Dallas Cowboys Go Blue (with a Greener Stadium)
It’s time for Super Bowl XLIII, and the NFL is powering the entire event with renewable energy, as well as planting trees to offset carbon created by activities related to the big game. For 16 years, “going green” has been a part of planning and producing the Super Bowl. But the Super Bowl isn’t the only green venue in the NFL world.
In a press release last October, the Dallas Cowboys, along with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), announced that the Cowboys were on a path “to be the first sports stadium to gain recognition in the EPA’s National Environmental Performance Track program.” This bold action is in conjunction with the design and construction of the new Dallas Cowboys Stadium, which will be open for business in Arlington, Texas next summer.
The Cowboys hired Culture Technologies, Inc., led by Elizabeth Frisch, to help implement the EPA program at their new stadium. In a recent interview with Frisch, she described several of the issues the stadium design and construction teams will consider as they begin their EMS. This is part 2 of a two-part interview with Frisch about her work at Culture Technologies. — Publisher
FRISCH: The Cowboys had decided they wanted to join the National Environmental Performance Track. This is a U.S. EPA environmental recognition program that requires you to put in an environmental management system (EMS) and continually improve and measure your environmental performance, year after year.
For the Cowboys, this isn’t just, We’re putting in a green building, or We’re putting in a green product; this is an entire process. It’s infinite. As long as the system is in place, it drives continual improvement, so every year you raise the bar and take on something more. It’s a very robust and powerful model, if done correctly. We had been recommended to the Cowboys because of our reputation in making culture changes leading to performance improvement.
BPGL: Was this move prompted by a desire to save money?
FRISCH: The new stadium will hold up to 90,000 people at one time. That’s an entire city sitting in one spot for an extended period of time — and consuming food and beverages. The Cowboys management said, “We want to save money. This new stadium is going to kill us with utility costs and consumption. And we know we’re not doing certain things efficiently.”
So, we audited a playoff game last November. We looked at how the fans, the employees, the contractors, the vendors, and everyone who came in and out of that stadium during a game used it. We looked at the behaviors that are driving the footprint consumption, as well as what they’re consuming. It’s different from a utility audit, where a consultant just goes out and tells you how to save money. We do culture change, behavior-based audits. We actually stood in the bathroom and watched how people used the space, what their habits were. We asked people questions, like, “Why did you throw this here?” There’s also a lot of social thought that goes into such an audit, to determine why the behavior is happening.
BPGL: What other activities did you look at?
FRISCH: We looked at utilities and any kind of resource consumption — whether it be paper, food, or even people’s time. We also looked at how traffic comes in and out; the longer a car idles, the more emissive it is. It’s about getting the highest level of efficiency around consuming each resource.
For a stadium, tailgating is a big deal. There are companies around the stadium that become tailgating locations on game day, and huge amounts of recyclable aluminum end up in the trash or on the street. How do we incentivize people to not dump that stuff?
BPGL: At the stadium, which items in the waste stream will you recycle?
FRISCH: The Cowboys use cups that are recyclable. They’re also collector’s items. The ideal thing is that most people take them home. But if they don’t take them home, they’re number 5 plastic and can be recycled.
And cardboard is a huge waste stream. It’s a matter of just segregating the types, but you still have to get people to do it.
BPGL: What about food waste?
FRISCH: With any stadium, there are huge amounts of food production. I think the new stadium will have five separate kitchens. And these are huge. They’ll be feeding 90,000 people. They have beautiful suites, and they’ll do full catering for those suites.
The ways they use the kitchens and stage the food and open freezer doors and turn on the ovens create a huge carbon footprint. But that can be reduced just by getting people to take small steps. It’s as simple as turning on the shrink-wrap machine only for the first and last hour, instead of leaving it on for the entire game, when no one is using it.
We also looked at how they’re disposing of the grease and even how much food they’re throwing away. We examine habits that people do automatically.
BPGL: People across the country are changing out light bulbs to use CFLs. Are there similar savings to be made with lighting at the stadium?
FRISCH: We looked at how the cleaning crew uses the lighting in the stadium when the fans aren’t there. There’s huge wattage in those lights, and the default is that they just leave everything on when they clean. They can turn off some of the lights and save about $500 an hour.
BPGL: What are some suggestions you gave them?
FRISCH: That’s where the social engineering part comes in. We can tell people what to do, like turn off the lights, stage the food a certain way, separate the recycling, add more recycling bins in certain areas. But people actually know all that. You can go to any website on the top ten things you can do for the environment and get that list.
