Twin Cities Rule US Green-Sports: Vikings, U of Minnesota, St. Paul Saints LEED the Way

“Which metro area is the Green-Sportsy-est in the US?”

While coastal areas like San Francisco-Oakland-Santa Clara and Seattle might come to mind first, it says here that Minneapolis and St. Paul, smack dab in the heartland of the country, wins the title.

In fact, the Twin Cities’ Green-Sportsy-ness runs so deep that we can’t cover it all in one post.

We started things off last week with our look at the sustainability efforts surrounding the recent NCAA Men’s Final Four at US Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Vikings.

Today, in the first of our four-part Twin Cities Rule US Green-Sports series, we examine the greenness of three of the area’s many sports venues. 

The tour starts at US Bank Stadium. Then we get on the light rail’s Green Line and head east across the Mississippi River to the University of Minnesota to check out TCF Bank Stadium, home base for Gophers football. Finally, we hop back on the eastbound Green Line ride, ending up in St. Paul and CHS Field, home of the Saints, an innovative independent baseball club.

 

PEAKS AND VALLEYS GETTING TO ZERO WASTE AT US BANK STADIUM

Bradley Vogel, sustainability coordinator at US Bank Stadium, has seen a lot since he arrived in November 2016 after wrapping up his Masters Degree in Sustainability Management at the University of Minnesota.

His rookie year coincided with the Minnesota Vikings’ first season at the viking ship-shaped building. Then he and his operations team had a mega-event doubleheader for which to prepare: Super Bowl LII in February 2018 and April’s NCAA Men’s Final Four.

 

Bradley Vogel headshot

Bradley Vogel (Photo credit: MSFA)

 

Pressure came with the Super Bowl-Final Four back-to-back for Vogel and his team. 

Management wanted US Bank Stadium to achieve LEED Gold for Building Design and Construction — it ultimately earned that certification last year — but the waste diversion rate was too low at the outset.

“Our diversion rate was only 15 percent in Year One, July 2016 to June, 2017,” Vogel recalled. “But our director of operations Curtis Schmillen had a huge plan to turn that around. So in Year Two, we added compost in our back-of-house (kitchens) operations and throughout the rest of the stadium. It helped that Hennepin County and the city of Minneapolis are committed to composting.” 

ESPN’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) team played a big role with composting as well. “They are composting experts,” reported Vogel. “ESPN’s X Games became an annual event at US Bank Stadium starting in July 2017, and so they helped us get past some of the pitfalls that come with trying to compost at a big event.”

With the help of funding for composting from Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA), which owns the building, and the state, US Bank Stadium upped its diversion rate to 46 percent in 2017.

But, with Super Bowl LII upcoming in February 2018, MSFA management was not satisfied. 

“Management and NFL Environmental asked ‘what can do to make US Bank as green as possible by Super Bowl LII?,” Vogel said. “The answer: Get us to zero waste — at least 90 percent diversion. And despite an up-and-down 2017, we knew we had the ability to get to 90 percent diversion, especially since, per Minneapolis law and MSFA policy, everything had to be compostable or recyclable, including things like ‘to go tubs’ and cutlery.”

When it came time for the Super Bowl, concessionaire Aramark upped its game on compostables. Pepsi had “bin guards” to make sure fans placed their waste in the correct bins. When all was said and done, the post-game sort revealed that the US Bank Stadium team, like the Philadelphia Eagles, were winners, as the diversion rate came in at 91 percent.

 

Jack Groh NFL Environmental Bradley Vogel

Jack Groh of NFL Environmental gives instructions to Pepsi bin guards prior to Super Bowl LII (Photo credit: Bradley Vogel)

 

US Bank Sort board Bradley Vogel

Waste Sort Board educates US Bank Stadium staff on the proper ways waste should be disposed (Photo credit: Bradley Vogel)

 

But achieving zero waste for a Super Bowl, with sponsors and the NFL pitching in is one thing. Doing it for a full, 10-game Minnesota Vikings campaign, without that outside assistance, is quite another. The US Bank Stadium sustainability team notched a solid 72 percent rate for the 2018 season but they fell short of Super Bowl LII’s 91 percent diversion level.

