Power Of Partnerships In Sports Greening

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Courtesy of BioCycle Magazine

Professional and collegiate sports teams, and their leagues, develop vital partnerships to green their venues, operations and supply chain, while engaging fans to adopt sustainable behaviors.

An overarching theme of the 2016 Green Sports Alliance Summit, June 28-30 in Houston, Texas, is The Power of Partnerships. “Throughout the program speakers will share how unique partnerships are helping amplify the sports greening movement across the globe and positioning the sports industry to make significant change in the communities where we live and play,” states the introduction to the agenda for the 3-day Summit.

“Partnerships have been at the core of sports greening initiatives,” notes Scott Jenkins, Chair of the Green Sports Alliance Board of Directors, and General Manager of Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia. “To do anything, it takes a team of people who are committed and have a vision. And it requires bringing in partners with different expertise but who share common visions and goals. Those partners include the supply chain, food service, housekeeping, utilities and the community.”

Jenkins’ career in stadium operations includes being an early adopter of sports greening. “My involvement started with the very early days of the green sports movement in 2003-2004 in Philadelphia, where I was vice-president of operations at Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles,” he recalls. “The owner of the Eagles partnered with the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Sexton Group, which creates sustainability platforms, to start the team’s Go Green program. As VP of stadium operations, I knew recycling was important, e.g., bottles, cans and papers. And I was familiar with water and energy conservation. What I didn’t know were all the things that sports do and can do in regard to greening, and the potential to use the power of the teams to influence behavior and change the experience people have at events.”

Composter Receives Jackie Robinson Award

Sixty-nine years ago, on April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s (MLB) color barrier when he made his historic major league debut. Every year on April 15, MLB honors Robinson’s legacy by celebrating his life, values, and accomplishments. All uniformed personnel throughout MLB proudly wear Robinson’s “42,” to demonstrate a powerful, unified, tribute to the Jackie Robinson legacy. At the Pittsburgh Pirates home game on April 15, 2016, Carla Castagnero, owner and president of AgRecycle — and a lifelong Pirates fan — was awarded the 10th Annual Jackie Robinson Most Valuable Diverse Business Partner Award. The award recognizes those partners who exhibit and continue the legacy of Jackie Robinson. AgRecycle is a Pittsburgh-based organics collection and composting company founded in 1991. It has been collecting food scraps, soiled paper and compostable bioplastics from PNC Park, home of the Pirates, since 2009.

Market Transformation

Those pioneering years eventually led to the founding of the Green Sports Alliance (GSA) in 2010, and launch of the annual Green Sports Alliance Summit in 2011. Today, Alliance members represent more than 300 professional and collegiate sports teams and venues from 20 different leagues and 14 countries. All National Hockey League and Major League Baseball teams are members. Concurrent with growth of the GSA has been a market transformation that has lowered the bar for teams and venues to go green. “The transformation is dramatic,” notes Jenkins, “and with GSA, it has happened across three major platforms: Greening team venues and operations, greening of the supply chain, and engaging fans and using sports as a lever to change behavior.”

He adds that the best examples of this market transformation are in the zero waste, renewable energy and lighting sectors. “Ten years ago, if a venue had a 10 to 15 percent waste diversion rate, that was pretty good. But innovation on the part of food service partners and compostable products suppliers opened up the opportunity to make zero waste not just aspirational, but achievable. When teams and venues are not mindful of what they are buying, or are limited on what is available, it is hard to envision how to change. Today, you can get anything you need for food service in a compostable version. Teams are not limited in thinking 30 percent diversion is the norm. Seventy percent is good, and 90 percent is doable.”

Jenkins emphasizes that his success on the zero waste front was due in large part to partnerships. After his time with the Eagles, he joined the Seattle Mariners as vice president of Safeco Field ballpark operations. “It was a great situation, with Cedar Grove Composting as our organics processor, Center Plate as our food service operator and Aramark providing cleaning services,” he says. “We were able to do cool things around Zero Waste that I never thought would be possible. We could not have done it without those partners.”

