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An interview with Amazon’s Head of Sustainable Operations on the property’s innovative features and how it’s setting a new sustainability standard for arenas around the world.
Last month, Climate Pledge Arena, Seattle’s new sports and events center, opened its doors with a Coldplay concert, 12,500 plants and trees, electronic entry tickets — no paper! — that double as free public transit passes and all-electric operations powered by 100 percent renewable electricity.
Sally Fouts, Amazon’s global leader of The Climate Pledge, sat down with Chris Roe, Amazon’s head of sustainable operations, to learn details about the innovative features of the new arena building, property and functionality — and how it’s setting a new sustainability standard for event centers around the world.
Sally Fouts: Climate Pledge Arena opened in October with the bold goal of making history as the first events center to achieve net-zero carbon certification through the International Living Future Institute and thereby setting a new standard for sustainable design. What does that certification entail, when will it be official, and how is it different from the LEED certification many sports venues around the world have achieved?
Chris Roe: The net-zero carbon certification from the International Living Future Institute (ILFI) is the first worldwide third-party certification standard dedicated to recognizing highly energy efficient buildings that are designed and operated to fully account for their carbon emissions impacts. This means that certified buildings will be all-electric, energy efficient, powered entirely by renewable energy and with a demonstrated reduction in the embodied carbon of building materials. A building must be operational for a year before being able to be certified, so while the arena is registered and on-track for certification, we’re excited to see a year’s worth of operational performance data before Climate Pledge Arena will officially become certified the first net-zero carbon arena in the world. While LEED certification focuses broadly on green building, this ILFI standard goes above and beyond LEED with regards to reducing carbon emissions.
Fouts: I’m impressed by how every aspect of the design, both of the physical property and how it functions, is setting a new bar for event centers. Can you share a few of your favorite details that may not be visible to the public?
Roe: Many people don’t realize the carbon emissions associated with building materials — including mining, manufacturing, and transportation — happen long before they make their way into a building. That’s why I’m really excited that Climate Pledge Arena preserves the existing 44-million-pound roof that was originally constructed for the 1962 World’s Fair. The arena is also built down below grade, meaning there are fewer materials throughout the building.
Given the importance of ice to our earth’s climate and the abundance of rain in Seattle, I also love the "rain to rink" system that uses rain water to supply the greenest ice in the NHL for the Kraken. There are large cisterns underground that collect rain water from the building’s roof, which is then processed through a system that is all-electric — even the Zamboni is all electric — and uses natural refrigerants (typically a potent source of greenhouse gas emissions) powered by 100 percent renewable energy both from a 1.2MW on-site solar system and off-site renewable energy projects.
Fouts: And how about the sustainable operational details that visitors experience?
Roe: This is what makes Climate Pledge Arena really unique. Oak View Group has done an amazing job integrating sustainability into the attendee experience. First, all game tickets double as free public transit passes to encourage alternative ways to arrive at the arena.
Events at the arena will be zero waste with durable and compostable containers at the concession stands. A minimum of 95 percent of all arena waste will be diverted from landfills on a weight basis and the arena is working with food and beverage suppliers to eliminate single-use plastics entirely by 2024.
And finally, at least 75 percent of the arena’s food ingredients will be sourced locally within a 300-mile radius and on a seasonal basis to support regional farmers and producers. All viable unused food from events will be donated to local community food programs.
Fouts: Impressive. And how about that gorgeous living wall?
Roe: It’s 200 feet long and 14 feet tall with plants native to the Pacific Northwest, and has quickly become a favorite spot for pictures throughout the arena — the scale and beautiful design integrates digital displays alongside native plants and is a pretty amazing part of the venue.
Fouts: Anything else you want to share with us?
Roe: Climate Pledge Arena has many "firsts" — including the first zero carbon arena in the world and the first naming rights agreement named for a cause rather than a company. We’re proud to be part of a partnership that brings awareness and inspiration on the urgency of climate action to thousands of fans over 200 nights per year.
Fouts: What’s next for the arena?
Roe: Now that the arena is operating, we’re starting to collect performance data and are excited to share that with the public. The arena is launching a public facing dashboard to provide more insight into the arena’s sustainability commitments around carbon, energy, waste, food and many other areas, and we hope this provides a measurement mechanism to identify and track additional improvement opportunities so the arena continues to reduce its impact over time. We’ve also heard from a number of other venues and arenas, so we hope the lessons and learnings from Climate Pledge Arena will help others continue to raise the bar on sustainability throughout the sports and entertainment industry.