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Levi’s Stadium will set a new benchmark for green in sports after the San Francisco 49ers’ facility opens in August 2014.
The $1.3 billion project in Santa Clara is poised to become the first NFL stadium to earn LEED certification for new construction. It will prove to be a milestone for a building type that typically expends massive amounts of energy and creates huge amounts of waste on game days.
Levi’s Stadium continues to take shape in Santa Clara, Calif.
Photo by:111th Photography
After the stadium opens, it must go through a review by the U.S. Green Building Council, the nonprofit administering LEED, before it is officially certified.
It looks to be a safe bet. As of late September, Levi’s Stadium had earned 42 points toward achieving LEED Gold status under Version 2.2, the old scoring system in effect in 2006 when the project was registered, said Robert Rayborn, vice president at Turner Construction.
Since that time, adjustments have been made to LEED’s scoring system weighed in favor of carbon footprint reduction, said Tambra Thorson, an LEED specialist and interior designer with HNTB, the stadium’s architect.
A minimum of 60 points is now required to earn LEED Gold for commercial projects, but the 49ers’ facility is grandfathered into the old scoring system, said Rayborn, the project’s co-director.
Regardless of the scoring system, LEED Gold is the second-highest level of certification under guidelines established by the U.S. Green Building Council.
In Santa Clara, the York family, the 49ers’ owners, drove the effort to go for Gold, according to Tim Cahill,
A few LEED points were automatic by meeting the state’s green building codes such as Title 24, which is connected to energy conservation. “Some of these things are mandated in California but the 49ers wanted to push it further on the board from the very beginning,” Cahill said.
The 49ers are privately financing most of the stadium construction and they will operate the facility on their own after leaving Candlestick Park, their home since 1971. Candlestick is owned and operated by the city of San Francisco.
By taking on greater responsibility for running the stadium, the York family felt it was important to push the envelope on sustainability to be a good corporate citizen, said Jim Mercurio, 49ers vice president of stadium operations and security.
“We’re not ‘greenwashing’ here — it’s not something we want to be a part of just for the sake of doing it,” said Mercurio, using a term to describe some businesses that spend more dollars on marketing sustainability over its actual implementation. “The Yorks believe in it.”
The construction site itself gave the 49ers’ project a head start on LEED. The 68,500-seat stadium taps into the Santa Clara Valley Water District that covers the entire south Bay Area. The district’s water recycling system removes the need to use fresh water to flush toilets and irrigate landscaped spaces. The system is already used to maintain a group of soccer fields behind the stadium and it will make a huge difference in water savings for the 49ers, Thorson said.
In addition, nearby parking lots tied to Great America theme park, city garages and a local college cover more than 21,000 spaces, eliminating the need to build new parking facilities. The project scores LEED points for not having to “lay down concrete” to build new lots, Mercurio said.
Stadium planners were also fortunate that the site is within walking distance of four public transit lines, including Amtrak and Caltrain, a commuter rail line that runs along the peninsula from San Francisco to San Jose. Those travel options also score LEED points. The 49ers’ research shows that up to 25 percent of their fans are expected to use public transportation to get to the games, doubling the 10 percent to 12 percent of fans who currently use it to get to Candlestick, Mercurio said.
A green roof featuring native vegetation will help insulate the stadium’s suites and reduce stormwater runoff.
Photo by:San Francisco 49ers
At the stadium, the 20,000-square-foot green roof powered by a solar canopy above the suite tower on the building’s west side will feature a large display of native vegetation that will help insulate the suites and reduce stormwater runoff.
The 49ers are considering using the green roof to grow herbs to use in the stadium dishes served by Centerplate, the stadium’s concessionaire, Mercurio said. In that respect, it would cut down on the food materials trucked in from the East Coast, he said.
The solar canopy and the three solar array-covered bridges that fans will use to walk around the stadium will help offset energy consumed at the stadium during 49ers games. NRG Energy, the company installing the solar panels, is one of the stadium’s 10 founding partners.
One signature green element that has not drawn much attention is the redwood paneling inside the owner’s club, the stadium’s most exclusive premium space on the east side, opposite the suite tower.
The surface was reclaimed from the roof of an old zeppelin hangar at Moffett Field, a federal airstrip near Mountain View, Calif. The native material provides a point of reference to the region’s prolific redwood trees, an iconic symbol of Northern California.