On the energy side, renewable energy has become affordable, Jenkins notes. And the performance and durability of LED lighting has led to its utilization at many venues. “In short, sports greening would not be where it is today without innovation in the supply chain and the marketplace,” notes Jenkins. “Solutions are available that make sustainability a no brainer. Greening has become a matter of will. Teams and venues need to be deliberate about taking on sustainability initiatives. It’s hard initially, and can cost money. But making these changes can also save money.”

Mercedes-Benz Stadium

Jenkins joined AMB Sports & Entertainment Group, owner of the Atlanta Falcons and the Atlanta United FC professional soccer team, in February 2014 as General Manager of Mercedes-Benz Stadium (MBS), which will open in 2017. Arthur M. Blank, Chair of AMB Group, LLC (the parent organization), wanted to push the envelope of sustainable operations at MBS, and hired Jenkins to take the lead. The goal of the new stadium is to receive the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Platinum certification, the highest level available.

“We were originally tracking for LEED Gold, but are getting closer to Platinum, which we are now pursuing,” explains Jenkins. “We will get every available LEED point for water, building in 40 percent more water efficiency than the Georgia Dome, current home of the Falcons. There will be a 34 percent reduction in energy, and we have 4,000 solar panels deployed as part of the project. And Levy Restaurants, MBS’s food service contractor, will be sourcing farm-to-table and organic offerings to serve throughout the venue.” An LED lighting system will use 60 percent less electricity than the more traditionally used metal halides; a retractable roof that when open, will maximize the amount of outdoor lighting.

The storm water system will have capacity to handle over 2 million gallons at any one time. Captured rainwater from the stadium and site will flow to a one million gallon storm water vault that feeds a 680,000-gallon cistern. The water will be used for the stadium’s cooling towers and landscape irrigation. “The neighborhood where MBS is located has been subject to combined sewer overflows (CSOs) for a long time,” says Jenkins, caused by storm water overwhelming the sewer pipes. “This system should have a big impact on mitigating CSOs.”

MBS is seeking a composting facility that can process its organics stream. “Not having a commercial composter lined up yet is the biggest hurdle we have,” he adds. “A lot of folks are working on making that happen, but that infrastructure is not available yet.”

Career Training And Placement

The Westside neighborhood where MBS is located has faced economic hardships for many years. About 70 percent of the housing stock is not occupied. “Martin Luther King lived in that neighborhood, which has a rich history,” notes Jenkins. “Both Morehead and Spellman Colleges are nearby. The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation is very committed to helping revitalize the Westside community.” That commitment includes a $15 million investment in Westside Works, a community development organization, to launch a career training and job placement program about two years ago. “Already, over 100 people have been trained to work in construction, including at MBS,” he adds.

When MBS issued a request for proposals for a food service provider, one respondent included establishment of a culinary arts class to train neighborhood residents for jobs as chefs at MBS as well as other venues. That provider, Levy Restaurants, won the bid and offers a culinary course through Westside Works. The 8-week course, launched in August 2014, introduces students to kitchen safety protocols, international cuisine, baking and pastry, and restaurant simulations. “The program finishes with a food certification exam [ServSafe™] administered by Levy Restaurants that tests the students in food safety and handling,” explains Juliet Peters, Culinary Instructor who designed the class. “So far, 100 percent of the students are placed for employment, either with Levy Restaurants or at other dining establishments in metro Atlanta. The certification pass rate is close to 90 percent, as some students struggle with literacy.” Peters assists graduates with job placement. Westside Works offers computer and literacy classes that help students round out their skills.

Many students in the Westside Works career training programs (six in total, including culinary) have experienced homelessness and incarceration, and want to earn a living wage to support themselves and their families. “Mr. Blank recognized the need to identify, and be realistic about, the population Westside Works is servicing,” explains Peters. “For example, I describe our culinary class as 50 percent working with food, and the other half having nothing to do with food. That portion teaches soft skills — students knowing how they are getting to class and getting here on time. If they can’t get to class on time — which is 5 days a week for 8 weeks — or they constantly have to leave early, it is likely they will be the same way in a the job.”

Read the full article in BioCycle Magazine

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