The GSB Interview: Mike Dohnert, Helping to Green Citi Field

For someone who remembers attending his first big league ballgame¹ at Shea Stadium, the then two-year-old home of the New York Mets in 1966, it is hard to believe that its successor, Citi Field, will celebrate its tenth birthday in April.

Built on what was Shea’s parking lot, Citi Field was at the leading edge of green venues when it opened in 2009. Given the advances in stadium greening in the intervening decade, we decided to see how the ballpark and the Mets have kept up. To do so, we went out to Queens to meet with Mike Dohnert, the Mets longtime director of operations.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Mike, you’ve been at Citi Field since the doors opened almost ten years ago. That means you’re the best person to talk about the stadium’s green history and where things can go from here. How did you come to work with the Mets in what sounds like such a cool job?

Mike Dohnert: Well, Lew, I grew up as a huge Mets fan in lower Manhattan…

GSB: …As a lifelong Yankees fan, you have my sympathies…

Mike: …Let’s Go Mets! I went to the State University of New York (SUNY) Geneseo and then transferred to Baruch College in Manhattan. I studied operations management, graduating in 2001. In 1999, I got an internship with the Mets at Shea Stadium, working for the manager of ballpark operations at the time.

GSB: That sounds like a cool internship…

 

Mike Dohnert Mets

Mike Dohnert, director of operations of the New York Mets, at Citi Field (Photo credit: New York Mets)

 

Mike: Oh yeah! I mean it was sports, it was the Mets, it was great. When the internship ended, my boss, Sue Lucchi, said she needed help. I said “sure.” And I’ve been there ever since.

GSB: What did you do during the internship?

Mike: Anything to do with the playing field and the club offices. Shea was owned by the City of New York; the city was responsible for the structure itself; the electrical, plumbing, etc. So we really weren’t involved in things like energy efficiency. That would change once Citi Field opened in 2009.

GSB: I know that sustainability was embedded in the DNA of Citi Field’s construction. Were you involved?

Mike: Not in the construction phase — I’m strictly an operations guy. Interestingly, the one thing we were responsible for was the maintenance of a 14 foot fire lane between Shea Stadium and Citi Field. The new stadium was built in Shea’s parking lot and the two ballparks were very, very close together.

 

Citi Shea.png

Aerial photo of Shea Stadium in the foreground and the then under-construction Citi Field across a narrow path in the rear (Photo credit: Mark Lennihan/AP)

 

GSB: I can imagine. What were some of the greener aspects of Citi Field when it opened?

Mike: The HVAC system was quite advanced for that time. Since then we’ve added a building management system (BMS) with sensors to collect energy usage data in real time. The front office was upgraded to LEDs over the last two years — we didn’t go with LEDs at the opening since they were so expensive back ten years ago. Since then, the price has of course come down precipitously so we’re doing rolling upgrades, starting in 2017-18 with the front office and plaza level. And this is just the beginning because we know that, by 2025, we need to be in compliance with Local Law 88

GSB: …the New York City law governing energy efficiency.

Mike: We have an engineering firm looking how to help us get there on lighting with LEDs for the field, concourses, bathrooms and everything else. Sensors as well.

GSB: How is Citi Field doing on water efficiency?

Mike: We’ve got waterless urinals and low-flow toilets. Xlerator hand dryers are big energy savers, from a kilowatt hours (kWh) perspective, as well as from saving on paper towels and reduced maintenance. The club looked into a gray water-water retention program a couple years ago but city regulations prevented it. We are looking at sub-metering water usage which would highlight savings opportunities.

GSB: And perhaps those city regulations will change in the not-too-distant future. What about the green roof?

Mike: The 11,000 square foot green roof is atop the administration offices in right field. It’s naturally irrigated and uses hydroponics. We grow fruits and vegetables up there. It provides natural insulation, cooling the indoor spaces below in summer. It also helps regulate water runoff.

GSB: That’s great. Can fans see it?

Mike: There is a partial view for some fans on the promenade level and so some of fans do get a view.

