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21 January, 2020

SUSTAINABILITY ADVISORS: TURNING STADIUMS INTO INFLUENCERS

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The Mercedes Benz Stadium, in Atlanta, USA, became last year the first sports stadium to get the LEED platinum certification. One of the most prestigious awards which recognize sustainable, low emissions and environmentally friendly buildings. The Green Council considered granting this recognition for its rainwater collection system, the renewable energy generated through its 4,000 solar PV panels and the facilitation of alternative transportation (bicycle and pedestrian walks), among other initiatives. This was made possible thanks to the commitment of its owners to benefit the environment and the city, as well as the sustainability consulting service firm Ecoworks Studio, which played a key role.

This studio focused on sports stadiums due to its previous experience with buildings like convention centres, where many people attend. As the headquarters of a great sports team, these facilities go from having a few visitors one day, to tens of thousands the next day, which among other issues a great power demand is needed.

The way this company finally got the LEED certification for the Mercedes-Benz Stadium is as interesting as its work method, the “What if…?” From the start, they do not suggest to their clients’ technical possibilities. What they intend to know is what do they aspire for their new headquarters with different questions such as: what if the sports stadium can contribute to a more sustainable future? What if we could store the kinetic energy attendees generate when walking inside the stadiums? What if we provide a recreational space for the neighbourhood, adding one more public park to the city? And so on…

These “What if…?” are not only inspiring, but they also demonstrate how sports stadiums can no longer be conceived just like buildings. They can also add solutions to energy and water resources. That is sustainability and when applied, these buildings become opinion leaders who are capable to positively influence society. When a club decides to turn its headquarters into a highly sustainable building with optimal environmental management, it is indicating which way it wants to evolve. Thus contributing to society with its positive impact and responsible behaviour for others to follow.

Arthur Blank, owner of the two teams that play in the stadium (the Atlanta United FC and the Atlanta Falcons), with his staff and the Platinum Leed award.

When a stadium is refurbished or rebuilt, its architecture influences the perception of the city, its touristic projection and the club itself. This passive role can be complemented by an active behaviour for being sustainable, which can influence positively the environmental contamination, the surrounding neighbourhood and the relationship between the population and the club. This is how the stadium, hand-in-hand with a focus on sustainability, can become another media star just as its team. People are influenced by how an athlete’s fashion code, his style, values, etc. The stadium can do the same, in the way it manages energy, resources and its relationship with society. Like that it will act as an influencer too.

Maybe for this reason sustainability advisors have started to influence beyond their field of expertise, influencing the relationship that is established between the fans and the club. Let’s take as an example sports areas which are open to the public and their surroundings. Analyzing it with the “what if” questions, we can come up with various ideas as “What if a football stadium can help improve its fans health and nutrition knowledge?” Since adult and childhood obesity is increasing in developed countries, encouraging the practice of sports can help, thus being better perceived by fans and the population, and once again being seen as an influencer through meaningful actions.

It is a role clubs cannot refuse and examples like the Mercedes-Benz Stadium mark a trend globally. It is very difficult for a club to not have any concerns in this matter or to not take actions as for example, reduce the carbon footprint. The role of a sustainability advisor is becoming fundamental in sports venues and clubs have to be proactive to look for this kind of solutions. This is key if they don’t want to receive a red card, not from the referee but from their fans.

 

Martín Sacristán

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