Vogel believes the lessons learned at the Super Bowl and the Men’s Final Four (a lower-than-expected 64 percent diversion rate, due in part to back-of-house issues that were specific to that event), will help his team get US Bank Stadium and the Vikings over that season-long zero waste hump this fall.

“We’ve maximized our compost rate back-of-house,” Vogel noted. “Now we’re working on getting our fan-facing, front-of-house composting to similar levels. That’s how we’ll get to zero-waste on a season-long basis. In the meantime, our overall sustainable approach earned US Bank Stadium LEED Platinum for Operations and Maintenance (O&M) status, making us the first stadium to attain that level. Official certification will come in June or July.”

 

UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA: LOOKING TO SWITCH TO RECYCLABLE PROMOTIONAL ITEMS AT GOPHERS FOOTBALL GAMES TO INCREASE DIVERSION RATE

Getting to zero waste for a full season is also goal for University of Minnesota football. The Gophers play their games at TCF Bank Stadium, their 50,000 seat, LEED silver home adjacent to the light rail’s green line.

“We’ve averaged 82 percent diversion over the past four or five years at TCF Bank Stadium, and that includes 2014-15 when the Vikings played here and 2017-18 when we hosted Minnesota United¹,” said Jeff Seifriz, assistant athletics director- facility operations. “Getting to 90 percent has proven to be tricky but we made strides last season by working with the university’s sustainability office and third party vendors like Aramark and the University of Minnesota Waste Recovery Services to do detailed audits of our post-game sorts.”

 

Jeff Seifriz

Jeff Seifriz (Photo credit: University of Minnesota)

 

One thing that has kept the Gophers’ sustainability team from getting to zero waste has been promotional items: “The problem is that vessels like souvenir cups and serving boats have complex graphics that make them difficult to be accepted by recyclers. We’re looking at going to a simpler ‘single print’ approach that hopefully will get these items into the recycling stream and get us to 90 percent diversion.” It says here that venues and teams can reduce the environmental cost of promotional items by having fewer promotional days, at least those that involve giving out stuff.

Seifriz wishes that zero waste had been a thing when TCF Bank Stadium was in the planning stages back in 2006 (it opened in 2009): “Had zero waste been our radar back then, we would’ve made space for composting on site and for compactors.”

 

TCF Bank Stadium Exterior

TCF Bank Stadium, home of University of Minnesota Gophers football (Photo credit: University of Minnesota)

 

Since then, Seifriz and his team have gone to school on some of the best in Collegiate Green-Sports, studying the successes of the University of Colorado-Boulder, University of Washington and Big Ten rival Ohio State. The 20+ year University of Minnesota facilities veteran also shares best practices with his Green-Sports-minded counterparts from the St. Paul Saints, as well as the Minnesota Twins, Vikings, and Wild at the occasional brainstorm session (aka Happy Hours): “It’s a terrific group of committed practitioners who want to make a difference on the environment.”

 

ST. PAUL SAINTS: INCUBATING GREEN-SPORTS INNOVATION AT CHS FIELD

Independent League Baseball leagues and teams — they are not affiliated with and/or owned by major league league franchises as opposed to minor league clubs — are proving to be the sport’s petri dishes.

This season, the independent Atlantic League is experimenting with some outside-the-box rule changes, like moving the pitcher’s mound two feet farther away from home plate with the goal of reducing strikeouts and increasing the percentage of pitches that are hit in play.

The St. Paul Saints, who play in the North Division of the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball, have been a proving ground for green innovation since planning began about eight years ago for what would become CHS Field.

Tom Whaley, aside from a four year hiatus, has been with the Saints since 1993. He is now an owner of the club and serves executive vice-president.

Whaley said that the Twin Cities’ sustainable heritage was one of the main reasons that green figured so prominently in the new ballpark.

“Green became a top priority for us when we started planning for the new ballpark in the early 2010s for four key reasons,” recalled Whaley. “#1. A clean, healthy, environment is very important to most people in our area, #2. Industry was heading in a green direction, #3. The City of St. Paul has a cabinet-level sustainability position, and #4. We are in an eternal quest to connect with young fans and green is something to which they respond.”