“We didn’t want the stadium to be just about sports,” Thorson said. “The intent was to pick up on cultural pieces that influenced design.”
Amway Center stands alone as the first newly constructed NBA arena to earn LEED certification, the result of a promise made by the Orlando Magic and local government officials to develop one of the most sustainable facilities in the major leagues.
The $480 million arena opened in October 2010. Six months later, the U.S. Green Building Council, the nonprofit administering LEED, announced that Amway Center made LEED Gold, two levels above basic certification.
Populous, the arena’s architect, construction manager Hunt Construction and program manager Turner Construction were charged with making that happen on the front end of development. Together, they ensured the arena was built with more than 20 percent recycled materials and 30 percent regionally sourced materials, saving costs tied to producing and transporting those items.
The arena scored a total of 42 LEED points, including multiple points tied to its water systems, including the installation of low-flow toilets and faucets that saves 1.3 million gallons of water annually.
In addition, gathering rainwater from the arena’s roof and condensation from the facility’s chiller equipment is used
Features include a reflective roof to assist with cooling costs, and a system for gathering rainwater from the roof.
Like other sustainable buildings, Amway Center’s office spaces have lighting systems with motion detectors that automatically turn lights off when there is nobody working in those areas, Martins said.
The green design extends to the Geico Garage across the street with charging stations for vehicles and bike racks to reduce the facility’s carbon footprint.
The construction site itself scored LEED points by redeveloping an existing portion of downtown Orlando without having to clear land and build new roads and other infrastructure.
Unlike other sports facilities, Amway Center decided against installing solar panels after the development team determined it would be cost prohibitive, adding 10 percent to the cost of a project mostly paid for by the city, Martins said.
“The city still gets a savings on energy usage, whether it’s the water systems or the power systems,” he said.
The Portland Trail Blazers’ Moda Center sits in one of the greenest cities on the planet so it stands to reason that the team is one of the leading sports teams in sustainability strategies.
The LEED Gold certification of the Moda Center is testament to the Blazers’ approach to sustainability, but the benefits lie not just in environmental responsibility but also in economics.
“Whether you believe in climate change or not, this is good business,” Zeulner said.
To reduce the Moda Center’s carbon footprint, the Blazers have installed energy efficient water and electric systems, including low-pressure plumbing fixtures and low-energy lighting that has cut their energy and water usage by 30 percent.
The Blazers also are focused on recycling, with about 90 percent of the team’s 2 million pounds of annual waste diverted out of landfills and into recycling and composting bins. There are no garbage cans in the Moda Center. Instead, the team replaced the 300 trash bins with recycling stations throughout the arena.
“It is important to engage fans,” Zeulner said. “Fans decide what goes in what bins.”
The Living Wall highlights the arena's sustainability efforts.
Photo by:Portland Trail Blazers
But it is not just recycling and reducing the carbon footprint that is part of the team’s sustainability efforts.
Concessions stands are being stocked with organic and hormone-free food from local restaurants and vendors.
Currently, 90 percent of the arena’s food is locally or organically grown, with the goal set at 100 percent. Nearly all of the team’s purchasing deals are done with vendors that can supply compostable and recyclable products.
The team also encourages alternative transportation. It supplies bike shelters and 26 electronic vehicle charging stations, and encourages fans to carpool and use public transportation to get to games.
The sustainability agenda is so aggressive that even the smallest, back-of-the-house environmental improvements are addressed. Consider that the arena’s housekeeping crews use non-toxic cleaning supplies.
“These are good business decisions,” Zeulner said of the Blazers’ sustainability efforts. “There is a community engagement strategy. That connection is another goal to realize. It is who we are.”
Pro sports facilities gaining the U.S. Green Building’s LEED certification have now started to become somewhat commonplace, as more than two dozen venues have earned it. Plenty of collegiate programs have also joined in the conservation push in recent years.
Instead, their challenge was to apply LEED standards commonly used for other commercial buildings into a sports venue, and do it within a project that already was under a fast-track construction schedule, had a capped budget, and was on a brownfield site. In doing so, Nationals Park when it opened in 2008 became the first major sports facility to gain the certification.
The ballpark earned its LEED status through a mix of water reduction
A green roof minimizes heat released back to the environment.
Photo by:Washington Nationals
The Nationals Park impact, however, can even more fully be felt by newer ballparks such as Marlins Park and Target Field, also designed by HOK Sport and its successor Populous, that have built upon the Washington template to reach even higher LEED certifications.