GSB: One thing all fans can see is a comprehensive recycling and composting presence. Where do things stand at Citi Field?

Mike: Recycling and composting are challenging in New York City. We switched our recycling hauler about a year ago to RTS to help us be more aggressive in combating the challenges. Composting is expensive and there aren’t many places to take it. Right now we compost in the back-of-house only…

 

Mets RTS Recycle Trash

RTS recycling bins on the lower right field concourse at Citi Field (Photo credit: New York Mets)

 

GSB: …Meaning you compost organic material in the kitchens but the fans, or front-of-house, don’t have a composting option yet.

Mike: That’s right. Now, with back-of-house plus recycling, we divert about 40 percent of our waste from landfill. The good thing is that along with RTS and Aramark, our concessionaire, we are going to devise a comprehensive recycling-composting plan in the next few months so we can open up front-of-house. Doing so should get us to 80-85 percent diversion. And we’ll be going front-of-house at the same time as we continue to increase our veggie and fruit choices, much of it locally grown.

GSB: Good to hear. Now I notice that there are no solar panels here. Have you looked into it?

Mike: We’ve discussed it for several years. The problem for us is that our roof really isn’t that big. So solar-powered carports might be the more practical play. But there are complexities there, too. As you could tell when you walked to the office, across the street from our outfield wall is a string of auto body shops.

GSB: I’m well familiar with the “chop shops.”

Mike: Well, they’re not long for this world. The area is undergoing a redevelopment and there could be an impact on our parking lots during construction. So it’s difficult for us to invest in solar-topped carports, or anything else for that matter, in the parking area, at least in the short term.

GSB: So it ain’t easy, especially in the short term. Longer term, how committed to sustainability and the environment are Fred and Jeff Wilpon, the father and son tandem that owns the Mets?

Mike: During Citi Field’s construction, they were committed to building and operating a stadium that was state-of-the-art from a green perspective at that time. Technology has come a long way since we opened and with that opened up new possibilities for us to continually explore. We have inventoried our carbon footprint since 2016. That year, our footprint was 23,839 metric tonnes of CO2 equivalent (MTCO2e), covering Scopes 1, 2 and 3. This includes team and staff travel to and from spring training in Port St. Lucie, Florida as well as fan travel to and from Citi Field. The goal is for us to better understand our footprint and become more efficient in how we go about reducing it, instead of just tackling the buzzwords that may be popular today.

GSB: The fan travel piece is a big deal as it is the biggest contributor to a team’s carbon footprint. Not all teams that measure carbon include fan travel. I know that the club is offsetting some of its carbon footprint through the purchase of carbon and water offsets.

Mike: We’ve done so for the past two ways, through a variety of projects, partnering on water restoration in the American west with Change The Course. On carbon, we’re working with South Pole to provide cleaner-burning cookstoves for women in East Africa. We’ve also invested in wind generation.

GSB: So the Mets have a strong green story to tell its fans. Are the Mets doing so?

Mike: This is where we have the greatest room for improvement. We need to let fans know what we’re doing. Management has talked about it — our concern is not being preachy.

GSB: You guys can do it; there is a sweet spot between not doing anything on one extreme and being too preachy on the other. You can adapt the late, great ex-Met relief pitcher Tug McGraw’s famous “Ya Gotta Believe!” mantra into “Ya Gotta Be Green!” There. My work is done here!

 

¹ I’m a Yankees fan but my dad was a Mets fan. So I cheered for the Cincinnati Reds that day and, if memory serves, went home happy.
 

 

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South Pole Measures Carbon Footprint for FIFA World Cup, UEFA Euro Championships; Helps Members of Auto Racing’s FIA Offset Emissions

 

Mega-sports events like the Olympics, FIFA World Cup and Super Bowl have been greening in some way, shape or form for more than a decade. Waste reduction, LEED (or BREEAM or CASBEE) certification, measuring carbon footprint, and more. I got to thinking it would be interesting to talk to one of the companies that does the carbon footprint accounting — to understand how it works, what gets measured, what decisions, if any, are made to reduce emissions. So we were very happy to chat with Natalia Gorina and Franka Bosman of South Pole, a very interesting company that is one part sustainability consulting firm and one part emissions reduction project developer. There may be even more parts but this is good enough for now.

