The GSB Interview: Matt Ellis, CEO of Measurabl — Helping Sports Teams Benchmark Their Environmental Impacts

Sports stadiums and arenas have been in the greening business for almost a decade, which is a great thing. But do venues and teams know how much energy they’re saving, how much waste they’re diverting from landfill, and more? You would think so but measurement of greening lagged actual greening. Until Matt Ellis and Measurabl came along. GreenSportsBlog talked with Matt, the company’s founder and CEO, to understand how he got into the sustainability measurement business, where sports fits in and…what happened to the last “e” at the end of Measurabl.

 

GreenSportsBlog: When thinking about Measurabl, this adage comes to mind: “What gets measured gets managed. And what gets managed matters.” How did you get into the sustainability measurement space and why the big move into sports?

Matt Ellis: Well, Lew, we have to go back to 2008 to get to the beginning of the story. I was working in real estate in the San Diego area — I’m a San Diego guy, went to UC San Diego undergrad and San Diego State for grad school, my family was in the real estate business. I was working for CBRE at the time…

GSB: …When the “econ-o-pocalpyse” hit…

ME: Exactly! My business was not that strong, to say the least. I had plenty of time on my hands, walking around town, looking for deals. I saw plenty of decals on buildings, decals like “LEED ” and “ENERGY STAR.” I started to ask “why?” I found out sustainability drives higher occupancy rates, higher quality tenants, and higher rents, among other positive outcomes. Not long after that, CBRE management asked me to start and run a sustainability practice group.

 

Ellis Matt 1 Headshot

Matt Ellis, founder and CEO of Measurabl (Photo credit: Measurabl)

 

GSB: Was that in the San Diego area or national? How did it go?

ME: National. Despite the economic collapse, we were getting calls consistently from our clients who were interested in how they could leverage sustainability in their real estate portfolios. By 2010-11, we had started to offer RECs, offsets, and the first carbon neutral leases. Eventually I became CBRE’s Director of Sustainability Solutions. As all this was happening, I noticed our sustainability efforts lacked one key thing: data. We needed better measurement tools so we could learn what worked and what didn’t, sustainability-wise. We needed to be able to benchmark on a number of metrics so we could measure progress over time. Every time we looked at measurement, we were told it was too hard, too costly.

GSB: Did you accept that?

ME: Not at all. In fact, I started to ask this question: “Can we provide meaningful sustainability measurement tools?” That would be a big deal. As I investigated this question, I realized that a software solution is what was was needed. We needed to gather environmental, social and governance (ESG) data, create benchmarks for buildings and then be able to sort all of this data. The goal is to know how buildings perform in terms of energy usage, carbon footprint, materials, waste, environmental certifications and more. Convinced that an environmental benchmarking and measurement software platform was indeed doable and valuable, I left CBRE and incorporated Measurabl in 2013.

GSB: How did Measurabl do out of the gate?

ME: We’ve done well the last couple of years, providing environmental benchmarking and measurement software to real estate investment trusts (REITS), asset managers like Black Rock, property managers like CBRE, and corporations like VMware, among others. They’ve found great value in it.

 

Measurabl Early Days

Matt Ellis at the whiteboard during the early days of Measurabl (Photo credit: Measurabl)

 

GSB: Congratulations! What is the Measurabl business model? What is a reasonable ROI for a client?

ME: We provide three Software as a Service aka “SaaS” plans: Basic, Pro, and Premium starting at no cost for the “Basic” plan and going to over $100/building/month for the most feature rich plan. Each provides for data management, benchmarking, and reporting and, depending on the level you sign up for, the client can achieve different ROIs which include cost savings from resource management and efficiency through to Investment Grade reporting which helps them secure lower interest rates on their loans and preferred access to capital from investors.

GSB: That sounds like a great deal for a property manager or building owner. What made you think of sports as a vertical for Measurabl?

ME: Sports makes sense for a couple of reasons for Measurabl. One is that over half of our workforce are athletes, mostly from the world of water polo, which I played at UCSD. And benchmarking sustainability metrics is kind of like how sports uses statistics: data stokes the competitive fire in athletes as well as in building or venue management. So we get sports culturally and from a data perspective. So it fits that Chase Cockerill from our business development team, an athlete himself, made a call to Jason Kobeda at Major League Baseball and Jason said “we get it, this is cool, this can help us take the game to the next level, literally” We established the relationship with MLB in April, right around Opening Day.