“It was probably one of the most fun things we’ve ever done,” Susan Klumpp, HOK management principal and a key figure in the company’s sustainable design efforts, said of the Nationals Park project. “It was certainly a bit of a challenge, and given some of the constraints we had, we had to think really creatively about how the credits would be earned.”
The NHL nominated Xcel Energy Center this year for the Beyond Sport Award for excellence in sustainability. It didn’t win, but the home arena of the Minnesota Wild has come a long way since management first started establishing goals five years ago to reduce the facility’s carbon footprint and boost its energy efficiency.
Last year, the arena and its adjacent convention center complex, St. Paul RiverCentre, generated 65 percent less trash than it did in 2008. The complex is 20 percent more energy efficient than similar facilities in the region.
These can be high-tech and low-tech. The RiverCentre has a large solar thermal array, built with a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, that generates hot water. The arena has a 1-1 ratio of trash cans to bins for recycling everything from cans, bottles and cardboard to cooking grease and fluorescent bulbs. Xcel Energy Center has strict guidelines for purchasing environmentally preferable products, such as recycled-content paper products and high-efficiency electronics and computer equipment.
To conserve water, restroom sinks have automatic or self-closing faucets, and commodes and urinals have automatic flushers. The lights in the parking lots have been upgraded to energy-efficient. Security and operations staffers routinely check each area of the arena to make sure that any unnecessary lighting is turned off. When Wild games and concerts are completed, arena cleaners make multiple passes through the seating areas in order to sort the trash.
In all premium areas and lounges at the arena, all disposables are compostable or recyclable.
Ibister and his staff evaluate their efforts, discuss new ideas and share best practices with colleagues around the NHL in a group led by Omar Mitchell, the league’s director of sustainability.
“With all of these initiatives, you have to lead with your food and beverage partners, which in our case is Levy Restaurants,” Ibister said. “You also have to lead with your fans. This has been a collective effort and a great source of pride.”
If any of the 105,000 fans who pack Ohio Stadium on a fall Saturday want to throw something away, they’ll have to look awfully hard for a simple trash can.
Those don’t exist at the home of Ohio State’s football team. What those fans will find are 75 zero-waste stations throughout the concourses.
Ohio State has taken a zero-waste approach at Ohio Stadium.
Photo by:Getty Images
Sodexo worked with the school on serving food items in trays that would decompose when the program started in 2011. Levy has since moved into that role as the school’s food and beverage provider.
Now, in its third season of using the zero-waste approach, the Buckeyes are diverting 90 percent or more of their waste from home football games away from landfills.
“The hope is that we can use this as a test for the rest of campus,” said Corey Hawkey, Ohio State’s sustainability coordinator.
Zero-waste initiatives are starting to spread to college athletic departments across the country. Hawkey credited Colorado for being a leader in recycling and composting efforts, while many others like Kansas and Arizona State are embarking on efforts to leave no trash behind from their sporting events.
“Sustainability makes sense for business and economic purposes,” Hawkey said.
Robin Harris, executive director of the Ivy League, said one of her missions is to prove that there is a sound business case for sustainability measures.
Several Ivy League schools have plans to reduce waste. Princeton and Harvard have campuswide conservation efforts, including investments in solar energy.
The Ivy League’s official website is one of the few conference sites with a dedicated page to sustainability. The Ivy Green Initiative is a partnership between the conference and the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental adviser to U.S. pro sports leagues. They’re working together to provide environmental resources and guidance for all Ivy League athletic departments. That could include solar panels, water conservation and zero-waste efforts.
“It’s not just about athletics, it’s about what we can do across campus,” Harris said.
Those trends are becoming more common across the country. At Arizona State, the school has installed solar panels at 10 different sports facilities, making the appropriately named Sun Devils the leader in solar, according to the NRDC.
North Texas has taken a similarly aggressive approach with wind by putting up three 121-foot-tall turbines next to its football stadium for power.
On the conservation front, NRDC credits Minnesota for saving $410,000 annually on its power bill across eight athletic facilities for measures such as lights that are activated by motion detectors.
“What we like is that it gives us a well-coordinated platform to talk to the schools about,” Harris said of the Ivy League’s partnership with the NRDC.
Ohio State has found its zero-waste program to be a sponsorship platform as well. Working with its marketing rights holder, IMG College, the Buckeyes have brought on Rumpke Consolidated, a waste hauling company, and the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio to help fund the zero-waste efforts.
