Contributed by Brian Grant, director of operations, sports and entertainment, ABM

Due to the extensive scope of activities taking place at sports facilities, the adoption of eco-friendly strategies becomes not only a necessity but also a chance for economic opportunity as sustainability initiatives serve a dual purpose. They assist in reducing the ecological footprint generated by large audiences and significant gatherings, and they enable operational efficiency and sustainable venue management.

Recently, venues like the L.A. Coliseum, Golden 1 Center, and SoFi Stadium have gained recognition for their inventive waste reduction, energy preservation, and water conservation initiatives. I have compiled here some of the best practices they employ in order to diminish environmental impact and foster sustainability within their localities.

Take a Multi-Pronged Approach to Waste Management

Although sports venues generate a lot of waste per event, much of it can be diverted from landfills. For example, L.A. Coliseum routinely diverts an average 92-94 percent of its waste through a combination of composting, recycling and sorting initiatives. The coliseum has been recognized more than 10 times for its sustainable waste management practices, including winning the Pac12 Conference’s Zero Waste Bowl three times. Facilities looking to divert waste should consider the following initiatives:

• Use compostable materials for common single-use items. From fiber-, resin-, and paper-based options, a multitude of options are available for facilities interested in transitioning to compostable serviceware. As an added benefit, composting programs enable the option to divert both food waste and serviceware from landfills.

• Swap out disposables for recyclable materials. The key to an effective recycling program  starts with the choice of materials. Many venue operators are turning to aluminum as an alternative to plastic because it’s infinitely recyclable and much easier to process.

• Simplify waste disposal to prevent contamination. To maximize the amount of waste diverted from landfills, design a system where waste is easy to identify and put it in the right place. If guests are faced with too many decisions, they’ll be more likely to cross-contaminate or simply put all waste in landfill-bound receptacles.

• Educate staff on how to properly manage the various waste streams. As cleaning personnel clean the stands and common areas, they can collect and dispose of waste properly. They can also work on sorting teams to separate various waste streams.

Drive Energy Efficiency, Even when Demand is Sky-High

Powering sports venues requires vast amounts of energy and demand is especially high right now. Fans and performers are eager to return to attend live events, so many venues are open more often than they were pre-pandemic. Identifying every possible efficiency, no matter how big or small, allows for consumption and cost cuts.

• Transition to LEDs wherever possible. LEDs have become commonplace for reducing energy consumption and meeting the lighting demands of large events. The technology continues to evolve, offering options for dynamic lighting. In areas where the grid is already stressed, this can be especially impactful. 

• Implement solar power solutions. The sizable footprint of sports venues is ideal for installing solar panels. Supplementing with offsite arrays can further reduce greenhouse gas emissions. For instance, Golden 1 Center in Sacramento leverages onsite and offsite arrays to achieve 100-percent solar power year-round. The arena even sends some power back to the grid.

• Don’t forget the simple stuff. While new technologies make it easy to control energy consumption, old-school methods still apply. Simple steps, like training facility personnel and stadium employees to turn off lights, or reducing lighting levels by 50 percent during slow periods, can go a long way to cut energy.

Implement Smarter Water Conservation

With more than a quarter of the United States experiencing drought conditions, sports venues are facing increased pressure to reduce consumption. At the same time, facility experts have to maintain the safety and playability of the turf and meet hygiene concerns. Consider the following practices to meet those needs and conserve water:

• Reclaim water for irrigation. Instead of using drinking water for turfs and landscaping, venues can reclaim water from a variety of sources. SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles uses an artificial lake that holds recycled water, which is filtered using natural wetlands and mechanical systems.

• Create more sustainable cisterns and water storage. Leveraging new technologies like connected sensors, filters and pumps allow venues to collect, process and distribute water where it’s needed.

• Identify the right aerators and low-flow fixtures. Low-flow fixtures and aerators are only effective for conservation when they perform well. Otherwise, guests may end up using more water to clean their hands and flush toilets.

• Fix problems fast. Facility staff should report leaks as soon as possible. If left unchecked, a single leak can lead to thousands of gallons of water waste. 

Sports venues are home to some of the most innovative sustainability programs in the world. They’ve become proving grounds for large- and small-scale initiatives that can be implemented in facilities of all kinds. Whether the facility can host 10,000 fans or 100,000, incorporating sustainability best practices into the facility management program will raise the bar for green buildings.

Brian Grant currently serves as director of operations for national sports and entertainment at ABM. He joined the ABM team after previously serving as Senior Director of Operations at SoFi Stadium and the Senior Associate Director for Facilities and Project Management at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum over the last 10 years. His expertise in all aspects of venue and facility operations has positioned him uniquely to service national sports and entertainment accounts. Brian was a part of the leadership team that opened SoFi Stadium and YouTube Theater at the Hollywood Park site in 2020 as well as a facility renovation at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in 2019 that brought in premium seating and amenities. As a venue operator, Brian has overseen the housekeeping and facility maintenance at all his venues over the last 13 years. During that time, he focused on delivering a first-class experience for the guests within those venues while emphasizing integration of technology into the work force intended to drive efficiencies and cost savings. His understanding of the holistic approach to venue management provides a unique perspective on how to guide teams toward client goals. As an avid sports and entertainment consumer, Brian derives his passion from the opportunity to lead and develop teams toward self-sustaining leadership and execution. The development of talent and leadership within the work force is an important part of that drive.