Sustainability Architect Jason McLennan, who worked with Oak View Group on the design and operations of Climate Pledge Arena, says the GOAL membership platform will elevate efforts across the sports industry.Taryn Graham
Sports venue operators interested in managing their spaces more sustainably have long been left to figure out how to do it.
Oak View Group wants to change that with the launch of GOAL (Green Operations and Advanced Leadership), a membership platform that will help sites operate in a more environmentally friendly way by accessing software powered by Amazon Web Services (AWS ) which includes a tactical roadmap, a library of resources such as verified vendor lists, progress tracking tools, and the free exchange of knowledge and experience between GOAL member sites. OVG has partnered with the Atlanta Hawks and State Farm Arena, Fenway Sports Group and green building architect Jason McLennan, all of whom have a stake in GOAL, to launch the initiative.
“I think it’s going to change the face of the sports and entertainment industry because it’s going to raise the bar,” said McLennan, who worked with OVG on the design and sustainable operations of Climate Pledge Arena. “This tool we are developing will galvanize peer-to-peer learning, friendly competition and really gamify this process of doing better for the world. These places as instant cities attract millions of people. The opportunity to make an impact in this kind of field is huge.
OVG has hired Kristen Fulmer to direct GOAL; she assumes the title of director of sustainable development. It will report to OVG360 President Chris Granger, but BUT will remain a separate offering from other services available to customers of OVG360 sites. At his sustainability consultancy, Recipric, Fulmer saw a clear need in the sports industry for something beyond LEED certification, for example. Operating a building sustainably is a journey, not something to cross off a list like completing an eco-friendly venue construction project.
“There is a gap in the market for operators to continually make more sustainable decisions,” Fulmer said. “Coming from Recipric, when I tried to work with teams or other organizations, they always pointed the finger at the facility or the operator of the facility.”
The Hawks and Fenway Sports are part of a founding circle of more than a dozen organizations that have beta tested GOAL software and developed content and strategies. Founding Circle partners will be announced later this year by OVG. GOAL members — who don’t have to be one of OVG360’s 200+ customers — will pay an annual fee that varies by building size and type. Granger estimated the average arena would pay in the five-figure range.
Granger experienced the same shortfall that Fulmer cited after helping the Sacramento Kings and Detroit Red Wings open state-of-the-art, LEED-certified arenas. A long-time venue operator, Granger has constantly heard laments from his industry peers who wanted to make their venues more sustainable – climate change acceptance is no longer the issue – but didn’t know where to start. Consumed by busy day-to-day operations, durability was often overlooked because it seemed so daunting.
The Atlanta Hawks and State Farm Arena had to create their own roadmap to achieve TRUE Zero Waste certification in this May 2021 NBA playoff game. One of GOAL’s goals is to provide these tips for members to go forward.Images: getty
“There were a lot of people interested in the subject, but they just needed to be pointed in the right direction,” Granger said. “The idea with GOAL is that you don’t have to be the Climate Pledge Arena; you’re not necessarily going to be zero carbon in your 30-year-old building. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do something. Its good. Here are 54 things that could make a difference in your world.
Early in the process of creating GOAL, Granger sought out the team at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, including Hawks sustainability manager Sofi Armenakian.
“I was stalking them, stalking them,” Granger said. “I think Sofi was one of my first calls as we considered the idea.”
State Farm Arena achieved TRUE (Total Resource Use and Efficiency) Zero Waste certification in an NBA playoff game in late May 2021. State Farm Arena general manager Brett Stefansson said that was primarily due Armenakian’s tenacity that the arena went from 10% waste diversion in 2019 to Zero Waste certification (90% or better) two years later; there was no guidance available on how to achieve zero waste.
“Even today, we are still looking for workable solutions that don’t exist,” Armenakian said. “Having GOAL provide some of these solutions, I think will be a great tool for many as they pursue their own personal journeys.”
Fenway Sports Group also got involved early on, as did McLennan, who joined GOAL’s board and will work with Fulmer on content and strategy for the business. McLennan’s expertise includes developing sustainable building and operating standards, like the WELL Building Standard which has become prominent during COVID for its focus on air quality. Part of McLennan’s role with GOAL will be working with Fulmer to continuously update the platform’s standards, protocols and tools.
“You always have to adapt to new realities, technologies, new materials,” he said. “We want to stay at the forefront. It’s not something we discover once and we don’t change in the next 10 years. We’ll make sure it’s still relevant.
GOAL membership will include access to monthly best practice calls, an annual sustainability conference and direct consultation with Fulmer, as well as AWS-based software that will enable extensive data sharing within the group GOAL to establish baselines. Site data will be anonymized to avoid embarrassing organizations that don’t perform as well, but will contain enough detail to allow, for example, the operators of a 30-year-old Midwestern arena to compare their site to other similar buildings within GOAL. software, or with a newer building in another part of the country.
“Context is important to the operator,” Granger said. “It’s all going to be integrated into this.”
AWS is also working with OVG to create a community/chat function within the software, which Granger, and his extensive NBA experience, hopes can serve as a “sustainability TMBO,” a reference to the Team Marketing and Business Operations group of the NBA that promotes and encourages best practices among league teams.
At present, BUT is essentially Fulmer and Granger, as well as the people committed and interested in sustainability in the various teams and locations. It’s likely that OVG will hire more people in the coming years, but even then, GOAL members will be just as helpful in sharing their knowledge and advancing sustainable operations in the sports industry.
“I am places. I was an operator,” Granger said. “It’s really important to me that it makes their lives easier, gives them direction, so I’m very focused on making sure it doesn’t happen from the ivory tower. It happens from sites that care deeply about this issue, and these are the sites that want to run the farthest and fastest, and I want to be with them. This is the issue of our time. This is a big issue for us.
Editor’s note: This story is revised from the print edition.