 

Measurabl Chase Matt

Measurabl’s CEO Matt Ellis (l) and business development executive Chase Cockerill at June’s Green Sports Alliance Summit in Atlanta (Photo credit: Measurabl)

 

GSB: WOW! That was super quick! Did all 30 teams buy in?

ME: Yes, the relationship is at the league level so all clubs and venues can access the software. So far about two thirds of the clubs are on board and the rest are ramping up. We’re providing them with data management and benchmarking on energy usage, water usage, carbon footprint, waste diversion, environmental impacts of upgrade projects, certifications and reports.

GSB: What kind of reports?

ME: For example, our software can generate a CDP report for the League. CDP is a well-known global standard for reporting carbon performance. We can also provide stadium level reports specific to each venue.

GSB: That has to be a huge time saver for the clubs.

ME: Absolutely. It is also a way to improve the accuracy of the data and therefore make more informed decisions. At the same time we talked to the Green Sports Alliance (GSA). GSA’s Erik Distler said “all of our members share a common set of needs around data management” so we then went on to form an exclusive, worldwide partnership with GSA to be their data management and benchmarking partner and platform.

GSB: That is terrific. How is the stadium or arena environment different from a high-rise office building in terms of benchmarking and measurement?

ME: The sports venue environment is generally more complex than a typical commercial building. Think of Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. There’s the retail components, the exterior parking areas, the solar panels the field, boxes… Right now, we’re able to compare a venue’s performance, year-over-year by breaking the space down to its constituent parts and comparing that performance across like-kind spaces to create benchmarks.

GSB: What about comparing stadium vs. stadium, arena vs. arena?

ME: That’s the next step, and a big part of MLB and the Alliance’s leadership, which is to create a global benchmark for sports facilities. Comparing stadiums to each other, when all of them are unique, is tough. But that’s what we love about the sports world — whether it’s MLB, the NHL, NASCAR or the Alliance — they don’t accept “it’s too tough” to compare, and neither do we. Eventually, we hope to put all venues in a given sport on the platform and to create an “apples-to-apples” comparison that is meaningful. The more data, the more facilities, the more accurate the benchmark. It’s a “team effort” so to speak! The good news is the momentum is strong and roll out well underway.

GSB: I have no doubts. Does the Measurabl platform measure fan engagement and interest?

ME: We do reporting really well. The reports can be easily understood by fans. It’s up to the clubs to decide to tell the sustainability stories but we certainly advocate that they do so on a consistent basis.

GSB: We will check back with you after this season to see how the teams are doing on the fan engagement piece. Meanwhile, I have one last question: What happened to the last “e” in Measurabl?

ME: Ha! “Measurable” was too traditional – not “startup” enough, so drop the “e” and it was a home run.

 


 

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San Diego Padres and Sullivan Solar Partner on Biggest Solar Installation in MLB at Petco Park

On-site solar at sports stadia and arenas has become a “thing” over the past decade across all sports. Starting with the Colorado Rockies and Coors Field in 2007, Major League Baseball has seen its share solar-topped roofs and solar canopied parking lots pop up. Most of the MLB installations have been on the smallish side. That changes with the late March opening of the largest solar installation in the big leagues at Petco Park, a partnership between the San Diego Padres and Sullivan Solar Power.

 

The San Diego Padres are poised to flip the switch this month on the largest solar installation in Major League Baseball at Petco Park. In fact, the 336,500 kW system will generate more electricity than all of the solar systems in MLB combined. It is thus fitting that the groundbreaking Petco Park solar system is being built and installed by Sullivan Solar Power, one of the most innovative and inspiring solar companies in Southern California if not the entire country.

The inspiring part of the Sullivan Solar Power story comes from the company’s namesake and founder, Daniel Sullivan.

A lifelong San Diegan, Sullivan was a 27 year-old electrician in 2004. Concerned about what he saw as a war-for-oil in Iraq, especially with the perspective that comes with being a new dad, and sensing an opportunity with a clean, domestic form of energy, Sullivan went to his boss and suggested the company get involved with solar. The boss said no at first and then, perhaps tired of his persistent employee’s repeated requests, finally relented — to a point — by saying, “if you want to build it yourself, go ahead. But we aren’t changing our focus to doing solar.”

Sullivan said something to the effect of “to heck with that” and founded his own company, Sullivan Solar Power.

 

 

 

Daniel Sullivan

Daniel Sullivan, founder of Sullivan Solar Power (Photo credit: Sullivan Solar Power)

 

Problem was, he had only $2,500 in the bank, a pickup truck and some tools.