The most significant cost for the program comes in the form of manpower. Ohio State in the past hired 65 to 70 high school students to act as educators at each zero-waste station. As Buckeye fans have become more aware and understanding of the bins, fewer workers have been necessary.
This season, Ohio State decided to hire only 35 students to work the bins.
“The fans have caught on,” Hawkey said. “It’s funny. We started this by following in Colorado’s footsteps. There has been an explosion of other efforts like this. They’re popping up all over. We’re going to see it grow exponentially.”
In 2008, tennis icon Billie Jean King set up a meeting between the U.S. Tennis Association and the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmentalist action group. King had launched GreenSlam, an initiative to use tennis to promote efforts to protect the environment, the previous year.
King and GreenSlam urged the USTA to meet with the NRDC to see what green initiatives could be put into place to reduce the environmental impact of hosting the U.S. Open.
“I went to them, and I said, ‘We’ve got to do this,’” King recalled. “I said, ‘Let’s have a meeting.’ They said, ‘Oh, OK.’ But if someone doesn’t make the meeting happen … well, you know how that goes.”
Cincinnati Reds outfielder Jay Bruce carries unwanted computer equipment as part of a Players for the Planet recycling drive in April.
Photo by:Cincinnati Reds
King was one of a handful of athletes at that time who were speaking out for the environment or working on environmental causes, said Allen Hershkowitz, a senior scientist at the NRDC and the director of its Sports Greening Project. NBA players Steve Nash and Elton Brand were other athlete pioneers for environmental causes early on, he said.
The NRDC has targeted sports specifically, Hershkowitz said, because perhaps more than any other industry, sports has the potential to influence average Americans to become more environmentally conscious.
“Outside of the family, the most influential role models are athletes and entertainers,” Hershkowitz said.
But, although athletes are young, they have been behind older team and league executives when it comes to speaking out and doing things for the environment, Hershkowitz said.
“Bud Selig is the greatest environmentalist in professional sports,” Hershkowitz said of the retiring MLB
But a growing number of athletes have, in recent years, stepped up with their own programs. Some examples:
■ Edmonton Oilers defenseman Andrew Ference helped the NHL Players’ Association create the Carbon Neutral Challenge in which NHL players bought carbon credits to offset the carbon emissions caused by their frequent travel.
■ Snowboarder Kimmy Fasani is part of the group Protect our Winters and speaks out on small things people can do to help the environment, such as using energy-conserving light bulbs and buying local and organic produce.
■ Snowboarder Hannah Teter started the charity Hannah’s Gold, which raises money by selling maple syrup to provide clean water to a poor village in Africa.
■ Baltimore Orioles outfielder Chris Dickerson and former major league pitcher Jack Cassel now have 60 former or current professional athletes signed up for their group Players for the Planet, a nonprofit organization dedicated to using athletes to educate people on how to use best environmental practices in sports and in life.
Players for the Planet started out as a conversation between Cassel and Dickerson, who both grew up in Southern California and were concerned about the environment. They realized, Cassel said, that as professional athletes, they used about six plastic bottles of water a day to hydrate themselves. Doing the math, Cassel said, they calculated that MLB players, as a group, were using about 729,000 bottles a season.
Andrew Ference worked on an effort to offset carbon emissions caused by the frequent travel among NHL players.
Photo by:Getty Images
Now the organization is focused on getting more athletes to speak out about what people can do for the environment, Dickerson said. “It’s a celebrity-based society now and people look to celebrities and athletes. We have such a tremendous platform now.”
But Dickerson isn’t just looking for any athlete. “I am looking for guys who are just conscious about it and who don’t drive enormous SUVs and cut down on the amount of waste they use,” Dickerson said.
Most of the 60 members of Players for the Planet are baseball players, but Dickerson said he wants to expand into different sports.
Teams, leagues and sports associations have the ability to institute environmental change on a larger scale than athletes, but athletes may have the ability to cause people to change just by speaking out, Hershkowitz said. It will take millions of people making changes in their behavior to begin to tackle the problem, Hershkowitz said, and when a superstar athlete speaks, people listen.
Earlier this year, he noted, New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter expressed concern at the Davos World Economic Forum about climate change, saying he was in New York during Hurricane Sandy. “That went around the world,” Hershkowitz said.
Editor's note: This story is revised from the print edition.
