Lindsay Arell, through her sustainability consulting firm Honeycomb Strategies, has helped green the operations of several high-profile sports venues and the teams that play in them. These include Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles; and Ball Arena, home to the NBA’s Denver Nuggets and the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche.
Over the years, Arell has seen inconsistencies grow among facilities, operations and other venue executives regarding best practices on how to manage waste, energy, water and more. So, she and colleagues Tim Trefzer and Amanda Simons developed the Sustainable Sport Index, a survey targeted to those executives and designed to identify and share those best practices throughout the venue world.
I spoke with Arell about the genesis of the Index and how it differs from other how-to-optimize-venue-operations programs released during the COVID/#BuildBackBetter era.
Lew Blaustein: Lindsay, what led you and Honeycomb Strategies to develop the Sustainable Sport Index?
Lindsay Arell: We have been working for several years with a wide range of venues, from Empower Field, home of the Denver Broncos; to SoFi Stadium, the new home of the LA Rams and Chargers. We might be helping a venue with how to best bale their aluminum for recycling, and we would get all sorts of questions about a host of other issues, like front-of-house composting. Executives would want to know what’s being done at other venues, what the state of the art is, and more.
We realized that there is no collective understanding of what is going on at stadiums and arenas, no baseline for what should be done on waste diversion, water usage and other important metrics. There is value to, say, a venue operator at Ball Arena in Denver, being able to go to a waste diversion partner and saying, "Here’s what’s going on at Vivint Arena, home of the Utah Jazz, on composting. What can we do that’s even more effective?"
Blaustein: That would be valuable information as it could unleash a virtuous cycle of positive environmental action across the sports venue landscape. So, what is the Sustainable Sport Index exactly?
Arell: It’s a confidential survey for sports teams and stadium/arena/ballpark/field operations and facilities personnel designed to provide an industry aggregate of data.
Blaustein: What kind of data?
Arell: The report will cover metrics like waste diversion, energy usage, water usage and transportation. It also includes a range of qualitative questions about food and beverage practices, fan engagement, sponsorship and procurement. Ultimately, we will share the industry-wide impacts as a whole with the hopes of demonstrating reductions year over year.
Blaustein: I thought it was a confidential report…
Arell: We established baseline data in 2019 and then planned to be in the field in 2020 to see what changed year over year…
Blaustein: And then COVID happened.
Arell: And then COVID happened. So, 2020 was a bust. Now we’re in the field to compare data versus two years ago.
We launched the survey on April 19. The report will be issued by mid-August.
Blaustein: How did you let venues know that the survey exists and how many do you expect to fill it out?
Arell: Fortunately, our long history of involvement in the sports industry has brought us many contacts in both professional and collegiate sports.
Of course, the more participants we have, the better the data. We have been in talks with our contacts, and the connections of our partners, Max-R and EcoProducts. In addition, we have been in contact with several associations, such as GridIron Stadium Network, to reach out to their membership. In exchange, we can provide an association-specific report.
Blaustein: How much does it cost to fill the survey out and receive the report?
Arell: We made it free to maximize participation. Our goal is to get people to overcome any fear of sharing their data so they can see where they are doing well and to understand how and where they can improve. Each venue will receive their own customized report to see how they do as compared to the rest of the industry.
Blaustein: Now, we are hopefully beginning the post-COVID era. Over this unprecedented last year and a half, #BuildBackBetter programs have sprouted up for venues. The International Well Building Institute has developed the WELL Health-Safety Rating for Facility Operations and Management scorecard. And the Green Sports Alliance (GSA) and Arc partnered to deploy to launch the Play To Zero initiative. How does the Sustainable Sport Index differ?
Arell: The WELL Health-Safety rating is focused on building occupants’ health and safety and isn’t specific to the sports industry. The differences between the Sustainable Sport Index and the GSA-Arc are subtle but significant.
Perhaps most important is that GSA-Arc platform is just looking at the impacts of building waste, energy and water usage. The Sustainable Sport Index examines these impacts as well, but it dives deeper into the practices that impact these numbers. We want to gain an understanding of the best practices of the venues not only for the built environment, but also how they interact with fans, the community and other key stakeholders. The survey also explores the impact of the teams and franchises beyond the venues themselves.
For example, we will track waste data, including diversion. However, we also want to understand and share best practices with regards to signage at the venues, the placement of the bins, procurement practices and more. That way, we can help a venue achieve high diversion numbers.
In addition, the way the SSI is set up allows us to slice the data in a variety of ways. Therefore, rather than comparing all buildings regardless of age or location, the Sustainable Sports Index was designed with the unique aspects of sports venues in mind, which means considering that they operate intermittently — dormant for days and weeks, then hosting many thousands of people in a four- to eight-hour span — this allowed us to normalize the data in ways that we believe are more meaningful to facilities and operations executives.
We also know that teams and fan engagement are some of the biggest drivers of successful sustainability programs within the venue and the surrounding communities. That’s why we wanted to create an avenue to share these power positive impacts with the sports industry at large in an effort inspire change and collaboration.
Blaustein: And delivering meaningful data that will help the people responsible for operating a stadium or arena do so in ways that are more efficient from cost, environmental and health metrics seems valuable to me.
Arell: That’s what we’re aiming to do, Lew. The Sustainable Sport Index provides venues and teams with a starting point via the baseline, then we provide them with a roadmap that will help them improve their performance over time. We hope this also sparks a conversation among the venues and teams themselves to share their practices and experience.
Blaustein: Is that performance only measured on environmental metrics or does the SSI take a wider view of sustainability?
Arell: The Index does measure sustainability issues beyond environment, taking a more universal view of sustainability that includes how teams interact with fans, the community, the events their venues host and their vendors. For example, we are hearing more about venues that not only offer Mother’s Rooms, but are also adding Sensory Rooms for fans and attendees who feel may feel overwhelmed. We want to capture these new and emerging practices and share them with the industry.
It also tracks how teams and venues communicate on sustainability issues with fans and other stakeholders.
Blaustein: I look forward to hearing how teams and venue operators receive and digest the report and what changes result.
Arell: Thanks again, Lew. We hope to have the report complete in a few months and will keep it, along with the index itself, available to view at www.sustainablesportindex.com.