So Sullivan started by living and working out of the garage of one of his first customers. Fast-forward a couple of years and things had improved somewhat: Sullivan Solar Power had four employees had leased office space. And Sullivan was no longer living at the garage. Instead, he was living at the office — hiding that fact from his colleagues — and showering at the gym.

But, the company’s mission — to fundamentally change the way we make electricity — along with its commitment to quality work, its educate-the-customer-about-solar ethos, its robust lineup of community service engagements, and its use of American-made panels began to resonate in Greater San Diego. So, too did Sullivan’s money back guarantee to customers. According to Tara Kelly, Sullivan Solar Power’s director of community development, “When Daniel started this company 14 years ago, there were less than 100 solar power systems on our local grid and it was much more expensive to go solar. Daniel, an electrician by trade, was so confident that his systems would pay off for customers; he offered to pay them if the panels didn’t produce as promised. The result? About 50 percent of our customers come from referrals.”

 

Tara Kelly Sullivan Solar Power

Tara Kelly, Sullivan Solar Power’s Director of Community Development (Photo credit: Sullivan Solar Power)

 

Those referrals have helped Sullivan Solar Power grow to over 100 employees in offices that serve San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino and Orange Counties. It is on several fastest-growing companies lists, from the global (Inc. Magazine 5000) to the local (San Diego Business Journal 100). They were the fourth company in the U.S. to earn accreditation from the prestigious North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP).

Sullivan Solar Power’s business, in terms of installed capacity, is about a 25-75 split between residential and commercial customers, depending on the year. Local universities, from San Diego State — Tara Kelly’s alma mater — to the University of San Diego to UC San Diego to UC Irvine are among the company’s largest customers. Petco Park is the company’s first stadium project.

“The Padres put out a RFP for the project and we responded,” Kelly recalled. “It was a lengthy process but ended up winning the bid last summer. Work began on the installation, which sits atop Petco Park’s overhanging awning, in December.”

 

Petco Park Solar Photo 3

A crane lowers equipment for Sullivan Solar Power’s installation of its solar system atop Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres (Photo credit: Sullivan Solar Power)

 

The solar power system, which will have nearly three times as much capacity as AT&T Park in San Francisco’s 120 kW — good enough for second biggest in MLB —  is just about complete. It will utilize high-efficiency, 470-watt Sunpower solar modules. The Padres are slated to avoid over $4 million in San Diego Gas & Electric costs over the next 25 years from this solar project. The plan is to turn it on in time for solar-generated electrons to flow at the Padres’ home opener March 29th vs. the Milwaukee Brewers.

 

Petco Park Solar Photo 7

The Sullivan Solar Power team installs part of what will become the largest solar array in Major League Baseball at Petco Park (Photo credit: Sullivan Solar Power)

 

Petco Park Solar Photo 6

The Sullivan Solar Power installation team takes a break during the installation of its solar system at Petco Park earlier this year (Photo credit: Sullivan Solar Power)…

 

Rock Center

…evoking the iconic photo of the Rockefeller Center construction crew taking a lunch break above the New York City skyline in 1932 (Photo credit: Bettman Collection/Corbis)

 

Sullivan Solar Power is partnering with the team to publicize the solar system and the value of renewable energy to Padres fans. “We have signage at Petco Park and will be showing photos or videos of the solar project to let fans know they’re in a solar-powered stadium,” said Kelly. “And, this year we will collaborate with the Padres for the second annual Solar Day at Petco Park, offering educational seminars on how solar can make a positive difference for fans at their residences as well.”

Educating baseball fans on the benefits of solar is just another evocation of Daniel Sullivan’s mission to fundamentally change the way make electricity. It goes back to his original inspirations — a safe, clean environment for his son, one that is free from wars-for-oil as well as from subsidies that favor fossil fuel development.

On this last point, Petco Park is not the only high profile venue at which Sullivan will educate the public. In 2016 and 2017, he bought full page ads in the San Diego Union-TribuneSullivan used that space to write long-form articles about the costs, locally and more broadly, of fossil fuel subsidies and oil wars. Click here and here to read two of them.

Sullivan’s is an important voice in support of the environmental, climate change-fighting and economic (i.e. green jobs) benefits of solar power. Here’s hoping the Petco Park installation is the first of many sports venues at which Sullivan Solar Power can share its vitally important mission with fans.

 


 

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