AEG Pushes Its Venues to Reduce Emissions in Line with Paris Climate Agreement

Los Angeles-based AEG is the largest sports and entertainment venue operator in the world, entertaining over 100 million guests annually. On the sports side, AEG is both a venue owner-operator — marquee properties like LA’s Staples Center, London’s O₂ Arena and T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas headline its portfolio — as well as a team owner, with LA’s Galaxy, Kings and Lakers among its leading lights.

An early driver of the sports greening movement, the company has accelerated the pace of its sustainability efforts over the past three years, committing to science-based targets in 2016 and to the UN’s Sports for Climate Action Framework earlier this year.

GreenSportsBlog first spoke with John Marler, the company’s VP of Energy and Environment and newly announced Green Sports Alliance board member, three years ago. We caught up with him recently to delve into AEG’s recent sustainability advances and to get his take on how hard sports can push on climate going forward.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Hi John, it’s great to talk again. AEG adopted “science-based targets” regarding its greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) reductions goals in 2016. What are science-based targets in general and how has the company progressed in the first three years since making the commitment?

John Marler: GHG reductions targets adopted by companies are considered science-based if they are aligned with the level of decarbonization necessary to keep global temperature rise below 1.5°C as compared to preindustrial levels.

While AEG was not the first company to commit to science-based targets, we were an early adopter back in 2016.

GSB: Why did AEG go all in on science-based targets?

John: We realized that, while the planet doesn’t care if we get things right on GHG emissions reductions, humanity and other life forms certainly will care. Progress has been slow but steady. In 2018, we were able to move closer towards our goal by purchasing additional renewable energy. This allowed us to keep up, emissions-reductions-wise, with the growth in emissions from adding new venues to our roster. Many other companies are in the same boat and are taking a similar approach.

 

MarlerJ2019

John Marler (Photo credit: AEG)

 

GSB: What specific targets are AEG moving towards?

John: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report says humanity has until 2030 to reduce GHG emissions by 45 percent versus a 2010 baseline. We’re working towards that goal and also towards being carbon neutral by 2050.

GSB: How far along is AEG in terms of emissions reductions and how have you gotten there?

John: We reduced GHG emissions by 18 percent from 2017 to 2018 and are very close to being on pace to get to the 33 percent reduction level by 2020, putting us on track to get to the “45 percent by 2030” threshold. Our approach for our venues has been to focus on energy efficiency wherever possible and to purchase renewable energy credits (RECs).

We’ve been encouraged by the quality and quantity of the RECs that have become available as more renewable energy generation capacity is being built out. One somewhat paradoxical challenge for us has been our growth. Meaning that the more properties we acquire or build, those added emissions get assigned to our ledger versus our 2010 baseline.

GSB: So that means you’re actually performing better on a per venue basis if total AEG emissions are down vs. 2010 as your portfolio has grown, right? How do on-site renewables fit into this?

John: Solar and wind at sports or entertainment venues are great in that they serve as high profile advertisements for renewable energy. But the amount of emissions reduction we see from on-site renewables at stadiums and arenas is quite small. The truth is, only about 25 percent of venue roofs can even accommodate solar. So on-site renewables alone will not get us close to where we need to get in terms of GHG emissions.

Again, for us, getting to our targets will come from improvements on energy efficiency plus funding new off-site renewable energy by the purchase of RECs. We’re pleased by the technological advancements and thus the price reductions in solar and wind as well as on energy storage. The question is, when we’re talking about climate change globally rather than just in the sports industry, will these advances be fast enough?

 

STAPLES Center solar January 2019

Solar panels atop the roof of the Staples Center in Los Angeles (Photo credit: John Marler)

 

GSB: And will there be the will, from the grassroots and political levels, to make the policy changes necessary to accelerate the adoption of these technologies fast enough? Back to sports for a minute. I think Green-Sports 1.0 — the greening of the games themselves — has largely been a success over the past decade or more. LEED certified stadiums and arenas have become the norm. But the sports world cannot rest on those laurels. What do you think the sports greening movement needs to do going forward to maximize GHG reduction impacts?

John: The good thing is that most people in the sports greening movement realize that Green-Sports 1.0 is not nearly enough to get us where we need to be. The real opportunity is for sports venue management — and that means companies like ours — as well as teams, leagues and athletes is to inspire fans to care about climate. For this to happen, sports organizations need to be more public about their greening efforts and encouraging fans to do the same in their own lives. Maybe fans get interested via the plastic ocean waste issue, maybe by trying a plant-based diet. The important thing is they get there.

GSB: How is AEG going about communicating its greening initiatives to its fans?

John: MLS’ LA Galaxy’s Protect The Pitch initiative engages fans at Dignity Health Sports Park and on its website. All of our California venues committed to the state’s Clean Air Day. Our AEG #GoGreen site has a carbon calculator, powered by Conservation International, which allows the visitor to determine his/her annual carbon footprint. They can also offset their carbon.

