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 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!” I would likely have been well aware that birds fly into the massive glass exterior of US Bank Stadium. The Vikings home since 2016 will host Super Bowl LII on February 4, so this may 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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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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