Bringing Sustainability to Live Sports & Entertainment with AEG’s Becky Dale & John Marler

September 21, 2015

John Shegerian: Welcome to another edition of Green Is Good. This is the Green Sports Alliance Edition of Green Is Good in beautiful downtown Chicago, and we’re so honored to have with us today, Becky Dale and John Marler. Becky is the Manager of Environmental Sustainability Programs at AEG Worldwide and John is the Senior Director of Energy and Environment at AEG Worldwide. Welcome to Green Is Good.

Becky Dale: Thanks.

John Marler: Thanks for having us.

John Shegerian: Well, this is an exciting day. Today, we’re going to be talking about – of course – AEG Worldwide, but also what you are doing here at the GSA annual event. But before we do that, John and Becky – Becky, can you share a little bit about your background, and then I want to hear a little bit about John’s before we get into AEG actually.

Becky Dale: Sure. So my academic background is focused in public policy analysis, specifically focused on environmental policy. I started my career at Southern California Edison – the local electric utility in southern California – working on mostly regulatory issues related to climate change and renewable energy in California. From there, I worked in consulting for a few years and then reunited with my old colleague – John – working at AEG.

John Shegerian: Got you. And John, what does your journey look like?

John Marler: I’ve always been interested in environmental issues and planet Earth. I was a geology major in college. I got my Master’s in Hydrogeology, so that led me to environmental consulting, which led to law school and practicing as a litigator for a few years. Then in 2009 I switched over to the energy side working at Southern California Edison – which is where I met Becky – and then saw the position open at AEG for a sustainability director and went for it.

John Shegerian: For our listeners and viewers out there that want to learn more about AEG they can go to www.AEGWorldwide.com.

John Marler: That’s right.

John Shegerian: So let’s talk a little bit about AEG’s sustainability program AEG 1Earth. Can you both share a little bit about that?

John Marler: Sure.

Becky Dale: Sure. So the program was launched back in 2007 in response to a pretty simple question from our CEO, which was, “What do we need to do to go green?” So, John and I have full-time jobs answering that question, which is a little bit more complicated than that.

John Shegerian: Yeah. And for our listeners out there, explain what AEG does for a living. What do you guys do?

John Marler: OK. We are the leading sports entertainment presenter in the world. We own and operate sports entertainment venues worldwide, from Stockholm to Sydney, Australia. Then, we also have sports teams that we own shares in – anything from Swedish soccer teams to the L.A. Kings hockey team, the L.A. Galaxy MLS team.

John Shegerian: Wow.

John Marler: Then, also, an AEG Live division where we produce musical events, festivals like Coachella and Stagecoach here in California.

John Shegerian: Wow. So then how does AEG’s business goals intersect with sustainability, and how does that make a great business case in terms of, obviously, the old days, where people used to push back and say, “Being greener costs more money”? Now, there is actually an ROI. Can you explain how you intersect that at AEG?

Becky Dale: We do a lot of different things, but most of them happen in large buildings that we run and so we can make a pretty compelling case around energy efficiency, increasingly renewable energy onsite, diverting waste to recycling instead of landfill as tipping fees go up, so a lot of it really comes down to operational excellence for us, and that’s something that our operators agree with because they want to be great at their jobs. Then, our finance people like it as well, because, ultimately, we’re saving on utility bills.

John Shegerian: Wow. And then interrelate that back with AEG’s mission to AEG 1Earth. What does “1Earth” actually mean at AEG?

John Marler: So it’s all about driving business value through sustainability. Becky mentioned operational excellence. In our view having a very low if non-existent environmental footprint is part of being a good operator. And as you mentioned, now that some of these technologies and practices have started to prove themselves financially, it makes it easier to make a business case for it. But one of the things that we also haven’t touched on is kind of the value. We do this because we think it’s the right thing to do. We are very sensitive to our standing and our responsibility in the communities we operate.

John Shegerian: Right.

John Marler: And reducing your environmental footprint, reducing your demand on those resources is just part of being a good community partner.

John Shegerian: Got you. And how do you message all the great work you’re doing to your community base and to your clients that come to your venues?

Becky Dale: It’s an interesting question. So at the corporate level we do have the AEG 1Earth program and we put out an annual sustainability report for our stakeholders – our next one is actually coming out this July – and so that really summarizes what is our annual performance. We report against 2020 goals that we have in the areas of greenhouse gas emissions, water reduction, waste diversion, responsible purchasing and education and communication for our fans. So for anyone who is really interested, the sustainability report is a great resource.