 

TomWhaleyHeadshot

Tom Whaley (Photo credit: St. Paul Saints)

 

Sustainable elements at the 7,200-seat CHS Field that were state-of-the-green-ballpark-art when it opened in 2015 — especially in the world of independent baseball — included:

  • On-site 100 kWh solar array that supplies 17 percent of the ballpark’s electricity, thanks to a grant from Xcel Energy
  • A graywater re-use system, with water supplied from the roof of a large adjacent transit facility, used to water the field and flush toilets
  • A vigorous waste diversion effort, funded in part by a grant from the state of Minnesota.

As the ballpark opened, the team wrapped a green sponsorship around the initiative called “The Greenest Ballpark in America”, with Ecolab, a global sustainable cleaning solutions company based in St. Paul, coming on as title sponsor. The sponsorship is critical to helping the Saints communicate the ballpark’s environmentally friendly features and benefits to its fans.

“Our goal is to bring green closer to home for our fans, to get them to think ‘CHS Field has solar; I should look into solar at my house’,” added Whaley. “We have two touch screen kiosks on the concourse to educate fans, a mobile platform (sustainability.chsfield.com), do in-game public address and video board announcements, plus on-field contests, all to engage our fans around the ideas and technologies. In 2018, we began an internship program dedicated to sustainability, and we deploy a volunteer Green Team of about 15-20 fans that spread our green message at about one third of our home games.”

 

StPaulSaints solar

100 kWh solar array located in beyond the left field wall supplies approximately 17 percent of the electricity needs at CHS Field (Photo credit: St. Paul Saints)

 

StPaulSaints Ecolab Kiosk

Ecolab partners with the Saints on kiosks that take real-time data from CHS Field’s Building Automation System to show fans the amount of power generated and saved (Photo credit: St. Paul Saints)

 

The Saints’ sustainability efforts earned CHS Field GreenSportsBlog’s Greenest New Ballpark award for 2015.

How have the fans reacted to the Saints’ greening? “It’s been very well received,” offered Whaley. “One thing we haven’t done yet is survey the fans about it. We should and we will.”

 

Next in Twin Cities Rule US Green-Sports, Chef David Fhima brings clean, sustainable, tasty food to the Target Center, home of the NBA’s Timberwolves and the WNBA’s Lynx.

 

¹ The Vikings played at TCF Bank Stadium while US Bank Stadium was under construction. And Minnesota United played its initial MLS season at TCF Bank while Allianz Field was being built.

 


 

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Greening the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games Seattle

How great is it when an iconic cause-based event like the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games embraces another cause — in this case, environmental sustainability? We’re talking really great.

GreenSportsBlog spoke with the sustainability team for Special Olympics USA 2018 Seattle — Karlan Jessen, Director of Volunteers and Sustainability; David Muller, Sustainability Consultant; and Tim Reeve, Sustainability Advisor — to find out how it came together, what worked well and what could’ve been better.

 

It was about a year before the July 1, 2018 Opening Ceremonies for the Special Olympics USA Games Seattle took place at Husky Stadium on the University of Washington campus, and an environmental sustainability plan was nowhere in sight.

And, since there had never been a sustainability effort at any of the three prior quadrennial USA Games, the odds were that Green would not be a part of the 2018 version.

Karlan Jessen, David Muller and Tim Reeve collectively and figuratively said “to heck with those odds,” and formed a Sustainability All-Star team of sorts. They created and implemented a greening program in what had to be record time.

 

Special Olympics Karlan_Headshot

Karlan Jessen (Photo credit: Karlan Jessen)

 

Special Olympics David Muller and Tim Reeve

David Muller (l) and Tim Reeve at the University of Washington (Photo credit: David Muller)

 

Jessen’s experience owning two used sporting goods stores, managing bicycle tours and running events made her an ideal pick for the Director of Volunteers and Sustainability role. Muller has deep experience consulting on sustainable events, focusing on environmental impact mitigation and positive social impact. And the Vancouver-based Reeve heads Reeve Consulting Group, a sustainability advisory firm. He’d worked with the Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics on sustainability and responsible sourcing issues.

 

“I THOUGHT THERE SHOULD BE A SUSTAINABILITY EFFORT SO I RAISED MY HAND”

As general planning for the Seattle Special Olympics got started in earnest, Jessen started to get questions about sustainability from some of the event’s existing corporate partners. “ESPN in particular asked about what could be done. Nothing was being planned at the time” Jessen recalled. “I thought there should be a sustainability effort, and even though we only had a year or so to make it happen, I raised my hand. I knew David from our sustainability studies at the Bainbridge Graduate Institute (which later merged with Presidio Graduate School), so it was natural to team up with him.” It wasn’t long before Reeve joined to make the group a triumvirate.

