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One-on-one: Scott Jenkins, chairman, Green Sports Alliance

Scott Jenkins, chairman of the Green Sports Alliance and general manager of the new Atalanta stadium, talks sustainability in venue operations

 

Scott Jenkins is a busy man. When not providing insight into the planning and construction of the US$1.4bn new Atlanta stadium – the prospective home from 2017 for the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons and a yet-to-be-named MLS expansion team – he’s helping drive sustainability in sports venue operations as chairman of the Green Sports Alliance (GSA).

Prior to joining the Falcons, Jenkins spent seven-and-a-half years as vice president of ballpark operations for the MLB’s Seattle Mariners; three years with the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles, where he opened and managed Lincoln Financial Field; and served as vice president of stadium operations for the MLB team the Milwaukee Brewers and director of facilities and events for Intercollegiate Athletics at the University of Wisconsin.

How challenging is it dividing time between the new Atlanta stadium and the GSA?
When you work in sports and venue management, you get used to doing long days and weeks, so it just comes with the territory. They do complement each other though. Obviously the GSA is a movement within the sports world to drive sustainability in operations and outwardly to the fans, so for me, coming from sports, it helps to understand how venues can make a difference and contribute.

What’s unique about the new Atlanta stadium besides its US$1.4bn price tag?
The combination of being environmentally responsible and taking sports venue design and the fan experience to the next level. Sustainability is being embraced at every point. We’re pursuing the platinum level of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification – the highest – and we hope to be the first professional sports facility to attain that. We’ll have renewable energy around the exterior of the building, electric vehicle charging points, a million-gallon storm water vault and a 680,000-gallon cistern. So, we’ll be able to feed our cooling power and irrigate our landscaping using rainwater captured on-site. It’s really neat and we’re being very aggressive about water, but it’s not something you’ll see. What you’re going to see is a really cool-looking building that we think will become an iconic structure for Atlanta.

How much influence does the GSA have on sports venue operations?
In roughly five years, it’s been able to make sustainability a normal part of the business of sports. And what was really just a few people thinking on the fringe has now been incorporated as part of how sport gets done. People are starting to realize that it’s an opportunity to develop and build corporate partnerships and sponsorship money. Sustainability is no longer just the right thing to do – it’s a good thing to do from a business perspective.

What’s the GSA’s biggest achievement?
The GSA deserves credit for bringing the various leagues together, and the leaders from within the teams and their venues that have been doing good work for as many as 10 years now. But maybe the biggest thing for me is the increase in recycling and waste diversion. When we started recording the metrics we probably had 25 out of 30 teams submit data, and the San Francisco Giants had a diversion rate of around 40%. At the time I was still in Seattle and we had a diversion rate of only 12%, which was still way better than the average in the league. Fast-forward to now and, because of data sharing and sharing best practices to create a little friendly competition, a number of teams are hitting diversion rates of 80-90%. I think the GSA has played a big part in that.

Where will the GSA be in 5-10 years?
I think it could become an international movement. We have people working in Australia, and GSA president Allen Hershkowitz has been in Europe recently. We’ve also held discussions in South America and we already have 40 international members beyond the USA, so I see the GSA’s membership continuing to grow. We’ve focused mainly on professional sports, but we’re also seeing some growth in the collegiate area too, and at some point, I think we’ll have the potential to grow in other levels of sport.

What is the biggest threat to the green sports movement?
I guess what we need to do is not get embroiled in the debate over climate change, although I think it’s silly that the debate even exists. There are probably some folks out there who think climate change is a bunch of hooey, and probably wouldn’t care to listen about it, but as fast as things are in today’s world, if you’re not innovating and figuring out better ways to generate revenue and reduce costs, you’re going to be in trouble. Sustainability is here to stay; it’s not a passing fad.

What will be the biggest take-home message from this year’s GSA Summit?
We’re releasing a healthy food report that looks at food options that aren’t only healthier for guests but also for the planet. There will also be a green cleaning playbook and an LED lighting playbook. Post-summit we’ll be releasing a mascot report to raise awareness of endangered species. When you think about sports teams’ mascots, it’s amazing how many of those animals are endangered and whose habitat is disappearing, yet we pay no attention to the dire straits that those species are in. We’ve gotten some really good response from team ownerships, so we hope to launch a visible program by this fall and into the winter.

 

The annual Green Sports Alliance Summit, which this year takes place at McCormick Place, Chicago, USA, from June 29 – July 1, will bring together more than 800 industry stakeholders to learn and share better practices and innovations in sports venue greening operations, advancing the supply chain and the latest industry trends.

With a special focus on engaging fans through sustainability, the 2015 Summit will cover innovative ideas around sports greening via a mix of keynotes, leadership plenaries, symposiums, thought leadership forums, storytelling sessions, town hall discussions, how-to workshops and networking events. Keynote speakers will include Andrew Ference, captain and defenseman for the Edmonton Oilers, and Beth Stevens, senior vice president, corporate citizenship, environment and conservation, at Disney.

Summit attendees will also have a chance to get an insider’s look at some of Chicago’s iconic sports venues including Soldier Field, Toyota Park and US Cellular Field.

 

For more information, visit: www.summit.greensportsalliance.org

 

 

 

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