Will Seattle's Climate Pledge Arena keep its promise?

SEATTLE – Seattle Kraken fans, who joined the NHL this season as the league’s 32nd team, had a lot to do in the club’s very first home g...

SEATTLE – Seattle Kraken fans, who joined the NHL this season as the league’s 32nd team, had a lot to do in the club’s very first home game last Saturday. There were new players on the ice to cheer on, new seats to find and new concession stands to seek out.

Yet their biggest find appeared to be the 1,800-square-foot green wall that describes the mission of Climate Pledge Arena, the new home of the Kraken, which opened just in time for the game. Hundreds of fans stopped to take selfies in front of thousands of plants growing in the vertical litter, made from recycled plastic bottles.

Prior to the game, Jennifer and Shane Pisani were among those who stopped to view the greenery and screens that showed images of solar panels, wind turbines and a statement, “The world’s first net zero carbon arena.”

The Pisani, longtime hockey fans, were happy to have a team in town to cheer them on. They were also delighted that the Kraken represented something more than wins and losses.

“It reflects what the owners and the team want to tell the community,” said Shane Pisani. “I can’t wait to sit down in a state-of-the-art arena. “

Climate Pledge Arena is indeed at the cutting edge of technology. It includes the latest LED dashboards, take-out food stalls, and ticket-free technology. But the operators of the $ 1.2 billion arena are also trying to set a new standard for green building by reducing and offsetting all of the global warming emissions that they, their suppliers and even their fans produce.

Their mission is expensive, long and risky, and has never been attempted in a sports venue before. Calculating emissions is complex and imprecise, and exposes arena operators to accusations of “green laundering” – providing misleading information about the building’s environmental attributes.

Tim Leiweke, managing director of Oak View Group, which owns 51% of the building, admitted that the return on investment was not obvious and that a lot of work needs to be done to confirm that the building is meeting its targets. But he expects the efforts to pay off over time and the arena to provide a role model for others in the industry.

“There is nothing today that is going to reward us economically for becoming carbon neutral yet,” said Leiweke. “I believe our fans and sponsors will respect us and the rewards will come, but you have to lead and take a chance first.”

A growing number of sports venues have achieved LEED certification from the US Green Building Council, but this designation, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, primarily recognizes environmentally friendly infrastructure, not necessarily the operation of a building. By trying to go net zero carbon and promising to do so transparently, Climate Pledge Arena could serve as a new model. Commercial buildings represented 18% of energy consumption in the United States in 2020.

“Over the years people have used LEED to guide them, but it doesn’t get you far,” said Scott Jenkins, co-founder of the Green Sports Alliance. “We urgently need to act and the status quo is not going to cut it. The challenge is how to get others to follow? “

Leiweke and the main owner of the Kraken, David Bonderman, who along with his partners own the remaining 49% of the building, have not started trying to build the greenest arena in the country. Their biggest challenge was figuring out how to modernize an arena built for the 1962 World’s Fair with a roof and windows that are landmarks, along with the nearby Space Needle and the monorail leading to downtown.

After inauguration in December 2018, the 44 million pound steel roof was perched on 72 stilts so that the entire arena below could be gutted. Air conditioning equipment, solar panels and other machinery that could normally be placed on the roof have been placed elsewhere on the property. A cistern was built to hold 15,000 gallons of rainwater drained from the roof which would then be distributed by electric Zambonis to resurface the ice.

The project received high marks from environmentalists because it preserves an existing structure in a neighborhood with good access to public transport.

The renovation got complicated last spring when Amazon bought the naming rights for the building, spend around $ 300-400 million for the privilege. But instead of adorning the arena with its logo, as most companies do, Amazon named the building after one of his most ambitious initiatives, the Climate Commitment.

The company unveiled the commitment in 2019, promising to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2040, a decade earlier than the targets set in the Paris Climate Agreement 2015. Colgate-Palmolive, Siemens and Unilever are among 200 companies that have since signed on.

