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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A-List Panel Discusses the Future of Sustainable Sports Venue Design at Gillette Stadium

The New England Patriots have been on the “Leading Edge” of pro football since 2001. After all, they are about to play in their ninth Super Bowl¹ in the 18-year Belichick-Brady era on Sunday when they take on the Los Angeles Rams in Atlanta.

Thus, it is fitting that the first Leading Edge Sustainable Stadium Design Conference was hosted by Excel Dryer and D|13 at the Pats’ Gillette Stadium last month.

The conference’s centerpiece was a discussion among a panel of Green-Sports All Stars.  They took a deep dive into the past, present and especially the future of green sports venue design and operations, with an emphasis on how to make stadiums and arenas as energy efficient and fan-friendly as possible.

 

The opportunity to earn Continuing Education Unit (CEU) credits along with the chance to throw and catch passes on the same field as Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski were likely what drew architects — as well as contractors, property managers and more — to Gillette Stadium on a foggy January night for the Leading Edge Sustainable Stadium Design Conference. 

 

excel dryer gillette scoreboard

View from the field at Gillette Stadium during the Leading Edge Sustainable Stadium Design Conference (Photo credit: Excel Dryer)

 

But it was the panel discussion, moderated by Joe Khirallah of Green Bear Group, on the Green-Sports movement’s past, present and future, that kept the audience’s rapt attention.

“At several points during the discussion, I looked out to the audience and noticed that no one was looking at their cell phones,” observed panelist Scott Jenkins, GM of Atlanta’s LEED Platinum Mercedes-Benz Stadium and Board Chair of the Green Sports Alliance. “Not one person. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before, and I’ve been on a lot of panels.”

 

PATRIOTS, GILLETTE STADIUM: GREEN-SPORTS INNOVATORS SINCE 2002

According to conference host and panelist Jim Nolan, who as COO of Kraft Sports + Entertainment (KSE) is responsible for operating Gillette Stadium as efficiently as possible, sustainability has been a core tenet since the building opened in 2002.

“I am fortunate to work for an owner — Robert Kraft — who cares about the environment,” Nolan shared. “Our number one priority is to reduce fossil fuel consumption. Second is to do as much as we can to reduce our waste stream. Every innovation we consider is examined through both financial and green lenses. We say ‘go’ on new cleantech innovations when they become economical.”

Examples of KSE’s “gos” include:

  • An on-site system that converts waste water into gray water for use in the bathrooms and elsewhere throughout Gillette Stadium and neighboring Patriot Place, the 1.3 million square foot retail, restaurant and entertainment complex
  • Energy efficient LED lighting, now illuminating the stadium and 90 percent of Patriot Place
  • On-site solar, which now powers more than half of Patriot Place

Next up for Gillette and Patriot Place is a 2.4 megawatt (mW) fuel cell, expected to be fully operational next year. “Once we’re up and running, the entire campus will be off the grid,” reported Nolan. “We will also have a food waste converter that will produce methane gas — which will then go into the fuel cell to generate additional electricity.”

 

SUSTAINABLE SPORTS VENUES ARE A MARKETABLE ASSET

To Scott Jenkins, stadium and arena owner-operators who push green innovations reap more benefits than cost reductions and efficiencies, as important as those are.

“Most sustainability investments are clear winners for stadium and arena projects,” Jenkins asserted. “They show fans and the community that the team and the owner are purpose driven, which greatly enhances brand value. And sustainability can generate incremental revenue in the form of new, ‘green-focused’ sponsors. Forward-leaning owners like the Krafts and Arthur Blank — who pushed us to build Mercedes-Benz Stadium to earn LEED Platinum certification — believe that just building to code is like being OK with being a C student. They have to be A students.”

Chris DeVolder, lead architect on the Mercedes-Benz Stadium project and Managing Principal at HOK², chimed in that Blank “constantly pushed everyone who worked on the project to not only ‘think about what’s next’, but also ‘what’s next after what’s next’. Things like turning waste into energy to heat water, offering affordable vegetarian and vegan food options, and more.”

 

PATS CONNECT FANS TO SUSTAINABILITY IN GILLETTE STADIUM RESTROOMS

Panelist Summer Minchew, Managing Partner of Washington, D.C.- and Charlotte, NC-based Ecoimpact Consulting, and a veteran of several venue projects, offered that fans are a key element to the Green-Sports equation.

“It may sound obvious, but a positive fan experience at a sports venue is absolutely key,” Minchew said. “What is not always so obvious to stadium designers, managers and owners, is that sustainability, from environmental, health and wellness points-of-view, goes hand in hand with a great fan experience.”

According to Jim Nolan, the Patriots have been a bit late to the “fan engagement” party but they are making significant strides in the right direction. Working with energy partner NRG, the team communicates its solar story to fans via signage mounted on massive pillars near the stadium’s entry gates.

