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Monday, January 20, 2020

Atlanta: sustainability is a strong economic driver

Atlanta is home to one of the densest (if not the densest) district of LEED-certified event space in the world and is the greenest convention, sports, and entertainment destination in the world.

The list of downtown Atlanta LEED-certified facilities is impressive: Georgia World Congress Center Authority (GWCCA - world’s largest LEED-certified-convention center), Mercedes-Benz Stadium (MBS - first professional sports stadium in the world to achieve LEED-Platinum certification), State Farm Arena (SFA - world’s first National Basketball Association/National Hockey League arena to earn LEED certification), as well as the College Football Hall of Fame (LEED Silver), the World of Coca-Cola (LEED Gold), and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights (LEED Silver).

Upon re-certification in 2019, the SFA achieved LEED-Gold certification, augmenting the impressive downtown Atlanta convention, sports, and entertainment campus.

LEED - Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design - is a green-building-certification program that recognizes best-in-class building strategies and practices within the U.S Green Building Council (USGBC) umbrella. To receive LEED certification, building projects satisfy prerequisites and earn points to achieve different certification levels. For a pre-existing building, LEED certification is often a multi-year endeavor.

Setting event-sustainability standards
In 2009, the GWCCA was the first Zero Waste Zones (ZWZ) Founding Participant. GWCCA hosted the acclaimed ZWZ-launch-press conference that led to a prime-time CNN story as well as a New York Times front-page article. The ZWZ were the forerunner in the nation for the commercial collection of food waste for compost.

Post-press conference, the GWCCA hosted a Meeting Planners International-conference luncheon for 1200 guests with a locally sourced menu. During the luncheon program, Elemental Impact (Ei) Founder Holly Elmore announced that 100% of the food associated with the luncheon was either consumed, donated or collected for off-site compost. Though not substantiated, the luncheon was the first large conference event to make the groundbreaking, profound statement.

Thus, in 2009 the GWCCA set zero-waste standards for food donation and commercial collection of food waste for compost at conference events.

Additionally, Atlanta was a driving force in sustainability rising to a key RFP (request-for-proposal) component for large event-site selection. As host to the 2013 NCAA® Men’s Final Four®, the second most popular sporting event across the globe, Atlanta set a high standard for sporting event-sustainability practices. One of the Atlanta Local Organizing Committee (ALOC) stated goals was to make the 2013 Final Four the "greenest games ever." GWCCA Director of Sustainability Tim Trefzer took the helm for achieving the lofty goal.

SUCCESS: the comprehensive ALOC plan culminated in impressive green footprints before, during and after the games. The ZWA Blog article, Final Four green footprints continue after the games, gives an overview of event-sustainability stats; the May 2013 Final Four Sustainability Report is the official in-depth report.

Post-event, Tim and an EPA colleague drafted the Final Four Sustainability RFP sustainability section. Thus, new industry standards were established!

GWCCA, a global leader in sustainability
On October 28, 2014, the GWCCA announced the 3.9 million-square-foot conference center was awarded LEED-Silver certification by the USGBC. The announcement thrust Atlanta into the national | global sustainability spotlight as home to the world's largest LEED-certified convention center AND the 14th largest LEED-certified building.

Tim with the GWCCA executive
team and the LEED Gold plaque 
In July 2017 GWCCA-managed Savannah International Trade and Convention Center earned LEED-Gold certification, making it the first convention center in the State of Georgia to achieve LEED-Gold status. 

Re-certifying two years early, on November 28, 2017, the GWCCA was awarded LEED-Gold certification, the second-highest level in the rating system. In the re-certification, the GWCC was thirteen points higher than the 2014 application and five points higher than the minimum requirement. The majority of the additional points related to the energy-saving performance contract referenced below. In Tim's words:
“Improving our performance from LEED Silver to Gold reflects our commitment to having better buildings, being better neighbors, and hosting better events. It’s a testament to our leadership’s vision to anchor the greenest convention, sports, and entertainment destination in the world.” 
In 2018 the GWCCA was awarded Georgia Green Award for Building Performance from the USGBC Georgia.