The team quickly established a plan that was made up of six sustainability pillars. Four were environmentally focused, while the other two fall in the social portion of the broad Environmental-Social-Governance (ESG) definition of sustainability:

Environmental Pillars

  1. Waste/Recycling
  2. Transportation
  3. Food/Beverage
  4. Sourcing

Social Pillars

  1. Accessibility/Inclusion
  2. Legacy/Education

Microsoft, based in nearby Redmond and the title sponsor of the 2018 USA Games, quickly bought into the social pillars. “Education and legacy were very important to Microsoft,” Jessen noted. “Inclusion, especially fair hiring practices, also was a big deal to them. And when you think about it, the Special Olympics demonstrates inclusion by its very existence!”

“Education and legacy was a home run,” chimed in Reeve. ”

 

BIGGEST ENVIRONMENTAL SUCCESSES: WASTE AND TRANSPORTATION

The environmental sustainability portion was more challenging. The success stories came from waste and transportation.

“Our waste-to-recycling program and food donations programs worked really well, thanks in large part to the University of Washington food service team,” reported Reeve. “Recycling is one of the most highly visible examples of a greening program at a sports event so we had to get that right. And we did.”

 

Special Olympics Green Team Volunteers success story

Green Team Volunteers sorting recycling, compost, and food donations (Photo credit: Tim Reeve)

 

Coca-Cola pitched in by bringing their reverse vending machines to the event. Fans and athletes would put empty plastics into the machine and a 5¢ donation would be made to Special Olympics for each donation. Per Muller, “Final numbers were not made public but it’s safe to say that thousands of bottles were recaptured.”

“Transportation was also a big win — that’s where we saw the biggest greenhouse gas emissions reductions,” added Muller. “The University of Washington was a great set up — it’s compact, very walkable and is located on a transit route. There is a robust bike share infrastructure at UW. Energy efficient shuttles ferried athletes and their families to and from events. And Lyft provided discounted as well as free ride sharing.”

 

Special Olympics Light Rail

Athletes and coaches taking light rail to T-Mobile Park (formerly Safeco Field) for the Special Olympics’ Night at the Ballpark (Photo credit: Cori Dixon)

 

The nearly 4,000 athletes and their families noticed Seattle’s greening efforts around the Special Olympics.

“We had numerous conversations with athletes and their families during the Special Olympics and they were really impressed by the city’s commitment to making this a green event,” recalled Reeve. “A sustainability passport was provided for the athletes for things like transportation so they were involved with the greening effort almost as soon as they arrived in the city.”

In a survey conducted after the Special Olympics among athletes and their families by Brian McCullough of Seattle University showed that 60 percent said, “My attitude toward environmental sustainably has improved due to the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games initiatives.”

 

TIME WAS THE SUSTAINABILITY TEAM’S BIGGEST ENEMY

Here’s a note to the leadership group that is organizing the 2022 Special Olympics USA for Orlando: Jessen, Muller and Reeve agreed that a year was not nearly enough time to maximize the effectiveness of a sustainability plan.

“Lack of time really challenged us in terms of getting buy-in on the value proposition of a robust sustainability effort from the CEO and Executive Committee,” noted Reeve. “That kind of early support would have been crucial in terms of being woven into the budgeting and sourcing processes, as well as securing sustainability-focused sponsors. That would have helped us on food donation, signage and more.”

The team had a plan to offset emissions but there was no budget for it.

“About 90 percent of event emissions came from air travel,” Muller said. “We were looking at offset costs ranging from $25,000-$60,000 but there was no budget for it. Had we started earlier, we certainly could’ve found a partner to fund the offsets.”

What kind of time frame would be ideal to develop and manage an effective sustainability effort at a Special Olympics?

Consider that planners for the FIFA 2026 World Cup in Canada, Mexico and the USA will have eight years to get sustainability right, and the organizers at the LA 2028 Olympics will have had eleven years since being award the Games in 2017.

Now, no one is saying that the Special Olympics USA is of a similar scale as those two mega events.