 

Galaxy Protect Pitch

Signage promoting LA Galaxy’s decision to phase out plastic straws as part of its Protect the Pitch initiative (Credit: LA Galaxy)

 

GSB: How does AEG promote #GoGreen to its guests? How is traffic to the site?

John: Sustainability is increasingly informing consumers’ purchasing habits and behaviors. Because everyone plays a role in sustainability, we encourage employees and fans through our social channels to visit AEGGoGreen.com, learn how to lessen their environmental impact and ask others to join the movement by sharing a #GOGREEN Pledge via Facebook and Twitter.

Conserving our planet’s resources is a shared endeavor that not only touches all levels of our organization, but all people in all corners of the globe. Only by working together can we improve the health of our planet.

The program underscores AEG’s belief that it has an opportunity to use the power of sports and music to create significant, positive change in the world.

 

GSB: Finally, AEG’s energy efficiency initiatives, its renewable energy purchases and its communications efforts fit well with the five pillars of the UN’s new Sports For Climate Action framework, something to which the company committed. What is AEG looking for from the framework?

John: One of the underlying principles behind the creation of the Green Sports Alliance is that people care deeply about sports and it’s a great platform to engage with people about a variety of issues. We see the Framework as one of these opportunities – to use the most popular and iconic sports brands in the world to help address climate change.

GSB: Speaking of the Alliance, congratulations John on being named to its Board. You will bring a deep well of venue management and technical experience to the Alliance. As for the Framework, it’s off to a strong start with high profile commitments, including AEG’s. I look forward to talking with you down the road to see how compliance and awareness of the Framework develops.

 

 


 

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LA 2024: Smartest, Greenest Olympics Bid Ever

Paris and Los Angeles are the two cities still in the running to host the 2024 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games—the International Olympic Committee will make that decision on September 13 of this year in Lima, Peru. GreenSportsBlog reported on Paris’ sustainability efforts last month; now it’s LA’s turn to shine in the Green-Sports spotlight. We were pleased to speak with Brence Culp, Sustainability Director of the LA 2024 Bid Committee, about the many substantive sustainability initiatives her team is planning.

 

The greenest sports venue and/or Olympic and Paralympic Village is the one you don’t have to build.

That has been and is the mantra of LA 2024, the committee handling the bid for Los Angeles to host the 2024 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games, and especially its sustainability team. The bid process is now in the home stretch—the International Olympic Committee (IOC) votes in September in Lima, Peru—and only Paris stands in the way of Los Angeles becoming the host for the third time (1932 and 1984).

GreenSportsBlog documented Paris’ strong and comprehensive sustainability plan in February; now it’s Los Angeles’ turn to have its say.

Wait.

Before we get to LA 2024’s sustainability story, let’s reflect on this: How GREAT is it that the two remaining bids to host the 2024 Summer Olympics are in a figurative, innovative battle to see which is the most sustainable? Would this have been the case five years ago? I think not. To channel my inner Joe Biden, this is a “big…deal!”

OK, now back to LA 2024 and its sustainability story.

 

THE MOST SUSTAINABLE OLYMPICS VENUES ARE THE ONES YOU DON’T HAVE TO BUILD

When the LA 2024 bid committee first began planning the Olympic and Paralympic Village and Media Center, it, like pretty much every other Olympic bid in recent memory, was looking at massive redevelopment alternatives. Thus, it made sense to recruit Brence Culp as its sustainability director. You see, Ms. Culp had been in charge of many big redevelopment and urban renewal projects as the second in command to the CEO of Los Angeles County (appointed, not a political position) for five years. Prior to that, she worked at a redevelopment agency in LA.

Brence Culp LA 2024

Brence Culp, Sustainability Director, LA 2024. (Photo credit: LA 2024)

 

But a funny thing happened on the way to the major redevelopment projects for LA 2024. The bid committee team visited the UCLA and USC campuses. “Before we got to the campuses, we thought ‘oh, the dorms and the food will not be up to par,” recalled Ms. Culp. “But, both UCLA and USC were absolutely stunning, from the dorms to the recreation facilities to the landscaping. The food was fantastic. So, it turned out the most sustainable Village and Media Center were the ones we already had!” In the LA 2024 bid plan, UCLA will be home to the Olympic and Paralympic Village and USC, near the downtown venue cluster, will host the Media Center.

Now don’t get the idea that, because she is not supervising a big urban redevelopment project, Brence Culp is at all disappointed. Far from it.

“Sustainability is core to our bid and our DNA,” declared Ms. Culp, “Gene Sykes, LA 2024’s CEO has a long background in conservation and environmental stewardship. So our core principals of sustainable environmental and financial stewardship, as well as social inclusion are baked in to everything we do. When we, (LA) Mayor Garcetti and our sustainability consultants, AECOM, looked at, oh, two dozen urban redevelopment sites for the Village, we kept on coming back to UCLA and USC^. Great for the athletes and media. Sustainable from an environmental and financial sense. Innovative in that we don’t have to build something new and shiny.”

