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Volume 23 No. 17
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At AEG, benefits for business drive new projects

There is a perception that the increasing emphasis on “green” practices across the industry is about social responsibility and fostering goodwill. Those are nice byproducts of a sustainability initiative, but John Marler, AEG’s senior director of energy and environment systems, doesn’t lead with those when he makes the case for a major infrastructure project. Instead, green takes on a different meaning.

“Every project we do — from an energy efficiency perspective to a water conservation perspective to a waste recycling perspective — always starts with building a business case for taking some action,” Marler said. “You might argue whether it’s the right thing to do to be a zero-waste facility or reduce your [greenhouse gas] emissions

New LED lighting at Rabobank Arena in Bakersfield.
Photo by: AEG
— some people might not even believe that’s valid scientifically. But if you come to someone with a business case that says, ‘If you invest in this you’re going to make your money back in 18 months, and then thereafter you’re going to save X dollars per year,’ people are not going to argue with that, they’re just going to do it.”

For some projects, like LED lighting, that’s a relatively easy case to make. LED technology requires a significantly lower wattage, so it’s easy to multiply that difference by an estimate of how often the lights are on to determine electricity cost savings. Marler also stresses maintenance and operational savings associated with switching to LED lights, which need to be replaced less often, reducing labor and disposal costs.

This logic was the basis for the decision in Bakersfield, Calif., to install a new lighting system at Rabobank Arena last year. The city, which appropriated $330,433 for installation, estimated a savings of $35,229 in annual energy costs alone, making it a practical medium- and long-term move.

When it comes to installing waste-reducing HVAC equipment, however, making the numbers work financially is far more difficult. Because of the cost of the equipment and complexity of the systems, Marler said, it often makes the most sense to upgrade piecemeal rather than do a total overhaul.

Projects like these help push AEG toward its 2020 goals, which were established in 2010 as part of the company’s 1Earth initiative. AEG, which owns, manages or operates more than 120 venues around the world, releases an annual sustainability report each summer to gauge its progress.

In this year’s report, the company plans to outline a new set of goals that will both change the way the company measures its progress and promote new areas of emphasis. The change involves a shift from what are called intensity-based metrics, which reflect consumption on a per-attendee basis, to absolute metrics.

As an example of why the absolute metrics will be a more accurate way to gauge the company’s footprint, Marler pointed to Los Angeles Kings games at Staples Center. The amount of energy needed to keep the ice at an optimal temperature is dictated by the weather outside, not the number of fans in the stands. Similarly, running the lighting and sound for a concert is the same whether there is a crowd of 20,000 or 5,000.

The new goals also reflect the company’s decision to focus more on water conservation and carbon emissions, two of its biggest environmental impacts. With respect to water conservation, one of AEG’s most notable recent efforts came at the L.A. Live mixed-use development. A sensible target due to the region’s water shortage, it also provided a challenge.

“When it was built we had waterless urinals, low-flush toilets, artificial turf and things like that,” Marler said. “You’re starting from a relatively efficient base, so it’s harder to achieve reductions of already efficient systems.”

The breakthrough came in the form of a water-softener system at the central cooling tower, which AEG estimates

will reduce L.A. Live’s water usage by 1.8 million gallons annually. This project, along with landscaping changes and housekeeping training, led to an 11 percent reduction in year-over-year water usage in 2015.

One area of focus for the company is getting sponsors more involved in sustainability efforts. While AEG and its venues have traditionally found success partnering with energy companies and similar operations where there’s an obvious connection, it is trying to get sponsors in more categories involved.

“It hasn’t really hit the prime time, but it’s definitely something that comes up in almost every project we do,” Marler said. “The triple win would be it saves money, it saves the environment, and we’ve got a sponsor participating in the project.”

Alex Silverman writes for sister publication SportsBusiness Daily.