 

Natalia Gorina and Franka Bosman have very cool job titles and even cooler missions at South Pole.

Geneva, Switzerland-based Natalia’s is Sales Director, Carbon and Renewables. Sounds like a good fit for someone who describes her career as being “devoted to using economic incentives to solve the climate crisis.” With South Pole since 2014, Natalia helps corporations understand that it is good business to measure and reduce carbon emissions. She helps corporations talk the sustainability talk and walk the sustainability walk.

 

Natalia Gorina 1

Natalia Gorina, South Pole (Photo credit: South Pole)

 

Franka wants to “devote my life to improving the world by helping companies and people to take action against climate change.” Prior to coming to South Pole, Franka worked in finance, trying to disrupt it from the inside out.

 

Franka Bosman

Franka Bosman, South Pole (Photo credit: South Pole)

 

Natalia and Franka sure seem like they are in the right place.

 

SOUTH POLE: MATCHMAKING CARBON REDUCTION PROJECTS WITH CORPORATE FUNDERS

South Pole was founded in 2006 as a climate change fighting/sustainable business spinoff from ETH, a technical university in Switzerland. The company has since grown to over 200 employees with 16 offices around the world, with several located in Latin America, China and the Indian sub-continent where many emissions reductions projects are located.

Those employees 1) help corporate clients source and develop emissions reductions and renewable energy development projects, 2) consult on sustainability strategy for corporations and, 3) manage their own carbon emissions projects that generate carbon credits that they then try sell to corporations.

“We are more than emissions reduction credit providers,” explained Natalia. “We come in at an earlier stage than most sustainability consulting firms by investing our own funds to cover carbon certification costs and leading projects through the entire certification cycle. We serve as the project developer for renewable energy companies and local organizations that produce and distribute water filtration systems and cook stoves, for example.”

“South Pole is a matchmaker of sorts,” added Franka. “We currently have over 500 emissions projects underway that we match with corporate funders. Then we measure results in a way that is linked to the UN Sustainable Development Goals: biodiversity gains, jobs created, and more.”

 

HANDLING FAN ENGAGEMENT FOR UEFA 2016 CHAMPIONSHIP

South Pole has partnered with UEFA, the governing body of European soccer/football, since 2012. They started by calculating the greenhouse gas emissions generated from flights taken by UEFA referees and staff and offering Gold Standard certified carbon credits to offset those emissions. “We make it easy for them,” offered Natalia. “We give them a choice of projects and they choose one per year.”

Given that UEFA governs European soccer and manages Euro Championships, it makes sense that they would want to invest in European projects. Thing is, there aren’t that many to choose from because the Kyoto Protocol mandated that the lions’ share of emissions reductions projects be in the developing world. “So we have to work outside the box a bit,” advised Natalia. “Turkey, a UEFA member, has some projects. For example, last year UEFA supported the Gold Standard Cakirlar Hydro Project. And then we offer projects from countries that have a connection to a UEFA country.  For example, UEFA chose to support the Prony Windfarm project because it is located in New Caledonia, a French territory overseas. The wind turbines installed there are very innovative because they tilt downward during hurricanes which leads to significant reductions in damage.”

 

Prony Windfarm Vergnet

Prony wind farm in New Caledonia (Photo credit: Vergnet)

 

South Pole and UEFA ramped up their sustainability efforts at Euro 2016, the quadrennial continent-wide tournament by engaging fans. Fans traveling to the month-long soccer-fest held throughout France had the opportunity to offset their travel via an easy-to-use carbon calculator. “We aimed to make it fun for fans to take environmental action,” said Natalia. “Committing to measure and offset their travel entered fans into a sweepstakes; the grand prize offered a ticket to the final game.”