To make sure it worked, Amazon worked with manufacturers to reduce arena emissions, mirroring efforts in its own offices and facilities. “We are trying to draw attention to the climate crisis, and we are trying to draw attention to the solutions that are there,” said Kara Hurst, vice president of global sustainability at Amazon.

The new mandate disrupts the project. Leiweke hired Jason McLennan, an architect and environmentalist who founded the International Living Future Institute, which created a certification program for green buildings that goes well beyond LEED requirements.

To achieve these goals, the building could not use fossil fuels. Orders for dehumidifiers, pizza ovens, and even machines that dry players’ gloves had to be canceled because they ran on natural gas. Electric replacements had to be found.

Then, the electricity that powers the building had to come from renewable sources. Solar panels were placed on an atrium of the arena, in a nearby parking lot and at the team’s training center north of Seattle. More electricity was purchased from a wind farm in eastern Washington.

The arena tries to divert 97 percent of its waste from landfills by composting, recycling and using biodegradable cutlery; single-use plastics will be phased out by 2024. On opening night, fans were served beer in recyclable aluminum cups. The Leiweke team is working with Pepsi and other companies to eliminate plastic wrap and other packaging.

“We haven’t had a significant response from the vendors, but check back with me in a year,” said Rob Johnson, sustainability manager for the Kraken.

The biggest challenge is calculating the emissions produced in the building, as well as those produced by the fans who come to the arena and each vendor that delivers products. Investigations will determine whether fans arrive in gasoline-powered or electric cars, or take buses, streetcars, monorail and other public transport – which they can borrow for free by showing their Kraken or concert tickets. . Their carbon emissions will be added to the building count. The same will be true of the emissions from charter flights that the Kraken and visiting teams take to and from Seattle.

Monitoring supplier emissions is more difficult because their carbon footprint varies considerably. Molly De Mers, executive chef of Delaware North, a hotel company that manages catering operations in the building, said three-quarters of the food used in the arena came from farms and ranches within a 300-mile radius. from Seattle.

When sustainability is weighed against profit and loss, “this is where it gets tricky,” De Mers said. “Because obviously the costs go up when you start to integrate that. ”

Buying local means avoiding foods like avocados from Mexico. De Mers also chooses foods that can be prepared in multiple ways. Watermelons are served as vegan sashimi and their rinds are marinated and used in salads. The carrot tops are made into gremolata, a condiment. Plant-based burgers, which have a smaller environmental footprint than beef burgers, are sold in the main lobby.

The arena’s emissions will be counted at the end of each year, and Amazon and the Oak View Group will offset any carbon produced by purchasing credits from environmental restoration programs. The data will be made public to help hold building operators accountable, McLennan said.

“No one has ever done this, not even in the greenest buildings,” he said.

For now, the “Net Zero Carbon” statement on the green wall is more ambitious than real because it will take listeners at least a year to count the emissions. Even then, the building will be “functionally zero,” McLennan said, because “true zero is almost impossible.”

This linguistic sleight of hand is alarming some longtime environmentalists, who fear that if the building’s lofty goals are not met, critics could argue that the project amounts to commercialization without substance.

“Claiming exceptional achievements as ‘carbon neutral’ or ‘net zero’ without specifying to what extent of impact it is referred to or, worse still, claiming such a noble achievement when it is not actually achieved, is of the essence. greenwashing, ”said Allen Hershkowitz, who advises the NHL and other teams and leagues on environmental issues. “It breeds cynicism instead of inspiration.”

McLennan acknowledged that the building would not be certified until after its first year of operation. But he is convinced that the goal will be achieved.

“It’s not greenwashing,” he said. “Everyone has to look at themselves in the mirror and say, ‘We’ve all been part of the problem’ and we have to say, ‘Okay, okay, but what do we do now and what will we do at the to come up ? That’s how I would answer that.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Will Seattle's Climate Pledge Arena keep its promise?
Will Seattle's Climate Pledge Arena keep its promise?
Newsrust - US Top News
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