Once inside Gillette, fans experience the leading edge of sustainable stadium design when they dry their hands in the restrooms via a unique, high-velocity, two-phase drying process. The XLERATOR® from Excel Dryer — one of the sponsors of the Leading Edge conference — blows large water droplets off the hands in a couple of seconds in Phase 1. Then, in Phase 2, the heat evaporates a residual moisture layer that we feel but don’t see. This makes the drying process about three times faster than conventional hand dryers, resulting in an 80 percent reduction in energy usage.

But that’s not the XLERATOR’s greenest feature.

Replacing paper towels is.

A Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) showed that the XLERATOR was the catalyst for up to a 75 percent reduction in carbon footprint when compared to 100 percent recycled paper towels. That might seem counterintuitive but, after one-time use, paper towels go straight to the landfill. So XLERATORs help reduce paper production, transportation emissions, water usage, waste and more.

“The XLERATOR is a win-win-win-win for us,” enthused Nolan. “First, it’s clearly better for the environment. Second, it saves time and manpower as our staff spends much less time cleaning paper from the floor and refilling paper towel dispensers. Third, that allows staff to respond more quickly to other fan issues. Fourth and most importantly, the fans prefer the XLERATOR to paper, so they have a better experience.”

 

excel dryer panelists

From left, Jim Nolan, COO of KSE and host of the Leading Edge Sustainable Design Conference welcomes fellow panelists Summer Minchew, Chris DeVolder, Scott Jenkins, moderator Joe Khirallah, and Bill Gagnon, Vice President of Sales and Marketing with event sponsor Excel Dryer  (Photo credit: Excel Dryer)

 

 

Guests at Gillette Stadium’s Optum Field Lounge this season got to experience another futuristic hand drying “win” with the recent installation of a next-generation sink system from Leading Edge sponsor D|13.

“The system features, from left to right, liquid soap dispenser, water faucet, and the XLERATORsync®, in one contained unit,” Nolan said. “It keeps water in the sink, which is better for the environment. Maintenance visits are reduced. It is the most sustainable, hygienic way to wash your hands. We’re excited to be the first stadium to feature the D|13 Sink System.”

 

patpatriot

Leading Edge Sustainable Design Conference attendees, including Pat Patriot, had the opportunity to try out the new D|13 Sink System (Photo credit: D|13)

Will Mercedes-Benz Stadium be the second? Too early to tell. After all, Scott Jenkins and the rest of the staff are busy getting ready to sustainably welcome the Patriots, Rams and 70,000+ fans for Super Bowl LIII on Sunday.

 

¹ The nine Super Bowls of the Belichick-Brady era: 2002 (Pats over Rams), 2004 (Pats over Panthers), 2005 (Pats over Eagles), 2008 (Giants over Pats), 2012 (Giants over Pats), 2015 (Pats over Seahawks), 2017 (Pats over Falcons), 2018 (Eagles over Pats), 2019 (Pats vs. Rams)
² HOK is a global design, architecture, engineering and planning firm

 


 

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The GSB Interview: William (Bill) Gagnon, Saving Money and Carbon Emissions at Sports Venues Thru XLERATOR® Hand Dryers

I thought that the best way to reduce paper waste was to use recycled paper. But, after talking with William (Bill) Gagnon, VP of Marketing and Sales for Excel Dryer, I realized how wrong I was.

Air hand dryers are far more environmentally friendly than even 100 percent recycled paper and Excel Dryer’s XLERATOR® is particularly green on several metrics. And big public buildings like stadia, arenas and airports reap significant financial and environmental savings by switching to the XLERATOR.

GreenSportsBlog spoke with Gagnon about the many green aspects of the XLERATOR and the role sports plays in Excel Dryer’s business.

 

GreenSportsBlog: Bill, how did you get into the hand drying business?

Bill Gagnon: My dad had bought Excel Dryer and I started working there in 1997 off and on — I was also trying a bunch of different things like computer science, web design, finance. Then in around 2000, after helping to invent the XLERATOR, selling it really clicked for me and I’ve been there ever since.

 

Bill Gagnon

William (Bill) Gagnon, VP of marketing and sales for Excel Dryer (Photo credit: Excel Dryer)

 

GSB: Talk about the technology behind the XLERATOR, specifically about what makes it such a great green option for stadium and arena restrooms.

BG: Basically, we created the high-speed, energy-efficient hand dryer category. Our patented technology sounds fairly simple but it is, in fact, quite complicated. We use high velocity heated air for a unique, two-phase drying process. In Phase 1, or the “Blow Off,” the air blows off large water droplets off the hands in a couple of seconds. Then, in Phase 2, “Evaporation,” the heat evaporates a residual moisture layer that we feel but don’t really see. This makes the drying process about three times faster than conventional hand dryers.

GSB: That’s the high-speed part…Where does the greening, energy efficiency part come in?