On paper and beyond, the Portland Timbers embrace their name and the green-friendly region they call home.
Look no further than Jeld-Wen Field, the Major League Soccer franchise’s home field. Oregon-based Jeld-Wen makes and sells doors and windows, which, of course, requires wood. As for the Timbers, the team name derives from the main industry responsible for building the Northwest.
All of which inspired the naming-rights company and the soccer team to form a partnership with nonprofit Friends of Trees. Since 2011, the Timbers, Jeld-Wen and Friends of Trees have planted a tree for every goal the team scores.
Portland Timbers forward Darlington Nagbe tags a newly planted tree.
Photo by:Craig Mitcheldyer / Portland Timbers
Portland serves as one of the most prominent examples of a trend gaining momentum across leagues and franchises: using sports marketing relationships to tell the story and benefits of green-friendly living at home and at work.
NASCAR hosted former vice president and “An Inconvenient Truth” Academy Award-winner Al Gore at its annual green summit this year. This in a sport where most of the drivers and executives lean far to the right of the Democrat who sounded the environmental alarm long before it became mainstream.
Executives with companies, leagues and teams say green campaigns have come far enough that politics need not be involved. Instead, the messages center on nonthreatening themes of leaving the world cleaner and better for future generations and saving money and waste in the present while doing good.
Consider the work of NASCAR and Coca-Cola. The soft drink company concentrates on 28 race weekends in the Sprint Cup Series each year. With 10,000 Coke-provided recycling bins at the speedways, the company keeps 5 million bottles and cans out of landfills, said Mary Anne Biddiscombe, Coca-Cola recycling director of customer solutions and consumer education.
Recycling ties into Coke’s business, to be sure, but the sports-related campaigns go beyond urging fans to keep plastic and cans out of the trash. Several years ago, the company started working with its hometown baseball team, the Atlanta Braves, to raise awareness of the uses for recycled PET plastic drink bottles. That plastic makes carpet, Dri-Fit shirts and other apparel. At Turner Field, the Braves’ home field, stadium workers wear shirts and other clothes made from recycled bottles, a point emphasized with a logo on the sleeve.
The Philadelphia Eagles, with an emphasis on reducing waste and energy costs at Lincoln Financial Field, stand out
Coca-Cola has provided 10,000 recycling bins at NASCAR speedways.
Sports executives and marketing experts say the biggest shift in the sustainability push involves broader green campaigns aimed at raising awareness and action on a number of environmental fronts.
Greg Busch, executive vice president at GMR Marketing, sees more room for expansion. Busch attended the most recent conference of the Green Sports Alliance, an organization that provides a forum for sports industry executives to swap ideas on sustainability.
Companies with business interests in the environment (utilities, recycling firms and so on) and those with related ties (Coke, Waste Management) already use sports in effective ways. “But to fans it hasn’t become external-facing,” Busch said of making an even stronger case between conservation and benefits. “What’s in it for us? Does it put a better product on the floor?”
Others also see ample room for conveying the green mentality. For example, when a corporate sponsor hands out product samples at a stadium, arena or other team-related event, the “massive sampling should be doing some massive recycling,” said Adam Zimmerman, marketing president at CSE.
From mobile tours to stand-alone events, Zimmerman sees more involvement in the initial talks and planning with company experts in sustainability and recycling. Such shifts in thinking make for more effective environmental elements in all aspects of marketing and sponsorship.
Companies more often are making sure they share any potential benefits and savings with their sports partners. Zimmerman points to Southern Co., a PGA Tour partner, which works with the tour to increase its energy efficiency.
Office Depot, part of the Green Sports Alliance, in 2012 started an annual $5,000 green makeover for one team or property. The Timbers won the first makeover, upgrading to greener supplies (copiers, pens, paper and so on) and adding The HON Co.’s eco-conscious office furniture. Beyond those changes, the office-supply retailer took advantage of Portland’s bike-friendly culture and began using a bicycle delivery company to shuttle supplies from Office Depot to the stadium, reducing the carbon footprint.
Molly Ray, environmental solutions manager at Office Depot, said the Timbers understood the benefits right away.
“I don’t have to tell them green’s important — they live it,” she said. “If I’m working with the Cleveland Indians or the Pittsburgh Steelers, it might be a little different conversation. … But you don’t have to be the greenest person in the world. [It’s about taking a] step in the right direction.”
Erik Spanberg writes for the Charlotte Business Journal, an affiliated publication.