Zero waste sports stadiums are already in play

Published on: 
6 Oct 2022
Susie Westrup Vincent

Photos courtesy of Mercedes-Benz Stadium

The LEED Silver Nationals Park baseball stadium in Washington, D.C., was one of the early examples of how sports and entertainment venues can go green. Athletic facilities, their teams and leagues, fan demand and even musical performers can further influence the movement for cleaner, healthier and more environmentally sustainable buildings, events and communities.

There are now over 100 LEED-certified collegiate and professional arenas or stadiums around the world, which have met rigorous design, construction and operations criteria, and more are rising to the challenge of sustainable operations, thanks to the Green Sports Alliance (GSA) and its Play to Zero program in partnership with GBCI’s Arc platform.

"The Green Sports Alliance was inspired by leaders taking action on the road to transitioning to zero,” explains Roger McClendon, GSA's executive director. “With global reach, the sports and entertainment industry can use the Play to Zero program to measure, mitigate, recognize and celebrate environmental impact across waste, water and energy operations towards net zero. Our partnership with Arc has accelerated our ability to customize Play to Zero to support events, teams, clubs, leagues and venues. We are proud to collaborate with Major League Baseball, AEG, Reverb, Pac-12, State Farm Arena, Oak View Group, Mercedes Benz Stadium, Lumen Field, Minnesota Twins and many others, as we Play to Zero."

Play to Zero participants are recognized at three levels: Player, Leader and Champion. Venues and organizations can level up by creating a net zero energy, water and waste roadmap and improving performance: a 30% improvement for Leader and a 50% improvement for Champion. For venues and organizations interested in improving their performance in the waste category, TRUE certification for zero waste can be that road map.

In Atlanta, State Farm Arena used the TRUE for Events certification guidance to achieve TRUE certification during Game 4 of the 2021 Atlanta Hawks playoffs. In April 2022, the arena demonstrated sustained performance over 12 months at more than 90% diversion from landfill, incineration and the environment, to achieve TRUE Platinum certification for their ongoing operations.

“We’re proud to be the world’s first sports and entertainment venue to achieve TRUE platinum level certification in operating zero waste,” says Sofi Armenakian, head of sustainability for the Atlanta Hawks and State Farm Arena. “We’ve seen tremendous interest from our neighbors, from the city and across leagues in how we accomplished this milestone and continue to innovate in our forever journey.”

TRUE Precertification is an optional, incremental step toward zero waste that current Play to Zero Champion Mercedes-Benz Stadium achieved in June 2022, making the TRUE rating system a part of their path to zero waste and, ultimately, TRUE certification.

“We are excited that we have earned TRUE precertification, which is a major milestone on our journey to becoming a fully certified zero waste facility,” said Mercedes-Benz Stadium Chief Operating Officer Dietmar Exler. “Since construction, Mercedes-Benz Stadium has been committed to creating a sustainable environment both in and around the stadium to reduce our overall environmental footprint. Pre-certification is the next step in our overall journey.”

For the sports and entertainment arenas, this achievement helps them to meet an increasing demand from not only public opinion and fans, but also musical artists. Coldplay and Billie Eilish, recent Mercedes Benz Stadium and State Farm Arena acts, respectively, have pledged to reduce their touring carbon footprint, preferring to perform in more sustainable venues and support zero waste events, even making it a part of their contracts.

“Now more than ever, the need to prioritize zero waste strategies within our buildings, organizations and communities is abundantly clear—so it’s exciting to see the sports industry making bold moves in zero waste initiatives, while bringing fans along for the journey,” notes LEED Fellow Carlie Bullock-Jones of EcoWorks Studio, a Green Sports Alliance board member. “We are thrilled to be at the forefront of the zero waste movement in collaboration with these clients and utilizing TRUE certification as a road map to achieve zero waste performance.”

There are a number of pathways toward a more sustainable venue, but the key to achieving that goal is choosing to take the first step. Whether your focus is zero waste, energy efficiency, water reduction or sustainable landscape development, your venue, your team, is a leader for its community and fans.

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