As an industry leader in sustainability, the GWCCA 220-acre downtown campus boasts an impressive list of accomplishments:
  • GWCCA diverted 15.9+ million pounds of material from landfills since 2010. 
  • GWCCA reduced water consumption by 41% since 2009 through the installation of new irrigation, restroom fixtures, and chillers. 
  • GWCCA is approximately 28% more energy efficient than similar buildings. 
  • GWCCA uses janitorial paper and cleaning products that meet sustainability criteria, including recycled content materials and|or reduced harmful chemicals. (86% of the products meet the criteria) 
    GWCCA honey-bee apiary
  • GWCCA’s 1,900-solar panel canopy located in the marshaling yard produces enough energy to power 89 Georgia homes annually. 
  • GWCCA finished construction in April 2017 of a $28 million energy-saving performance contract that exceeded guaranteed savings of 39% on utilities in the first two years at 43% and 44% compared to a 2013 baseline. The contract earned the majority of the additional thirteen LEED certification points in the 2017 re-certification.
  • GWCCA team members donated 59 pints of blood in 2019 to the American Red Cross in support of those impacted by Hurricane Michael in South Georgia. Additionally, more than 500 books were donated to local elementary-school students.
  • GWCCA harvested 100 pounds of honey in November 2019 from the three honey-bee hives located on the campus. It was the first honey harvest.
As the backbone of Atlanta's thriving convention, sports, and entertainment-downtown campus, the GWCCA welcomed 4.1 million visitors, had an economic impact of $1.92 billion, and supported 19,675 jobs in 2019. Continuing to expand, the GWCCA opened a new 100,000 square-foot-exhibit hall (“B/C Hall”) in January 2020. The new exhibit hall connects Buildings B and C and provides more than 1.1 million-square feet of contiguous exhibition space.

With the Georgia Dome deconstructed, the GWCCA intends to break ground in April 2020 on the new Signia Hilton on a portion of the former stadium site.

Most sustainable Super Bowl ever
On February 3, 2019, Atlanta hosted the Super Bowl for the third time; each Atlanta-hosted game served as a sustainability milestone for the Super Bowl.

2019 Super Bowl Green Team
Photo credit: GWCCA
It is a high honor to host the Super Bowl. With the honor comes responsibilities and rewards. During the 2019 event, Atlanta welcomed 500,000 guests to Super Bowl Live and the Super Bowl Experience with a $185 million-economic impact. With 87% of the Super Bowl hosted on the Championship Campus (the GWCCA plus SFA), more than 41,000 unique wireless devises connected to the GWCCA WIFI.

As documented in the Sport Sustainability Journal article, NFL Green returns to its spiritual home for Super Bowl LIII, Director, National Football League Environmental Program Jack Groh initiated the first Super Bowl-recycling project during the 1994 game hosted at the Georgia Dome. At the second game hosted at the Georgia Dome in 2000, Jack established the first Super Kids-Super Sharing project where local school children donate unwanted, yet usable, sports equipment and other items. The project in turn donates the items to children in lower-income neighborhoods.

At the 2019 Super Bowl hosted at the MBS, Jack inaugurated the Recycle and Win program. As they scour the stadium during the game, Green Team members award fans who are seen recycling with a Super Bowl hat. Photos are taken to share in social media. Thus, recycling is made fun with rewards!

The golden-shovel ceremony
L to R: Tim, Lee Hendrickson & Jack
photo courtesy of Front Office Sports
As the Atlanta Super Bowl Host Committee's Sustainability Committee Chair, Tim worked closely with Jack to ensure the 2019 Super Bowl was the most sustainable ever. Beyond the impressive water and energy-savings at the LEED Platinum-certified MBS, Tim focused on material recovery, food recovery, renewal energy, and ancillary programs prior to game day.

With excellent participation by event managers, an impressive 43+ tons of event materials were recovered and donated to local non-profits. Materials included carpet, d├ęcor, office supplies, furniture, signage, clothing and other items. 

Events held at the GWCCA contributed the largest volume of materials. NFL House also contributed a significant amount, donating three-box-truck loads of material, much of it lumber. The Salvation Army was a critical partner in collecting and distributing the material.

Food recovery was a top priority, especially with the established local network. Below are the results of the well orchestrated program:
Packaged Super Bowl food awaiting
Second Helping's collection
Photo courtesy of Atlanta Intown
  • Atlanta Community Food Bank - 54,719 pounds (mostly beverages)
  • Second Helpings - 17,044 pounds (mostly prepared food)
  • GoodR – 44,386 pounds food/22,435 pounds beverages
The combined total of 138,584 pounds was distributed to more than 80 agencies in 21 counties. Food recovered from Super Bowl events provided more than 51,000 meals.