The missing piece that we’re working on is, how do you get them to commit to doing the action? We know what action they have to do. What we’re training them to do is to create the framework that will get people to actually commit to doing those actions. That’s the behavioral change side of it.
BPGL: How do you get people to change entrenched behaviors?
FRISCH: I wish there was a cookie cutter answer to explain how you change someone’s behavior. It’s helping them think about, Why does the tailgater put it here? and What is the only thing they would need to make them not put it there? This varies by city. Each fan base has its own personality. Geographically, there are some things that fly easier in certain parts of the country, and other things that don’t, depending on what the culture is.
One of the things we have them working on first is what they can control directly. And of course, what they can control directly is their employees, their vendors, and their contractors.
BPGL: We hear a lot about “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” It seems that the stadium has the recycling aspect covered. What have you recommended to them about reducing and reusing?
FRISCH: Ideally, “Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle” is the hierarchy. Recycling is actually the last thing you want to do. We start by asking, What are all the things we can reduce at the source? Then, What can we reuse? Then, What can we recycle?
One of their biggest waste streams is the packaging that the food comes in. They pay twice for it. They pay for that box or wrapper to get manufactured and sold, and then they pay to throw it away. So we tell them to go back to their supplier or vendor and say, “This particular product is taking up 30 percent of our waste stream. We want to continue doing business with you, but we want you to propose a packaging that uses half as much.” That’s greening the supply chain.
BPGL: You said you don’t have a composting set up for the food waste. Do you have any ways of reusing the food waste stream?
FRISCH: Typically, the short answer for the Cowboys Stadium is, “Not at this time,” although we’re looking at lots of different options. Initially, what they committed to is energy reduction, water reduction, and solid waste reduction. So for year one of their EMS, we’re looking at projects in those areas.
Each year, we’ll revisit projects. Composting is not on this year’s. list. But, as composting is becoming more popular, the cost of taking all that food waste goes down, because a composter is less than 60 miles away.
BPGL: How will you encourage fans to make good choices?
FRISCH: We have to consider what type of recycle bins to use, how far fans have to walk to get to one, what kind of stuff to put up on the big screen to make it amusing and entertaining to recycle, and what to give away as a reward. Everybody likes Cowboys paraphernalia here.
We’d like to incentivize the behavior before we punish it — and punishment is a bad word. There’s a consequence if you use up the environment. There’s damage, so there’s a consequence. But even fear of death doesn’t cause people to change their behaviors. A study was published a couple years back, in which they said that 90 percent of patients who had had a heart attack, even being told they would certainly die if they didn’t change their ways, didn’t change their ways. So, that’s the dynamic you’re looking at. Even fear of death doesn’t make people change their behavior. You have to get behind what views are driving their results and getting them to commit. Commitment is the only thing that can pull us out.
BPGL: What’s the next step at the Cowboy Stadium?
FRISCH: The one great thing about behavior change around the environment is that it’s evolutionary. So the exciting thing about the Cowboy Stadium — and all the stadiums — is that they can put in one program, then the next, then the next. And as the consciousness raises, there’s infinite stuff to do. If you get champions, you can enroll the fan base and take certain things on. We want to start looking at, What will the fans be willing to do?
There really are infinite ways to get people to transform their behavior. It’s just that we’re so used to either putting a law or some kind of gate in place, but that’s really not effective. People will still break the law. People will still break the rules.
BPGL: How will you assess the effectiveness of the Cowboys’ program?
FRISCH: They’ll review their performance annually. We’ll initially help them do it. One of the great things about taking on the National Environmental Performance Track and an EMS is that they will have the capability of doing it themselves. Then every three years, if they want to stay in the EPA’s program, they need an outside, third party to do that for them.
BPGL: Are other sports teams as progressive as the Cowboys at going green?
FRISCH: The sports teams are really on the cusp. A lot of them are looking at LEED. A lot of them are looking at recycling. It’s only a matter of time before they realize they have a fan base and employee base they can flip and deliver on those behaviors. Considering what they spend on operations, it’s a very nominal amount of money to support that environmental change.
Just so you know, their new tagline is, “Dallas Cowboys Go Blue.” They’re in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and it’s a non-attainment area for air quality, so blue is clean air. And blue is clean water, and recycling, and lowering our carbon footprint. With leadership from the Dallas Cowboys, we’re hoping the word will spread and all fans will follow the team’s lead. The goal is not just a better stadium, but a better world for all of us.
Part 2: Dallas Cowboys Go Blue (for a Greener Stadium) (Top of Page)
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