BG: By being three times faster, we see an 80 percent reduction in energy usage…

GSB: Makes sense…

BG: But that’s not the greenest aspect of the XLERATOR…

 

Patriots_Xlerator

A New England Patriots-branded XLERATOR dryer (Photo credit: Excel Dryer)

 

GSB: Really…What is?

BG: The biggest green element is that the XLERATOR replaces paper towels. We did a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) that resulted in showing up to a 75 percent reduction in carbon footprint even when compared to 100 percent recycled paper towels.

GSB: I never thought about it that way…

BG: There’s a big misconception out there that 100 percent recycled paper towels are the best thing from an environmental perspective in terms of hand drying. They’re not; after use they go right to the landfill.

GSB: Where do the savings come from?

BG: From reductions in material production, transportation emissions, water usage and waste.

GSB: I guess using paper towels that are 100 percent recycled is not at all the green thing to do.

BG: 100 percent right!

GSB: So talk to me about sports venues…

BG: Sports venues — stadiums and arenas — are an important part of our business. We’re a Boston-area company…

GSB: Does that mean you’re a Boston sports fan?

BG: Oh yeah — Red Sox, Pats, Celtics, Bruins…

GSB: Well, as a die hard New York sports fan, we’ll just have to look past that…So is the XLERATOR at Fenway Park?

BG: Yes…In fact Fenway is a great case study…They saw an 82 percent carbon footprint reduction vs. paper towels after switching to XLERATOR. That’s the equivalent of planting 560 trees or reducing 100 cubic meters of landfill. In the process, they saved $57,000 in paper towels and about $26,000 in labor costs.

 

FenwayInstallation

XLERATOR dryers mounted on the bathroom wall at Boston’s Fenway Park (Photo credit: Excel Dryer)

 

GSB: Why the savings in labor costs?

BG: Compared to venues with paper towels, restrooms are cleaner and thus need less maintenance. That is an important consideration. Aramark, the concessionaire at Fenway, tells us that it benefits them: Their staff have to spend much less time preparing and cleaning the restrooms. That leaves them much more time for fan-facing work, which is what they are there to do. Also staff spends much less time resolving bathroom incidents when the XLERATOR is in use vs. paper towels.

GSB: How much time is saved?

BG: On average, they told us their response time to attend to a game day issue, i.e., spills, was about three to five minutes. Now, that time has been shaved to 30 to 90 seconds! With paper towels, their staff was spending so much time constantly servicing the restrooms that it would delay their ability to respond quickly. With XLERATOR dryers installed, that has completely changed.

GSB: That is really significant.

BG: Also significant is that far fewer trash cans are needed: Six in a restroom with paper towels vs. one with an XLERATOR. Here’s a great stat: In the 2013 season at Fenway, one in which the Red Sox won the World Series…

GSB: …Don’t remind me…

BG: …The team saw a reduction of 124 tons of waste, with switching from paper towels being one of the largest contributors.

GSB: Beyond Fenway, what are some of the stadiums and arenas where XLERATORs are deployed?

BG: We’re also at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, home of the Pats…But we’re not only at Boston venues. London’s Wembley Stadium, South Africa’s World Cup soccer stadia, NFL and MLB stadia, college football stadia and basketball arenas. Convention centers, airports and train stations are also sweet spots for us — venues where there are large public assemblies. And for these venues, and many others, it’s all about the bottom line — the XLERATOR saves time and money. In fact, in most cases, ROI is less than a year for XLERATORs that cost between $450-$650.

 

Wembley Independent

London’s Wembley Stadium, the “home of English football” has XLERATOR dryers in its restrooms (Photo credit: The Independent)

 

GSB: So it sounds like the business is good…

BG: After 16 years of XLERATOR, we’re still #1. Some call us the Kleenex of hand dryers. But we stay hungry and are reinvesting in the business to get to the next innovation.

GSB: What about an XLERATOR for residential use? I mean, if we could get all or most US households to go from paper to heated hand drying, that would have a massive and beneficial effect on the carbon footprint, no?

BG: That is something we’re looking at for down the road.

GSB: This is such a great story but I wonder, like I do with many great Green-Sports initiatives, if fans are aware of the green story behind the XLERATOR. What are you and the venues doing on that score?

BG: Some teams and venues are telling the green story, putting customized covers on the XLERATOR with green messaging. We see a big opportunity for storytelling at college athletics venues, due to the interest in sustainability among students. The University of Tennessee is installing over 1,000 Excel Hand Dryers throughout their campus. They put out a big press release to announce it. We need to help our customers do more of this.

GSB: So what’s next for Excel Dryer in terms of advances in hand drying at big public venues?

BG: We’re moving into the next generation of the hand drying experience with our new XLERATORsync® Hand Dryer, which is part of what we call an “Integrated Sink System.” In this case, we place the XLERATORsync next to the faucet on the sink so the patron washes, rinses and dries in one spot. It’s quieter, more hygienic, and creates an elevated user experience. In fact, Gillette Stadium has installed sink systems in their new hospitality areas in preparation for the upcoming football season.

 

 


 

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