Fan participation levels were not as high as envisioned. Natalia attributes this to the complexity of the entry process: “Fans had to go through several steps to compensate for their emissions. It needs to be a super easy, one click process. Or, even better, have the offsetting option as the default position in the ticket purchasing process, from which fans can opt-out if they don’t want to participate.” South Pole will have the opportunity to collaborate with UEFA further on environmental issues, including hopefully improving upon fan engagement participation, with a four-year extension of its contract. That will take it through Euro 2020, the first tournament to be played across the continent rather than in one or two countries.

 

MEASURING GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS FOR 2018 FIFA WORLD CUPTM IN RUSSIA

FIFA, the governing body of world soccer, hired South Pole to measure greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for the 2018 men’s World Cup in Russia.

The company issued a report that offered a broad estimate of GHG emissions for 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia, from the preparation phase — per Natalia: “The organizers committed to ‘green certification’ for all 12 venues; as of now, at least 3 have achieved BREEAM^ certification” — through the World Cup itself. They projected Scope 1 (direct emissions from owned or controlled sources), Scope 2 (indirect emissions from the generation of purchased energy), and Scope 3 (value/supply chain emissions). Fan travel to and from Russia, the by far the largest GHG emissions component, falls within Scope 3. According to Natalia, “More than two thirds of all GHG emissions associated with 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia are linked to international air travel of attendees.”

 

Volvograd Arena Guardian

The BREEAM-certified Volgograd Arena (Photo credit: The Guardian)

 

Not surprisingly, it says here, the organizers of the 2018 FIFA World Cup feel fan travel to get to and from Russia is not under its control and are focusing on Scopes 1 and 2. But wouldn’t emissions from travel within a country as vast as Russia be massive? Not so, said Natalia: “Emissions from travel within Russia will be much lower, in large part because the venues are concentrated in the European, west-of-the-Ural-Mountains section of the country.”

Will South Pole do an accounting of actual 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia emissions to see how they compare to the estimate? “Our assignment was just to do the estimate,” reported Natalia.

If South Pole is engaged by FIFA and the organizers of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, here’s hoping they get to report on the actual GHG emissions, and not just estimate them. Lord knows, a World Cup in Qatarian summer will be a massive environmental challenge (and that’s putting it mildly).

 

HELPING FIA MEMBERS OFFSET EMISSIONS FROM MOTOR SPORTS

Turning to motor sports, South Pole is helping members of FIA (Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile), the governing body for Formula 1, auto rallies, Formula E and more, to achieve carbon neutrality.

Similar to UEFA, South Pole is finding offset projects for FIA members to support in the areas where races take place. “Rally Australia, a long-distance auto race in Coff’s Harbour off the country’s east coast, wanted projects that benefitted wildlife and the environment in Australia,” asserted Franka. “We helped them offset unavoidable emissions by connecting them with a project that protects the habitats of the Tasmanian Devil.”

Franka also notes that, “While European projects would be desirable for sports events taking place in Europe because of their proximity, most are happy to support programs in the developing world. One, because that’s where the need is the greatest and, two, there’s a sexiness to them given the huge positive impact these projects have for local people and the environment.”

 

WHAT’S NEXT? TELLING THE STORY TO FANS MORE CONSISTENTLY

GreenSportsBlog readers certainly know that my biggest pet peeve about the sports-greening world is that the fantastic stories about its greatest advances are not being told to fans and other stakeholders with a loud enough voice. Natalia and Franka agree.

What will change this dynamic? Franka believes the impetus will come from sponsors: “Organizers of greener sports events fear that if they tout how sustainable they are, they will be criticized for what they don’t do. But their sponsors are urging them to talk about what they are doing — commitments to renewables, recycling and to offset programs that preserve at-risk species, or help people in the developing world to source clean water.”

Since sponsor dollars are almost as vital as clean water to sports teams and leagues, Franka may be on to something.

Watch this space. And keep your eyes on South Pole.

 

^ BREEAM is a British version of LEED

 


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