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Climate Change’s groundbreaking sustainability efforts offer a gigantic example, and new challenges

By Bret McCormick
taryn graham

Climate Pledge Arena’s living wall looked a little patchy in mid-October, subtle evidence of the rush to finish the building on time. But the indoor wall, consisting of 1,681 square feet on the main concourse and filled with 8,500 plants, is still strikingly beautiful and will be even more lush and green once it fully fills in.

  

The wall’s 32 species include goldfish plants, mistletoe cactus, Western Hemlocks, and 11 types of ferns. It’s designed to make visitors feel like they’re in nature, “to invite the viewer, the visitor, to just kind of shock them with this living wall, and to take a closer look at the natural world, which we’re trying to preserve,” said Habitat Horticulture founder David Brenner, whose company created the wall and maintains it full time.

Never has a sports venue been so clearly tied to a social issue as Climate Pledge Arena, named after Amazon’s global initiative to steer major corporations toward reducing their environmental impact. The wall, perhaps the venue’s most Instagrammable attraction, serves as another way to get that message to the masses.

“We’re not going to go change global warming,” said Oak View Group CEO Tim Leiweke, “but hopefully we can inspire enough people where we take a dent out of it.”

Climate Pledge, home to the Kraken and Storm, will become the world’s first arena to earn net zero-carbon certification from the International Living Future Institute. It will run entirely on renewable electric energy and collects rainwater in a 15,000-gallon underground cistern to freeze for its hockey playing surface. Concessionaire Delaware North has strict product sourcing rules, and there is a zero-waste landfill diversion plan.

Leiweke said Climate Pledge Arena will be rid of single-use plastic by its second year. He thinks the venue’s sustainability focus will become standard in the sports industry, and is already claiming that UBS Arena on Long Island, another new OVG building about to open, will be carbon neutral within two years.

“In some sense, this is important because it becomes that proof of concept that we can have a sustainable venue that actually does work and that can hold a professional sports team and has no problem with it,” said University of South Carolina sports business professor Nick Watanabe.

Research is clear that one of live sports’ worst impacts on the environment, especially in the U.S., is fans’ travel to and from events. So, it’s noteworthy that the Kraken are providing vouchers for any fans who attend games via the city’s extensive public transportation system, a cost the club is picking up itself and an effort that advocates hope can shift fans’ behavior long term.

Georgia State professor Tim Kellison, who teaches about sports’ impact on communities, commended OVG for committing itself to annual public reporting on its sustainability progress and is interested to see what information the arena owners share. As he noted, “Net zero doesn’t mean the same thing to every person.”

Still, Kellison and others are optimistic, in part because Amazon paid an estimated $300 million to $400 million to attach very publicly one of its long-term legacy initiatives to the building.

“[Amazon] has a lot to lose,” Kellison said. “This is not just a little test case; this is a very heavy investment.”

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