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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NY Times Runs 2nd Its Green-Sports Story in as Many Weeks: “Hockey In The Desert”

The New York Times is starting to become a Green-Sports media All-Star! For the second time in two weeks, the “Gray Lady” ran a story about the intersection of Green & Sports. “Hockey In the Desert” by John Schwartz, appeared in The Times’ Climate: FWD online newsletter. 

 

Two weeks ago, Ken Belson, The New York Times’ lead NFL reporter, jumped into the #CoverGreenSports waters with Sports Stadiums Help Lead the Way Toward Greener Architecture.” His piece, which told the story of how and why Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium, became the first pro sports stadium to earn LEED Platinum status, was terrific to my mind. But I thought this would be a typical mainstream media, Green-Sports one-off.

Happily, The Times proved me wrong, as, less than a week later, they ran “Hockey In the Desert,” by John Schwartz, as part of its Climate: FWD online newsletter. 

 

John Schwartz Daily Texan

John Schwartz, science writer at The New York Times (Photo credit: The Daily Texan)

 

Schwartz’ story actually centers on the non-green aspects of playing ice hockey at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas in June — the hometown Knights, in their inaugural season, somehow made it to The Stanley Cup Finals against the Washington Capitals so they are still hosting home games in desert as summer beckons. With that in mind, Schwartz asked the obvious question: “Doesn’t that mean that hockey is contributing to climate change — and maybe its own demise — by building ice palaces in the desert?”

After citing the obvious mega-challenge —”The outside temperature was in the 90s Fahrenheit (30s Celsius) before Game 1″ — Schwartz dove into the environmental issues surrounding the hosting of an NHL hockey game in a desert climate beyond simply the making of a quality ice sheet: “Cooling the vast volume of inside air and taking out the humidity so that players and spectators are comfortable requires an enormous amount of energy.”

 

T-Mobile Arena

T-Mobile Arena, home of the Las Vegas Knights (Photo credit: Trip Advisor)

 

Of course, the environmental challenges surrounding the playing of sports indoors in hot climes goes far beyond hockey. The writer quoted recent GreenSportsBlog interviewee Robert McLeman, an associate professor in the department of geography and environmental studies at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, as saying that all arenas “come at a high environmental cost,” and that the discussion about hockey provides “an entry point into a conversation about what we want with these recreational facilities, and how to make cities more green.”

 


 

GSB’S TAKES

  • The fact that the The New York Times is starting to find that Green-Sports is among the news that is “Fit to Print” (and/or post online, as the case may be) is more important than the actual content of Schwartz’ story.
  • Let’s not rest on our laurels. Two stories on Green-Sports in The Times in two weeks is cause for celebration. But it’s not a trend, not even close. That means we need to keep pushing the #CoverGreenSports hashtag.
  • Schwartz’ piece was strong. It illuminated several important issues surrounding the putting on indoor sports events in hot climates. I learned some things.
  • He should’ve included a bit more about the steps the NHL and NHL Green are taking to lessen the environmental impact of their sport — one line and a link didn’t do justice to the NHL’s Green-Sports leadership.
  • That the story appeared in Climate: FWD and not the sports section reinforces one of the impediments Belson says stands in the way of more frequent Green-Sports coverage: The topic doesn’t belong to any one section or editor; no one has ownership of it. Belson has a valid point — I, for one, think Green-Sports should reside in the sports section to provide oxygen to this subject to a wider audience than the already “converted,” In Science Times and Climate: FWD. Hopefully the editors at The Times will figure this out.

For now, I’m happy that two Green-Sports stories appeared under The New York Times masthead in two weeks.

 


 

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