Amazon’s Climate Pledge Arena set to change the game rules on green stadium design

Energy

Climate Pledge Arena rendering

Source: Amazon

Sports stadiums and arenas sit idle with a return to professional and college sports still hanging in the balance amid the coronavirus pandemic. When fans return, these venues are going to be designed differently, with new ventilation systems potentially required. But some of the biggest changes are dedicated to another global crisis: combating climate change. 

Amazon recently announced its plans to name Seattle’s new downtown arena the “Climate Pledge Arena” which will be the first net-zero carbon arena in the world, produce zero waste, and be powered entirely by renewable energy. The use of renewable energy to help power sports stadiums has been taking place over the past decade, and as Amazon’s ambitions suggest, it is an increasing trend. 

According to Amazon, the arena will use on-site solar panels and off-site renewable energy power to be powered 100% by renewable energy. All events at the stadium will be made zero net carbon by sequestering carbon through investment in forestry projects. 

With enormous operating costs, these large venues are constantly looking for ways to increase energy and cost efficiency. In using renewable energy specifically, some sports stadiums and arenas have been able to lower costs, or at least achieve a cost-neutral design while simultaneously having a positive impact on the environment, and generate marketing appeal.

“When we think about stadiums, these spaces consume a lot of energy and resources, so finding ways to make those spaces sustainable is going to contribute to the larger city and community goals, and also reduce operating costs,” said Rhiannon Jacobsen, vice president at the U.S. Green Building Council, which handles LEED certification for buildings in the U.S. “There’s a business proposition for these spaces,” Jacobsen said.

Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia, has a stadium design that was cost-neutral, but it saves 29% in energy usage compared to that of a typical stadium. Lincoln Financial Field located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, produces 33% of it annual energy use from 11,108 solar panels and was the first U.S. pro sports stadium to generate all of its own electricity for games. Over the past decade, teams have cited cost savings by using renewable technology and other energy efficiency solutions in lighting and ventilation, and noted that energy costs are a significant percentage of a venue’s total operating budget.  

Solar-powered sports

Your favorite teams’ stadium already may be powered in part by renewable energy. The NFL, MLB, MLS, National Tennis League, and NCAA have adopted the use of sustainable energy and even further sustainable initiatives.

The Golden State Warriors unveiled the use of 500 solar panels to power their practice facility in downtown Oakland in early 2010. Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home of the “Indy 500,” opened in 2014 and has the highest number of solar panels in the world, with 39,312 solar panels. 

Mercedes-Benz Stadium, home to the Atlanta Falcons, was the first professional sports venue in the U.S. to achieve LEED platinum certification, the highest accreditation for sustainable buildings available. Mercedes-Benz Stadium has 4,000 solar panels and can power 10 Atlanta Falcons games, or 13 Atlanta United Matches, by using renewable energy generated from solar energy. The stadium also has other socially impactful initiatives in place such as the ability to store storm and rain water on site to prevent flooding in local neighborhoods. 

A solar covered walkway greets fans at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA.

Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“The biggest value is the leadership that’s exhibited by coming out and incorporating this [solar power] in a really visible way, making it in a way its aesthetic and functional on site, it makes really good business sense for us especially when we respond to our fans who expect we are gonna be responsible,” said Scott Jenkins, general manager of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. 

The Green Sports Alliance, founded in 2010, has been working to educate U.S.-based sports teams, venues, and companies on the importance of environmentalism and sports. It helped launch the inaugural “Green Sports Day” in 2016 and advises 194 teams, 195 venues and 16 leagues on sustainability initiatives and mitigating their environmental impact, utilizing renewable energy technology to potentially achieve LEED U.S. Green Building Council Certification. 

NFL venues and teams that are part of the Green Sports Alliance include Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles, Metlife Stadium, home of the NY Jets and NY Giants, and Levi’s Stadium, home of the San Francisco 49ers, are some of the NFL stadiums that feature renewable energy to power a significant portion of their energy needs. 