John Shegerian: OK.

Becky Dale: That said, not everyone is going to read the report, so we also try to reach people through social media, in the venues – really, any way we can to get little tidbits of the message out.

John Shegerian: So, when I walk through – for instance – Staples Arena, what would I see there? Is there messaging literally in terms of posters or things more quietly done? What is the messaging in an arena actually?

John Marler: So inside the arena, it’s going to be relatively subtle.

John Shegerian: OK.

John Marler: We want to have well-marked receptacles for waste and recycling.

John Shegerian: Got you.

John Marler: You’ll see some stickers in the restrooms to show that we use environmentally preferable products.

John Shegerian: Right.

John Marler: Paper products and soaps and things like that. The other place you’ll see it is on the venue website.

John Shegerian: Got you.

John Marler: Where we have – Staples Center, for instance, is ISO 14001-certified.

John Shegerian: Wow.

John Marler: So its environmental management system has met that international spec. All that information is on their website, including links to our program and some of their sustainability accomplishments. But the challenging thing with sustainability is a lot of what we do is not going to be readily apparent.

John Shegerian: Right.

John Marler: Energy efficiency. We have 346 kilowatts of solar panels on the roof of the Staples Center.

John Shegerian: Wow.

John Marler: But unless you get the blimp shot, you’re not going to know that’s there.

John Shegerian: That’s right.

John Marler: And so another thing that we do in addition to social media websites and the sustainability report are annual activations. So for Earth Day, Earth Hour and America Recycles Day, we have events worldwide and countrywide to celebrate those and kind of raise awareness in a little bit more tangible way for the fans.

John Shegerian: That’s interesting. So you mentioned energy management. That is obviously big to what you do because you manage so many venues and so many events. What do you do for energy management? How does that look since you’re a worldwide global brand? How does that go?

John Marler: It’s a three-step process and we’re pretty regimented about it. The first thing is to kind of look at the building culture, which what we found is our operators already have great energy efficiency culture. In other words – in our industry, it’s called a “dark day.” When we don’t have an event, the lights, the HVAC, any nonessential electrical equipment is going to be powered down.

John Shegerian: Right.

John Marler: It saves money and it reduces our environmental footprint. Obviously, when we’ve got things going on, our consumption goes up, but through trial and error, they’ve understood how to minimize the usage of energy. So where we can we engage with them on the cultural and behavioral aspects – making sure lights are turned off, that temperature set points are set at appropriate levels or just turned off altogether. The next step is really looking at the infrastructure in the building and finding out are there retrofits that we can make that are going to save energy and save money. So, right now, the big deal is LED lights. The technology has really proven itself, and a lot of the times the payback on those is going to be under three, sometimes under two years, so you’re kind of silly not to do that. Then, when the venue has kind of gotten to the point where their behavior is good, they’ve kind of retrofitted all that they can do from an energy efficiency point of view, we start looking at onsite generation – solar panels, fuel cells, in some cases, wind turbines. We’re also looking into energy storage, which seems to have a lot of promise for the way we run our buildings.

John Shegerian: That’s so interesting. And then data is so important. What you can measure you can manage. How does that go? How do you asses data, gather data – Becky – and manage that data and then, eventually, use it to make your business case?

Becky Dale: Sure. So data collection is a huge part of our day-to-day job. We have an analyst who is basically full-time staff to collect data from our venues worldwide. We work with our partner, Schneider Electric, to use their resource advisor platform through which we can on the web gather data globally. So we have a utility bill management service for a lot of our venues that automatically uploads all of their utility data. We collect waste data that is manually entered by all of our venues. So we are collecting a lot of data – up to 80 individual data points per month per venue – so given that we’re doing that for 70 plus sites, we’re working with a lot of data and we look at that in the aggregate to see how we’re doing as a company, but also we leverage that when we’re looking at specific projects at the venues.

John Shegerian: Got you. If you’ve just joined us, we’ve got Becky Dale and John Marler from AEG, and you can find them at www.AEGWorldwide.com. We’re talking about AEG Worldwide and all the stuff they’re doing with regards to sustainability and making their business case, and we’re here at the Green Sports Alliance, and if you want to find the Green Sports Alliance, you can go to www.GreenSportsAlliance.org. So share a little bit about what you’re doing here today before we talk more about AEG, which we’re going to get into some more questions. We’re here at the GSA annual event. Both of you are speakers. Can you each explain what you’re speaking about here at the GSA?