Given that’s the case, what is the ideal length of time to put a sustainability plan in place that the team would be proud of?

The verdict was unanimous:

“Three years!,” said Judges Jessen, Muller and Reeve.

 

 


 

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Pac-12 Networks Air Green-Themed Public Service Announcements

GreenSportsBlog believes that, for the Green-Sports movement to scale, it needs to go beyond engaging fans at stadia and arenas. That’s because most people don’t go to games. Rather, they consume sports on TV, on mobile devices, and more. To maximize its impact, Green-Sports messaging must be broadcast to those fans.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened much yet. Until the Pac-12 Networks began airing green-themed Public Service Announcements (PSAs) on their college football broadcasts this season.

 

Legendary Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer and broadcaster Bill Walton is famous for calling the Pac-12 the “Conference of Champions!”

 

Walton James Drake.png

Bill Walton won two national championships while at UCLA in the 1970s (Photo credit: James Drake, Sports Illustrated)

 

He’s right: Pac-12 members Stanford and UCLA rank first and second in most NCAA championships won across all sports — Walton added two to UCLA’s total during the early 1970s. Arizona State and USC have been at the top of the college baseball world, Oregon has dominated track and field (athletics) and Washington has among the best rowing programs in the nation. Arizona, Cal-Berkeley, Colorado, Oregon State, Utah and Washington State have had their moments in the sun, too.

The Pac-12 is also well on its way to being a Green-Sports champion:

 

 

  • Pac-12 Team Green has a corporate sponsor, Unifi, one of the world’s leading innovators in manufacturing synthetic and recycled performance fibers
  • Starting in 2016-17, the Pac-12 has held Zero Waste Bowl competitions in football and men’s basketball to see which of its member schools can divert the most waste from landfill. In addition to waste diversion, points are earned for partnerships, innovation, as well as fan and athlete engagement.

This is, of course, beyond great.

But I am always concerned that, as leagues and teams increasingly drive down the field, Green-Sports-wise, they often choose to stop short of the goal line.  The goal line in this case is engaging fans on the environment and on climate change — specifically those fans who are not at the games but who watch them on television, online, and on their phones.

So I checked in with the Pac-12 to see if they have Green-themed TV public service announcements (PSAs) running on football games this season.

Turns out the answer is yes!

Three Team Green-themed PSAs are rotating throughout football broadcasts on games that are being aired on the Pac-12 Networks this fall.

Each Saturday during the football season, the network broadcasts one to three games to an estimated universe of approximately 40 million U.S. homes. While the league does not publicly disclose ratings data for its programming, we do know that football games garner the biggest audience of all sports, so the potential reach for the spots is significant.

The three, 30 second PSAs feature current Pac-12 football players and coaches sharing how they and their schools are greening the games, from recycling to riding bikes to using public transportation. Check them out below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GSB’s Take: Kudos to the Pac-12 for moving the Green-Sports ball from the five yard line down to the one with their Team Green PSAs. Still, it says here that the Pac-12 stopped themselves just short of the goal line.

That is because of climate change. Or, to be more specific, the lack of talking about climate change.

To be clear, the 90-second Team Green video embedded near the top of this post includes this narration: “sports greening initiatives at each school are helping to reduce emissions of global warming pollution.” That spot has aired on Pac-12 Networks football broadcasts as well as on pre- and post-game shows.

That is great. It is a main reason the Pac-12 made it all the way to one yard line.

But the reason they didn’t cross the green goal line is none of the three, 30-second spots embedded at the bottom of the post mentioned global warming or climate change.

I don’t know why the Pac-12 went that route — perhaps it was unintentional, perhaps there was fear of going too heavy on climate change, given the political nature of the issue. If it is the latter, that fear is not well-founded:

  1. Pac-12 schools are in green hubs like Berkeley, Boulder, Eugene, Los Angeles, Palo Alto and Seattle. Climate change messaging would likely be cheered in Pac-12 country.
  2. Climate change, among a strong plurality of millennials and Gen Z-ers, is not an “if”, but a “when” issue — as in “When will adults get serious about solving climate change.”

Since the Pac-12 is leading the way on Green-Sports in North America, I hope…no, expect that all 2019 Team Green PSAs will address climate change head on. That would ensure that the conference easily busts over that green goal line.

 


 

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