And LA 2024 doesn’t have to build new and shiny sports venues. The area boasts a veritable Hall of Fame lineup of stadia and arenas from which to choose, including:

  • Honda Center (Anaheim Ducks)
  • LA Coliseum (USC football and host of Olympic Track and Field as well as the Opening and Closing Ceremonies in 1932 and 1984 as well as Super Bowls I and VII)

Coliseum 2024

Artist’s rendering of the renovated LA Coliseum. (LA 2024)

 

Since the venues are largely in place, the sustainability team’s initiatives focus on making them greener. Exhibit A is the StubHub Center.

Per Ms. Culp, “Under the leadership of the venue’s owner, AEG, StubHub Center is going ‘all in’ on sustainability as it will be the location of LA 2024’s Green Sports Park, highlighting the best in sport and green innovation. AEG is implementing robust water efficiency strategies, including use of municipal greywater for irrigation. They also built and manage an onsite garden that includes a large chicken coop and a greenhouse. StubHub Center’s chef uses the garden’s fruits and vegetables in meals prepared for staff, athletes and other guests. AEG also came up with an innovative way to harvest honey from relocated beehives found onsite –located safely away from spectators! Leading up to the Games, we will actively explore ways to enhance AEG’s current practices, including onsite solar.”

 

MASS TRANSIT RAMPING UP IN LA IN TIME FOR 2024

Moving from chickens and bees to pachyderms, the big elephant in the room, sustainability-wise, is transportation. LA is a sprawling area—Paris’ geographic footprint is significantly smaller—and its mass transit offerings have been, relatively speaking, limited. But that is changing fast, to the benefit of the LA 2024 bid.

“The LA area is in the middle of an historic mass transit investment and much of it will be operational by the 2024 Opening Ceremonies,” offered the LA 2024 sustainability director, “And leading up to the Games LA 2024 will work with Metro to further incentivize comfortability with public transportation among Angelenos.”

 

FINANCIALLY LEAN, INNOVATIVELY GREEN

An important facet of LA 2024’s sustainability equation is financial. It stands to reason if an Olympic host committee can use existing athletic venues and existing structures for an Olympic and Paralympic Village and Media Center, it will save money. But how much? Well, LA 2024’s budget is projected to be $5.3 billion as compared to Paris’ projection of $9.3 billion. Both sound like lots of dough but consider that Rio 2016 spent $12 billion and Tokyo 2020 is looking at $30 billion. Russia spent $50 billion to put on the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games ($50 billion??? On a Winter Olympics, which is a much smaller enterprise than its summer cousin?? That’s insane.) London 2012, considered the sustainability gold standard among Olympics, spent about $12 billion. So both LA 2024 and Paris 2024 are demonstrating that sustainability is not good Olympics business, it is great Olympics business.

Despite its lean budget and its reliance on existing structures, LA 2024 is not skimping on sustainable innovation. “One of our priorities is bringing together folks who are advancing sustainable practices through sport. Thus, we have allocated $25 million in seed funding for high impact, sustainability-focused projects with our partners,” Ms. Culp said, “The goal is to leave a positive long-term legacy for the community.”

 

WILL FANS KNOW THE LA 2024 SUSTAINABILITY STORY?

This wouldn’t be a GreenSportsBlog column on the sustainability impacts of a mega-sports event if we didn’t delve into how LA 2024 plans to communicate its sustainability initiatives to the fans at the Games and to the potentially billions who will be watching on TV, online and who knows how else in seven years time. Rio set the marker, with its Opening Ceremonies vignette on climate change that was seen by an estimated 1 billion people worldwide.

While there are no firm fan-focused sustainability communications plans in place (that would start to take shape if LA wins the bid), Ms. Culp is confident that “the more sustainable we make our Games, the more that broadcasters and other media will pick that up. And we will have plenty of eye-catching, sustainability stories, accented with a distinctly diverse and innovative LA flavor from which the media will be able to choose: From the aforementioned region-changing mass transit expansion to the use of locally sourced food to the use of recycled construction materials, and much more.”

 

LA 2024’S SUSTAINABILITY LEGACY GOES BEYOND VENUES AND MASS TRANSIT

A recurring theme to our conservation was this: Go big on environmental sustainability and innovation, add a diverse and vibrant culture and you have Los Angeles—and LA 2024. “I tell you, wherever I go throughout the area, people across the demographic spectra—gender, age, income, race—are very excited about the bid, with public support running at 88 percent” said Ms. Culp. This is in stark contrast to other cities in this cycle which had to withdraw their bids due to lack of public support; Boston, Budapest, Hamburg and Rome among them.  Sustainability is a foundational building block of that strong level of public support, opines Ms. Culp: “It is almost impossible these days to get people in a mega city to row together in the same direction. We know that our emphasis on sustainability in our bid has helped to make this happen.”

 

This 3 min 24 sec LA 2024 Venue Plan video demonstrates the bid committee’s commitment to use existing facilities.

 

 

^ UC Riverside is another university that is lending its facilities to the LA 2024 cause; it is designated to host the rowing competition.

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