Becky Dale: Sure. So I’m speaking on two panels. The first this afternoon about how do we engage fans in sustainability, and I’ll be talking a bit about some of how the sports teams that we own; how they’re engaging their fans through a variety of means around recycling, transportation, cleaning up their local communities, a number of different issues. Then, tomorrow, I’ll be speaking about some of our water recycling efforts at a few facilities.

John Shegerian: Great. And John?

John Marler: So, this morning, I was in a session about sustainable development and how sports entertainment venues can kind of be the catalyst for urban revitalization and furtherance of sustainability practices.

John Shegerian: Right.

John Marler: So I was really drawing from our company’s experience with the L.A. Live entertainment district and the Staples Center. Then, we also have projects in London at the O2 complex on the Greenwich Peninsula, in Berlin with the Mercedes-Benz arena and the new entertainment district ruling there, and then also in Las Vegas – we’re partnered with MGM to build a new Las Vegas arena, and then MGM is also going to be putting a new entertainment district adjacent to that site as well.

John Shegerian: Wow. So these are all projects that have really kind of helped us introduce the concept not only of sustainable construction but of how these types of projects can have synergistic impacts on the communities where they’re placed.

John Shegerian: That’s so interesting. If I were to ask both of you to name some – first of all how many people work for – I mean, you’re managing worldwide, all these events, all these venues across the globe. How big is your division?

Becky Dale: Well, the company overall between full- and part-time employees, it’s about 30,000 people worldwide.

John Shegerian: But in sustainability and what you’re doing?

John Marler: So our team of three is located in the corporate office, but our CEO has signed off on our environmental policy, which binds all of our employees to our environmental programs. Then, we also rely very heavily on our operators, our finance and accounting teams, our temporary workers to sort of understand what we’re trying to do and then to make things happen. Oftentimes, actually, a lot of our operators are very passionate about environmental sustainability themselves and a lot of our role is really just collecting the good stories and the outstanding work that they’re doing at the venues and sharing it to the public and to other venues so they can learn from those examples.

John Shegerian: Speak of a couple of our favorite stories.

Becky Dale: Probably one of my favorite ones that I’m going to speak about on my panel tomorrow is Citizens Business Bank Arena – a smaller arena located out in Ontario, California, outside of Los Angeles. Through the pure ingenuity of their engineers, they had been using reclaimed water for irrigation for several years, which is a pretty, not an uncommon practice in southern California.

John Shegerian: Yeah.

Becky Dale: But they decided to take it a step further. So they first moved to supplying their cooling towers with reclaimed water, working with the city who owns the building, obviously AEG, the local health department, a number of different people involved in getting that process enacted. Then, from there, the next year, they started using recycled water for hockey ice and became the first hockey arena in the country to do that.

John Shegerian: That’s awesome.

Becky Dale: So I love to see it when people come up with these truly groundbreaking ideas. And John and I had nothing to do with it, so what makes AEG a sustainable company is not us sitting in the corporate office – although, I like to think we help – but it’s these engineers on the ground who are coming up with great ideas.

John Shegerian: But explain something like that. Now, you hear a great diamond of an idea. Are you then able to take that and socialize it across your other venues?

Becky Dale: Absolutely.

John Shegerian: Oh, that’s cool. That’s really cool.

John Marler: It’s relatively larger-scale projects like that, but I also think there are a lot of really fun, smaller-scale projects that may not have so much of an impact on the footprint but kind of really attach themselves in the consciousness. My favorite examples are we have a venue in Australia that posted a food map on their website, which basically shows where all the food and produce that is served in the convention center is located in the region. The convention center attendees love it. The public loves it, because it’s really supporting local agriculture and it really kind of gets at the heart of what we’re trying to do. Another fun example is the Hawaii Convention Center. Most big properties like that are going to have gasoline, diesel or electric golf carts for the service employees. Well, there they have three-wheeled bicycles, so the electricians, the plumbers, the maintenance staff have their own three-wheeled bicycle. They don’t have to use electricity or fossil fuels to get around. It’s quiet. It’s good for their health. Then, they are also allowed to personalize it so they put stickers and decorations and stuff on it, so when you go in the back of house area you see these three-wheeled bicycles. And it’s stuff like that that I think just really shows the only limit to being successful is your creativity and ingenuity and sort of dreaming up these projects.

