July 19, 2018

How modern sports stadiums get competitive over sustainability

Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta calls itself the “most sustainable sports venue in the world.” It’s the first professional sports stadium in the U.S. to achieve LEED Platinum certification, and its achievements in renewable energy and other conservation measures are extraordinary.

The sustainability race, however, may just be getting started.

“When you’re talking about multi-billion dollar sports facilities, it’s not like you’re building an office,” says Sloan Director of Corporate Sustainability Patrick Boyle. “You’re looking at outdoing what was done in the past. There’s a competiveness that spurs innovation. I can’t wait to see the next few stadiums.”

Boyle was in Atlanta in June for the Green Sports Alliance Summit. Here are some of his takeaways from the event, the venue and the impact of sustainable sports venues.

Sustainability benchmarks of Mercedes-Benz Stadium

You can tell from its multi-faceted glass and metal exterior that Mercedes-Benz stadium is not your father’s sports venue. Its visual innovation is matched by some eye-opening sustainability measures:

  • Renewable energy. 4,000 solar panels generate enough electricity to power 10 Atlanta Falcons games with no external sourcing.
  • Stormwater capture. To prevent local flooding, the site can store more than 2 million gallons of runoff.
  • Water conservation. Sloan’s efficient valves and faucets help the stadium use 47% less water than baseline standards.

Boyle says, “With so many people attending games, the ability to conserve water on that scale is just staggering.”

Indeed. We’ve analyzed stadium water savings before, but not for a stadium seating 71,000 people. Just looking at restroom usage, if everyone in the facility goes to the bathroom twice during a game and each flush saves a half-gallon of water, the savings could supply a day’s worth of water for more than 220 families of four—every game.

The Zero Waste Super Bowl

Atlanta isn’t the only city with a highly sustainable state-of-the-art stadium. A Summit workshop discussed the first “Zero Waste Super Bowl” last February at U.S. Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Vikings. 90% of all waste from the game was recycled, composted or reused, with the remaining 10% going toward waste-to-energy conversion.

Boyle describes the enormity of that challenge. “It’s manpower, it’s education, it’s signage. You can’t always depend on attendees to dispose of waste in the proper container. They had a whole team of volunteers to separate waste after the game.

“In America, people realize we can and should recycle, so it’s getting easier. It’s on facility managers to make recycling easier for everyone. You can install high-efficiency products, but you can also limit people’s choices—for instance, by only serving food on compostable plates and cups. Then everything that gets thrown away gets picked up by the same truck and put to good use.”

Thought leadership and community impact

Sustainability in a large sports facility involves more than infrastructure and management—and it requires a view that encompasses the entire community.

Boyle attended thought leadership sessions at the Summit discussing “... sustainability on the social side, how it helps people in their communities. There were football players and NASCAR drivers talking about how ordinary people can make an impact.”

He also enjoyed a panel on “The Living Stadium” on which one of the panelists was James Connelly of the International Living Future Institute—the organization behind the Declare labels that play such a large role in Sloan’s transparency reports.

Boyle recognizes that the success of a venue combines sustainability with aesthetics and community impact.

“The Mercedes-Benz stadium roof opens. It’s gorgeous, but it also allows in natural light and helps reduce lighting costs. They have a bike valet service to make it easy to get to the stadium, and it’s located in a populated urban area instead of out in a distant suburb, so taking public transportation to the game is always an option.

“Energy, water, waste management—those are the big scorecard marks. When you look at the data, these new stadiums are doing really well.”

Want to know more about Sloan innovations that save building owners billions of gallons of water every year? Talk to Sloan!

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