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Sustainable Sports Venues as Anchors for Communities

Sustainable Sports Venues as Anchors for Communities

Mixed-use sport venues are reaching new levels of sustainability while engaging their communities on game day and beyond.

Hundreds of years ago, a sports facility served as a city’s hub. It occupied the main public square or area where citizens assembled to support civic activities and housed functions including hospitality, food and retail.

In the mid-20th century, many new sports venues were built outside cities’ central business districts. These facilities were often surrounded by parking space and focused on a single use, disconnecting them from the city’s day-to-day life and infrastructure.

Today, many new sports facilities are returning to city centers as part of sports-oriented, mixed-use developments. There is a focus on engaging residents, daytime workers and visitors every day of the week—not just on game or match days.

Developers of arenas in cities including Edmonton, Detroit and Barcelona are following the successful model of the Kansas City Power & Light District and the Nationwide Arena District in Columbus, which integrate sports, entertainment, retail, office and residential buildings. These projects promote related development and maximize return on investment while creating vibrant, sustainable urban communities.

In addition to contributing to economic sustainability, design strategies related to the site and landscape, as well as as transportation, materials and resources, energy and the indoor environment, help facility operators minimize impact on the environment while improving the bottom line.

Husky Stadium, Seattle


HOK’s design for the renovation and expansion of the University of Washington’s Husky Stadium in Seattle provides an example of how client organizations, designers and facility operators can collaborate to create a venue that is both beautiful and sustainable. The design preserves the history of the 1920 stadium and its sweeping views of Lake Washington and the Cascade Mountains while transforming it into a state-of-the-art, 70,000-seat venue.

Low-flow plumbing fixtures, dual-flush toilets and native landscaping have reduced water use in the building by 40 percent, while strategies implemented in the design and operations divert 75 percent of the waste from Husky Stadium. This is achieved through the strategic placement of recycling and compost receptacles and the ability of the building’s loading dock to accommodate composting and multiple recycling containers. A buffer of trees and shrubs separates the stadium from the wetlands.

Husky Stadium has received Salmon Safe certification through the Pacific Rivers Council, which recognized its pollution capture, stormwater capture and construction activity pollution reduction strategies. The venue also won the inaugural Sustainability Award from the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics and USG Corporation.

MetLife Stadium, New Jersey

MetLife Stadium East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA

The 82,500-seat MetLife Stadium is the only US stadium to house two NFL franchises. It provides unparalleled flexibility in accommodating the needs and personalities of the New York Giants and Jets teams.

Through a partnership with the design and construction team and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the project has achieved cost savings of approximately $23.5 million over the past five years from green initiatives related to energy efficiency, renewable energy, water conservation, mass transit, waste reduction and recycling.

The solutions include a group of solar panels above the stadium’s catwalk that generate 350,000kW hours of electricity per year—equivalent to powering 34 average residential homes.

The EPA named MetLife Stadium the NFL’s “Greenest Stadium,” and it has consistently been recognized by the Green Sports Alliance for its leadership in advancing sustainability in sports venues.

Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta

Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia, USA

Mercedes-Benz Stadium—due to open in 2017—will be the new home of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons and Major League Soccer’s Atlanta United FC.

Already billed as one of the world’s most sustainable sports venues, Mercedes-Benz Stadium is targeting LEED Platinum certification and is designed to save 34 percent more energy and 45 percent more water when compared with a baseline design.

Rainwater captured on the site will be used for cooling towers and for irrigating the landscape, including the edible gardens.

The stadium design team is currently working with dozens of manufacturers to advance transparency in ensuring the sustainability of building materials. Manufacturers are required to provide information about a product’s energy use, waste generation, chemical makeup and manufacturing processes.

Auburn Recreation and Wellness Center, Auburn, Alabama


On a smaller scale, Auburn University’s Recreation and Wellness Center pushes the boundaries of design from both sports and sustainable design perspectives.

Designed for LEED Gold certification, the center includes an innovative, figure eight suspended track, open-air exercise and fitness studio, daylight throughout the facility and exterior courtyards for reflection. Sustainable design strategies in campus recreation centers like Auburn’s reflect students’ increasing requests for healthy buildings. It is great to see the desire of administrators to meet their demands.

The Green Sports Alliance

In 2015, HOK entered into a partnership with the Green Sports Alliance, an international nonprofit organization that advises professional and collegiate leagues, teams and venue operators about strategies for sustainability. The Alliance is helping sports organizations understand how investment in sustainability can lead to long-term savings.

With more than 300 members consisting of teams, facilities, leagues and universities from 14 countries, the Green Sports Alliance is already making a difference in developing and sharing best practice in sustainability. In November, the Alliance launched the Corporate Membership Network, which is engaging corporate partners to learn from each other and accelerate the pace of integrating sustainability into their facilities.

The Alliance hosted a Climate and Sports presentation as part of the United Nations Conference of Parties’ (COP21) international climate negotiations, which took place in Paris from November 28 through December 11. The panel, which was attended by representatives of European sports organizations, NGOs, government officials and the public, highlighted the significant contributions that designing sustainable sports venues can make to the global climate change effort.

The Future of Sustainability

What will the sustainable stadiums and arenas of the next 10 years look like?

Design strategies for the high-performance sports venues of the future will be based on these ideas:

  • Abundance, not scarcity, will be the lens for all design decisions. The venue harvests water, creates energy, turns waste into food, enhances the habitat and adds value for the surrounding community and the owner. Decisions support the common good of the community, not just a standalone project.
  • Projects will feature mixed-use programming that creates an active, engaging venue seven days a week. The space synergies include sports, recreation, entertainment, transportation, food, healthcare, retail, hospitality, conferencing, urban farming, housing and education.
  • The design will create multiple solutions. A canopy that provides shade for daily activities and game-day parking, for example, has a roof structure with solar panels that generate energy for the building and cars parked beneath. The canopy also directs rainwater into cisterns for reuse in the building, site and community. The venue is the focal point of an eco-district, where resources are shared among facilities. Excess heat from equipment in an arena, for example, is used to heat water at an adjacent hotel.
  • The venue will serve as an anchor for a co-op approach to the purchase of sustainable goods and services. It may bring together a ballpark, local school district, hospital system and retail center, for example, to pool the buying power for green products, renewable energy, commercial composting and local food.
  • Biomimicry will influence how the design responds to the local climate, allowing the building to breathe, provide comfort for every human sense and adapt to year-round requirements.
  • The site’s biodiversity will be enhanced through local or adaptive landscaping, edibles and the tree canopy.
  • The venue will generate its own energy through solar panels, wind turbines or other renewable energy solutions.
  • Venues will be net positive when it comes to stormwater, accepting more water than they create, cleaning it naturally and reusing it. 

With its mass appeal and ability to unite people worldwide, sports offer a powerful platform for demonstrating and communicating the importance of sustainability. By establishing new paradigms for environmentally friendly design and acting as a hub for related sustainable development, sports venues can become critical assets for a neighborhood, a community, a city and a region.

This article was reposted courtesy of Sports Management Magazine.

devolder-chrisChris DeVolder, LEED AP BD+C, is the sustainable design leader in HOK’s Sports + Recreation + Entertainment practice.