Stadiums go for gold with green design

Owners of these venues are becoming more sustainable as they realize the economic and environmental benefits

September 27, 2018

Sports stadium owners are making big plays for sustainability as the dual economic and environmental benefits of green construction and renovation increasingly make for a winning strategy.

Thirty sustainably designed stadiums across the United States have been awarded or are in the midst of earning Leadership in Environmental Engineering and Design (LEED) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). This third-party green building certification recognizes buildings that conserve water, reduce energy use, cut construction waste and support other sustainability goals.

The AmericanAirlines Arena, home to the Miami Heat basketball team, was the first National Basketball Association arena to earn LEED for Existing Buildings certification. The facility recently achieved LEED Gold recertification.

Momentum is also picking up for green development on the international playing field. The Green Sports Alliance, a nonprofit organization of sustainably minded professional sports leagues, teams and stadiums from around the world, includes in its ranks 191 venues that have publicly committed to improving their environmental performance.

These aren’t just feel-good moves, according to Rex Hamre, Vice President of Projects, JLL Americas. “Stadium owners must constantly evaluate two major ongoing questions,” says Hamre. “How can they fill more seats now and in the long run? And how can they continually ensure profitability while improving the fan experience? Green building strategies can help address both questions at once.”

A win for owners, fans and the planet alike

Today’s green designs offer a compelling mix of heightened operational efficiency and enhanced corporate reputation whether it’s through solar panels in car parks and on rooftops, introducing electric car charging stations or installing retractable roofs which can save energy on air conditioning by helping to regulate air temperature. Recycling facilities are becoming a common feature and some stadiums – such as the AmericanAirlines arena – even have food redistribution programs in place, giving unused food from home games to those in need in the community.

“The profound business and financial benefits of reducing waste are especially meaningful in large, complex facilities like stadiums,” says Hamre. “Saving money is a definite perk of some tactics, but it’s not the only one. Green practices can also contribute to a more memorable guest experience and overall impression of the stadium itself.”

Stadium technology advances have a major role to play. Smart automated traffic management systems, for example, can automatically adjust traffic light timing and reduce traffic jams—and the associated carbon emissions—during popular events. Smart LED lighting can help more fans see more of the action, while the high efficiency of LED bulbs saves energy and reduces greenhouse gas emissions—and cuts costs, too.

Going green can also boost the team and stadium’s reputation for social responsibility. “Think of it as built-in outreach for the conservation-oriented fan,” says Hamre. “By showing clear leadership in environment stewardship, stadiums can make a positive impression on fans as well as the larger community.” Target Field in Minneapolis, for example, has won community appreciation for locating garbage cans alongside recyclable and compostable bins.

Green behind the scenes

Not all practices can be as visible to fans as a well-marked recycling bin, of course. Few fans will notice a stadium’s ability to conserve water while maintaining green fields, although the impact can be significant.

“Any facility that has natural turf needs a great deal of irrigation to maintain quality,” says Hamre. “It’s a core business requirement for stadiums to water frequently—which can cost a lot and also strain local water resources. This makes a powerful business case for capturing a free resource—rainwater.”

At SunTrust Park, the new home of the Atlanta Braves baseball team, a 40,000-gallon cistern captures rainwater and unused irrigation water to be filtered and recycled. This practice reduces water use by roughly 50 percent—equivalent to the water used by 7,000 average U.S. homes, according to Hamre.

SunTrust Park also is outfitted with a building automation system that drives real-time analytics for improved operating efficiency. With the ability to monitor all building systems, operations managers can keep every corner of the stadium functioning at optimal levels for comfort and security.

What’s next in green stadiums?

The business case for sustainability may be clear, but that doesn’t mean every stadium can simply switch on the green light overnight. Planning can be lengthy, and then there’s the challenge of implementation. Squeezing a big project into a single off-season period can be difficult, especially if the venue is used for concerts or conventions during those months.

Still, when stadiums can pull it off, the payoff tends to be worth the time. “The trend toward green stadiums is still picking up steam, both in terms of construction and retrofitting,” says Hamre. “We expect a lot more expansion in this space as more leaders catch on to the benefits of operational efficiency and improved fan experience that is associated with green stadium design.”

For stadium owners and developers, sustainability alone won’t get the team to the playoffs—but it will always be a win for fans and the bottom line.