Sustainability architect Jason McLennan, who worked with Oak View Group on Climate Pledge Arena’s design and operations, says the GOAL membership platform will elevate efforts throughout the sports industry.Taryn Graham
Sports venue operators interested in running their spaces more sustainably have long been left mostly on their own in figuring out how to do so.
Oak View Group wants to change that with the launch of GOAL (Green Operations and Advanced Leadership), a membership platform that will help venues operate in more environmentally friendly ways by accessing Amazon Web Services (AWS)-powered software that includes a tactical roadmap, a library of resources like vetted vendors lists, progress tracking tools and the free exchange of knowledge and experience among GOAL member venues. OVG partnered with the Atlanta Hawks and State Farm Arena, Fenway Sports Group, and green building architect Jason McLennan, all of whom have equity in GOAL, to get the initiative off the ground.
“I think this is 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 Climate Pledge Arena’s sustainable design and operations. “This tool we’re developing is going to galvanize peer-to-peer learning, friendly competition and really gamify this process of doing better for the world. These venues as instant cities attract millions of people. The opportunity to have an impact in this kind of domain is huge.”
OVG hired Kristen Fulmer to run GOAL; she assumes the title of director of sustainability. She’ll report to OVG360 president Chris Granger, but GOAL will remain a separate offering from the other services available to OVG360 venue clients. At her 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 an item to cross off a list, like the completion of an environmentally conscious venue construction project.
“There is a gap in the market for operators to continuously make more sustainable decisions,” said Fulmer. “Coming from Recipric, when I was trying to work with teams or other organizations, they would always point the finger at the facility or facility operator.”
The Hawks and Fenway Sports are part of a founding circle of more than a dozen organizations that have been beta-testing the GOAL software and developing content and strategies. The founding circle partners will be announced later this year by OVG. GOAL members — who don’t have to be one of OVG360’s 200-plus venue clients — will pay an annual fee that varies based on size and type of building. Granger estimated the average arena would pay in the mid-five figure range.
Granger experienced the same shortfall that Fulmer cited after he helped the Sacramento Kings and Detroit Pistons open state-of-the-art, LEED-certified arenas. A longtime venue operator, Granger consistently heard laments from industry peers that were interested in making their venues more sustainable — acceptance of climate change isn’t the issue anymore — but were unsure of where to start. Consumed with busy day-to-day operations, sustainability often fell by the wayside because it felt so daunting.
The Atlanta Hawks and State Farm Arena had to create their own roadmap to reach TRUE Zero Waste certification at this NBA playoff game in May 2021. One objective of GOAL is to provide that guidance to members moving forward.getty images
“There were a lot of people interested in the topic, but they just needed to be pointed in the right direction,” said Granger. “The idea with GOAL is you don’t have to necessarily be Climate Pledge Arena; you’re not necessarily ever going to be carbon zero in your 30-year-old building. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do something. It’s OK. Here are 54 things that might 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 Sofi Armenakian, Hawks head of sustainability.
“I was hounding them, hounding them,” said Granger. “I think Sofi was one of my first calls as we were contemplating the idea.”
State Farm Arena achieved TRUE (Total Resource Use and Efficiency) Zero Waste certification during an NBA playoff game in late May 2021. State Farm Arena GM Brett Stefansson said it was primarily due to the tenacity of Armenakian that the arena went from 10% waste diversion in 2019 to Zero Waste-certified (90% or better) two years later; there was no available guidance on how to make Zero Waste happen.
“Even today, we’re still looking for some applicable solutions that don’t exist,” Armenakian said. “Having GOAL provide some of those solutions, I think it’s going to be a great tool for many as they go on their own personal journey.”
Fenway Sports Group also got involved early, as did McLennan, who joined GOAL’s board of directors and will work with Fulmer on content and strategy for the enterprise. McLennan’s expertise includes the development of sustainable construction and operating standards, like the WELL Building Standard that became prominent during COVID for its focus on air quality. Part of McLennan’s role with GOAL will be working with Fulmer to continually update the platform’s standards, protocols and tools.
“You need to always calibrate to new realities, technologies, new materials,” he said. “We want to stay on the cutting edge. It’s not something that we figure out once and we don’t change over the next 10 years. We’re going to make sure this is always relevant.”
GOAL membership will include access to monthly best practice calls, an annual sustainability conference and direct consultation with Fulmer, as well as the AWS-platformed software that will enable extensive data sharing within the GOAL group to establish baselines. Venues’ data will be anonymized to avoid embarrassing organizations that aren’t performing as well, but will contain enough specifics to allow, for example, the operators of a 30-year-old Midwestern arena to compare their venue to other similar buildings within GOAL’s software, or with a newer building in a different part of the country.
“Context matters to the operator,” said Granger. “That’s all going to be built into this.”
AWS is also working with OVG to create a community/chat function within the software, which Granger, and his extensive NBA background, hopes can serve as a “TMBO of sustainability,” a reference to the NBA’s Team Marketing and Business Operations group that fosters and foments best practices among the league’s teams.
Right now, GOAL is essentially Fulmer and Granger, as well as the engaged, sustainability-interested people at the various teams and venues. It’s likely OVG will hire more people in the coming years but even then, GOAL’s members will be equally valuable in sharing knowledge and advancing sustainable operations in the sports industry.
“I’m of venues. I was an operator,” Granger said. “It’s really important to me that this makes their lives easier, gives them direction, so I’m very focused on making sure this doesn’t happen from the ivory tower. This is happening from venues who care deeply about this issue, and these are the venues that want to run the furthest and the fastest, and I want to be with them. It’s the issue of our time. This is a big deal for us.”