At the MBS, Tim and his team worked with stadium staff and contractors to increase the diversion rates from their typical 20% to 54.11% at the game. Super Bowl 2019 results set stadium records with the following stats:
  • 3.69 tons of food donated – most Second Helpings has recovered in a single trip.
  • 7.95 tons of pallets recycled – most in a week.
  • 1.87 tons of glass recycled – most from a single event.
  • 10.5 tons of cardboard recycled – most in a week.
In addition, 2.39 tons of aluminum was recycled as part of the stadium’s Recycle for Good campaign. Proceeds from the aluminum sales were donated to Habitat for Humanity for local home construction.

The host committee partnered with Verizon and Trees Atlanta for thirteen urban-forestry projects within the greater Atlanta area. Projects included planting hundreds of neighborhood trees, creating community gardens and pollinator gardens, and expanding the 7.1-acre Food Forest, now the largest in the country.

Hosted at Zoo Atlanta, the E-Waste Recycling Rally was open to the public and the most successful in Super Bowl history. With over 400 participants, 42,446 pounds (87 pallets) of electronic waste was collected and responsibly recycled. Verizon covered the event costs. The Verizon/NFL Super Bowl LIII Recycling Rally at Zoo Atlanta 2019 video gives an excellent event recap.

Donation sorting at
Super Kids - Super Sharing
Photo credit: GWWCA
At the 20th annual Super Kids-Super Sharing, over 100 local schools participated. Students donated 40,000 books, pieces of sports equipment, school supplies and games that were distributed to local students in need. 

In celebration of the 20th anniversary, Verizon provided an $18,000 grant to the Ron Clark Academy for a program to create healthy relationships and prevent bullying and violence. Additionally, Verizon funded the planting of 20,000 trees in the Sandhills Wildlife Management area. The Super Kids Super Sharing Event- Super Bowl LIII video showcases the impressive event.

Anheuser-Bush provided renewable energy credits to offset the energy usage at Super Bowl facilities.

According to the January 2019 Environment News Service article, 2019 Super Bowl Most Sustainable Ever, the 2019 Super Bowl was staged to surpass prior games as the most sustainable ever. Under Jack's and Tim's leadership, the 2019 Super Bowl was indeed the most sustainable ever.

GreenBuild walks the zero-waste talk
While 2019 opened with the Super Bowl, the year closed with Atlanta hosting the GreenBuild International Conference and Expo (GreenBuild) at the GWCCA.

Tim with CleanRiver Recycling
Solutions CEO Bruce Buchan
GreenBuild is the biggest annual event for green-building professionals worldwide to learn and source cutting-edge solutions to improve resilience, sustainability, and quality of life in our buildings, cities, and communities. A USGBC event, GreenBuild aligns with the USGBC mission of market transformation through its LEED green-building program.

Beginning with the first conference in 2002, GreenBuild strives to set the highest sustainability-industry standards for hosting a prominent national conference with a global reach. As required in the GreenBuild RFP, Tim worked closely with the event staff on following protocol to achieve the USGB's TRUE Zero Waste Certification.

The RiA Magazine article, GreenBuild walks the zero-waste talk, showcases the stellar zero-waste and sustainability practices executed at the conference; the Ei FB album, 2020 GreenBuild Conference, gives a pictorial recap of Holly's GreenBuild visit hosted by Tim.

2020 & beyond
In early April 2020, the NCAA® Men’s Final Four® returns to Atlanta. As with the Super Bowl, the Men's Final Four has strong sustainability roots in Atlanta from the 2013 "greenest games ever" previously mentioned. 

As the Atlanta Basketball Host Committee Sustainability Committee Chair, Tim will ensure the 2020 Men's Final Four-sustainability accomplishments significantly surpass the 2013 successes. One goal is to achieve Council for Responsible Sport Certification, a measurement of event social and environmental impact.

The GWCCA's role in Atlanta's sustainability leadership is confirmed by Tim:
As one of the strongest economic engines for Atlanta and the state of Georgia for decades, the GWCCA continues to serve as a catalyst for growth and leadership in downtown Atlanta and beyond. With environmental impact and social responsibility at the forefront of event-planning decisions, the GWCCA maintains its global industry-leadership position by setting a strong example of community stewardship via building construction, facility operations and local impact.
Within an 18-month period, Atlanta hosted or will host three premier national events - 2019 SuperBowl, 2019 GreenBuild, and 2020 NCAA® Men’s Final Four®. Each event requires in-depth sustainability commitments and rewards the host city with impressive economic benefits. Integral to the event execution are programs that expand benefits to local under-served communities and environmental habitats. 

Atlanta's stellar sustainability commitment is one of the city's strongest economic drivers.

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