In Europe, the use of renewable energy to power stadiums is becoming increasingly commonplace, specifically for football. The Stade de Suisse Stadium in Bern, Switzerland and the Allianz Riviera stadium in Nice, France, among several others in the Netherlands and Germany, are ranked within the top 50 stadiums utilizing renewable energy, according to a list from Solar Asset Management in Europe. 

A cloud day, but Weser Stadium in Bremen, Germany was completely rebuilt in 2008 to feature a solar-powered exterior, solar towers and solar roofing with 6,000 square meters of solar cells generating over 1.2 megawatts of electricity.

Martin Rose | Bongarts | Getty Images

Operating costs for venues and teams are a key consideration, but these green energy-designed structures also serve as a visible reminder of sustainability. 

“These are incredible places of education for people who are attending events there. You’re very tuned in during an event via sporting or concerts, so they can really serve as a public education space,” Jacobsen said. 

Additionally, athletes, teams, coaches, and the professional sports organizations are a powerful tool for educating the masses on sustainability.

“Their brand and their communication platform is just massive, athletes’ own choices can have an impact, the fans and the dedication people have for sports can really transcend any boundary, race, gender, status, it goes across all of those and really brings people together,” said Kristin Hanczor, leader of corporate engagement for The Climate Group and Green Sports Alliance.

Mercedes-Benz Stadium, designed and supported by Home Depot co-founder’s Arthur M. Blank Foundation, opted to use Georgia Power, a local, Atlanta-based utility company to install its renewable energy and assist with stadium design.

“Implementing renewable energy and working with a local company has the opportunity to create jobs. Making those connections are critical, because sports are all about community,” Hanczor said.

Outside of Mercedes-Benz Stadium featuring renewable canopies.

Mercedes-Benz Stadium

Stadiums are inextricably linked to the geographic locations, typically cities that they reside in, according to both Jenkins and Jacobsen. In a post-coronavirus era, stadiums will be forced to adapt to the growing technological demands. Europe has already announced plans for nearly 25% of the financing of coronavirus recovery to be dedicated to climate action initiatives, such as renewable energy.

“Both at an individual consumer and company level, were seeing that focus on indoor air quality, health and wellness connected to the building and were seeing buildings and teams ensuring temporary adjustments for ventilation, you’re going to really see that connection around those elements and how they contribute to a pandemic world,” Jacobsen added. 

With stadiums essentially shut down and under enormous financial pressure, renewable energy investment can also become an effective way to cut down on costs in the long-term. When looking at the economics of green design, energy efficiency improvements typically include not only power generation from sources like solar but upgrading to more efficient HVAC and lighting systems.

“It’s hard to say at this time exactly how the Covid-19 protection measures will impact the stadiums. … With rapidly declining technology costs and businesses seeking bespoke solutions around renewable energy and backup power, we see this as an immense opportunity to deliver a modern approach to electricity that can help reduce cost, enhance operations and contribute to a more sustainable energy future” said Heather Martin, senior director of marketing at NRG Energy, which worked on projects at Metlife Stadium and Lincoln Financial Field, as well as its own branded stadium in Houston. 

NRG Stadium, home of the Houston Texans and the first Texas-based professional sports venue to use renewable energy technology in 2015, added 600 solar panels spread across four locations for a total system size of 180 kilowatts, enough energy annually to offset 22 households in the Houston area. The canopy at the main entrance and pedestrian bridges include solar.

The amount of stadiums using renewable technologies and implementing other sustainable initiatives such as recycling campaigns, compostable cups, and limiting food waste has dramatically increased in the past few years. Hanczor said her organization started out with 30 teams, companies, and organizations at inception in 2010 and are now works with over 300.

“Seeing younger generations care more about the environment and expecting more from the brands they buy from and the companies they support, sports brands and organizations are realizing they need to communicate effectively about their sustainability efforts to resonate with their future fan base,” Hanczor said. “People feel good about going to a venue where their cup is compostable, where solar panels are on the roof and local food is served, and knowing their team is doing something good for the environment.” 

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