.

“We’ve averaged 82 percent diversion over the past four or five years at TCF Bank Stadium, and that includes 2014-15 when the Vikings played here and 2017-18 when we hosted Minnesota United¹,” said Jeff Seifriz, assistant athletics director- facility operations. “Getting to 90 percent has proven to be tricky but we made strides last season by working with the university’s sustainability office and third party vendors like Aramark and the University of Minnesota Waste Recovery Services to do detailed audits of our post-game sorts.”

 

Jeff Seifriz

Jeff Seifriz (Photo credit: University of Minnesota)

 

One thing that has kept the Gophers’ sustainability team from getting to zero waste has been promotional items: “The problem is that vessels like souvenir cups and serving boats have complex graphics that make them difficult to be accepted by recyclers. We’re looking at going to a simpler ‘single print’ approach that hopefully will get these items into the recycling stream and get us to 90 percent diversion.” It says here that venues and teams can reduce the environmental cost of promotional items by having fewer promotional days, at least those that involve giving out stuff.

Seifriz wishes that zero waste had been a thing when TCF Bank Stadium was in the planning stages back in 2006 (it opened in 2009): “Had zero waste been our radar back then, we would’ve made space for composting on site and for compactors.”

 

TCF Bank Stadium Exterior

TCF Bank Stadium, home of University of Minnesota Gophers football (Photo credit: University of Minnesota)

 

Since then, Seifriz and his team have gone to school on some of the best in Collegiate Green-Sports, studying the successes of the University of Colorado-Boulder, University of Washington and Big Ten rival Ohio State. The 20+ year University of Minnesota facilities veteran also shares best practices with his Green-Sports-minded counterparts from the St. Paul Saints, as well as the Minnesota Twins, Vikings, and Wild at the occasional brainstorm session (aka Happy Hours): “It’s a terrific group of committed practitioners who want to make a difference on the environment.”

 

ST. PAUL SAINTS: INCUBATING GREEN-SPORTS INNOVATION AT CHS FIELD

Independent League Baseball leagues and teams — they are not affiliated with and/or owned by major league league franchises as opposed to minor league clubs — are proving to be the sport’s petri dishes.

This season, the independent Atlantic League is experimenting with some outside-the-box rule changes, like moving the pitcher’s mound two feet farther away from home plate with the goal of reducing strikeouts and increasing the percentage of pitches that are hit in play.

The St. Paul Saints, who play in the North Division of the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball, have been a proving ground for green innovation since planning began about eight years ago for what would become CHS Field.

Tom Whaley, aside from a four year hiatus, has been with the Saints since 1993. He is now an owner of the club and serves executive vice-president.

Whaley said that the Twin Cities’ sustainable heritage was one of the main reasons that green figured so prominently in the new ballpark.

“Green became a top priority for us when we started planning for the new ballpark in the early 2010s for four key reasons,” recalled Whaley. “#1. A clean, healthy, environment is very important to most people in our area, #2. Industry was heading in a green direction, #3. The City of St. Paul has a cabinet-level sustainability position, and #4. We are in an eternal quest to connect with young fans and green is something to which they respond.”

 

TomWhaleyHeadshot

Tom Whaley (Photo credit: St. Paul Saints)

 

Sustainable elements at the 7,200-seat CHS Field that were state-of-the-green-ballpark-art when it opened in 2015 — especially in the world of independent baseball — included:

  • On-site 100 kWh solar array that supplies 17 percent of the ballpark’s electricity, thanks to a grant from Xcel Energy
  • A graywater re-use system, with water supplied from the roof of a large adjacent transit facility, used to water the field and flush toilets
  • A vigorous waste diversion effort, funded in part by a grant from the state of Minnesota.

As the ballpark opened, the team wrapped a green sponsorship around the initiative called “The Greenest Ballpark in America”, with Ecolab, a global sustainable cleaning solutions company based in St. Paul, coming on as title sponsor. The sponsorship is critical to helping the Saints communicate the ballpark’s environmentally friendly features and benefits to its fans.

“Our goal is to bring green closer to home for our fans, to get them to think ‘CHS Field has solar; I should look into solar at my house’,” added Whaley. “We have two touch screen kiosks on the concourse to educate fans, a mobile platform (sustainability.chsfield.com), do in-game public address and video board announcements, plus on-field contests, all to engage our fans around the ideas and technologies. In 2018, we began an internship program dedicated to sustainability, and we deploy a volunteer Green Team of about 15-20 fans that spread our green message at about one third of our home games.”

 

StPaulSaints solar

100 kWh solar array located in beyond the left field wall supplies approximately 17 percent of the electricity needs at CHS Field (Photo credit: St. Paul Saints)

 

StPaulSaints Ecolab Kiosk

Ecolab partners with the Saints on kiosks that take real-time data from CHS Field’s Building Automation System to show fans the amount of power generated and saved (Photo credit: St. Paul Saints)

 

The Saints’ sustainability efforts earned CHS Field GreenSportsBlog’s Greenest New Ballpark award for 2015.

How have the fans reacted to the Saints’ greening? “It’s been very well received,” offered Whaley. “One thing we haven’t done yet is survey the fans about it. We should and we will.”

 

Next in Twin Cities Rule US Green-Sports, Chef David Fhima brings clean, sustainable, tasty food to the Target Center, home of the NBA’s Timberwolves and the WNBA’s Lynx.

 

¹ The Vikings played at TCF Bank Stadium while US Bank Stadium was under construction. And Minnesota United played its initial MLS season at TCF Bank while Allianz Field was being built.

 


 

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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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