SBJ/September 19-25, 2011/Facilities

A carbon-neutral Farmers Field? How about carbon intelligent?

Don Muret
AEG’s chief environmental consultant for Farmers Field says project officials are confident the proposed NFL stadium would be a world leader in sustainability.

But carbon neutral? No way, according to Allen Hershkowitz, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental action group, and a green sports expert who has worked with the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB.

Why is the terminology important? Last week, the California Legislature approved a bill to expedite legal challenges tied to the stadium’s Environmental Impact Report. California law requires such reports for all new construction in the state.

In exchange for that protection, AEG and California legislators supporting the project jointly pledged Farmers Field would become “one of the only” NFL stadiums in the U.S. to have a net-zero carbon footprint.

The fact is, there are no carbon-neutral arenas and stadiums in North America, and given the tremendous amounts of energy expended by those large buildings, such a breakthrough won’t be happening any time soon, environmental experts said.

“We don’t use the term ‘carbon neutral,’” Hershkowitz said. “It is very difficult to certify any operation, much less a 72,000-seat football stadium, as carbon neutral. We prefer to use ‘carbon intelligent’ or ‘carbon sensitive.’”

“‘Carbon neutral’ implies zero carbon-related impact on stadium operations,” he said. “We can’t make that type of guarantee.”

By touting carbon neutrality, AEG put a target on its back for critics to “dig deep and find that one little area you missed” to reach a distant milestone, said Chris DeVolder, sustainability coordinator for 360 Architecture, design architect for MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.

The joint venture operating one-year-old MetLife, home of the Jets and Giants, is working with the EPA to track and reduce carbon in the operation of the facility, under a memorandum of understanding established during the stadium design phase, DeVolder said.

There are certainly ways for AEG to come close to its goal for developing a carbon-neutral stadium, and the key is to set boundaries for what can realistically be attained, experts said.

With about 80 percent of the stadium’s greenhouse gas emissions estimated to come from vehicles traveling to and from Farmers Field, AEG would promote alternative modes of fan transportation in a market that relies heavily on automobiles, company officials said.

The plan is for AEG to buy carbon offsets to compensate for emissions it can’t control, said Jennifer Regan, AEG’s global sustainability manager.

GETTY IMAGES
The iPhones of Texas are upon us, but smartphone users are having trouble placing in-stadium orders in Austin.
Those EPA-certified offsets could include installing solar panels or wind turbines at the stadium or at a government building or school elsewhere in town, Hershkowitz said.

TEXAS HOLDUP: New technology for ordering food from smartphones at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium is going through some hiccups, mostly because of the immense size of the facility, according to officials at the University of Texas.

Sodexo, the school’s concessionaire, expanded its deal with tech vendor Bypass Lane to cover the Terrace Club on Six, the 2,400-seat private club in the north end zone of the 100,000-seat stadium. Bypass had already been in use at Frank Erwin Center, the school’s 16,755-seat arena.

For the first two football games, Terrace Club members have had trouble loading the application and placing their orders after the stadium is full, said Kurt Westveld, assistant athletic director for development for the Longhorn Foundation, the group in charge of the club.

Upgrades need to be made for greater bandwidth and additional Wi-Fi locations before the technology can work to its full capabilities, Westveld said. Other stadiums, including NFL buildings, are facing the same issues with smartphone technology, stadium managers said.

Club members that have used Bypass Lane successfully told the foundation they appreciate the benefit and the convenience of being able to order food by phone for pickup at a private concession stand, he said.

After the season, Texas officials will consider investing in the upgrades, Westveld said.

Don Muret can be reached at dmuret@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @breakground.
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