John Shegerian: That is true. Talk a little bit about the future. Sustainability is a journey. What is next for AEG Worldwide, sustainability and the continued growth and success of your business model?

John Marler: There are a couple of things. From kind of a corporate programmatic level, Becky and I are going to be shifting with the team to recalibrate our company’s environmental sustainability goals. So, right now, we track our progress and our sustainability report to our 2020 environmental goals, which we set in 2010, when we had – I think – 20 some odd facilities.

John Shegerian: Wow.

John Marler: But we now have over 76, and the number of those properties and the diversity of the properties is changing, so we have really realized that we need to recalibrate our goals to better capture how individual businesses operate and also to help drive us to strong performance over the long haul. I think, kind of getting into the operational aspects, it’s going to be on the energy side – and I’ll let Becky speak to the sustainability side – it’s going to be things like LED lamps. Those are really exciting. They’re going to save a lot of energy. We’ve already seen at the venues that have done LED retrofits that they have documented savings. I’m very excited that solar seems to be an emerging option as the cost of solar goes down and utility prices go up. Then, we’re also very excited about energy storage technologies, as I said earlier. The way these buildings use energy is very unique in that we’re kind of dark for a lot of the year, but when we have events we use a lot of electricity, which is actually a really expensive way to use electricity.

John Shegerian: Right.

John Marler: And if you can have a way of buying cheap energy during the week and then discharging the batteries during the event to save on your peak demand, you can enhance your environmental performance and you can save money. So we’re really looking at all these three things on the energy side. And, Becky, I don’t know.

Becky Dale: I mean, there are so many things we can talk about, but I’ll pick one, which is waste. Obviously, sports venues generate a significant amount of waste, and we continue to see breakthroughs in venues going close to zero waste through use of new compostable packaging and partnering with our haulers and, potentially, outside sponsors to kind of bring all those components together. So that is something we’re looking at very closely. And, increasingly, for years, we’ve been applying the business case to energy efficiency, because it’s pretty obvious. With waste, that’s something that we’re coming on to more and more, so we’re tracking our waste costs, we’re monitoring the fact that landfill tipping fees are going up, and we’re trying to start to make the business case more that recycling and composting is not just the right thing to do; it’s also the smart thing to do for your business.

John Shegerian: Speak a little bit about GSA and AEG. How long has that partnership been in place?

John Marler: So if memory serves, I think we joined in 2011 as a founding partner.

John Shegerian: Wow.

John Marler: And right now I think we’re up to 51 members between our sports teams and our sports venues worldwide.

John Shegerian: Wow.

John Marler: And it’s been a really good partnership. We’re speaking, but we also come here to learn. We get to see what other venues worldwide are doing in these areas that we care about, and I always come away with a lot of good tips, a lot of good exchanges with vendors and our peers.

John Shegerian: Sure.

John Marler: So it’s a great event. I’m really happy to be here.

John Shegerian: When you said you were going to create new benchmarks to transcend the 2020 benchmarks you have, what year are you choosing? Is it 2025 now?

John Marler: I think we’re going to stick with 2020.

John Shegerian: OK. Got you. Just a recalibration.

John Marler: It’s still five years away, and the thinking right now is if we start January 1, 2016, to December 31, 2020, that is five years.

John Shegerian: That’s great.

John Marler: It’s a good round number. It’s a good tangible that we can focus on and drive performance, and I really feel personally – at least on the energy side – that the technology and the economics are going to really help us make some pretty marked improvements in those areas. Water is a challenge because the price of water is artificially low, which makes it hard to do capital projects. Then, waste and recycling, I think, is just an ongoing challenge for us and lot of these other venues. I hope that as a society, as an economy we’ll be able to make some progress in that area, but it’s going to be tough.

John Shegerian: It’s tough because commodity prices are low, so it makes it a little bit more difficult.

John Marler: Right. Which was not the case just a few years ago.

John Shegerian: Right. You’re right. Exactly true.

Becky Dale: Yeah. And we also operate across such a wide geography that what works in L.A. or Humbert may not work in Kansas City.

John Shegerian: That’s very true.

Becky Dale: So we are very attuned to the local environment. But as much as I would like to have a regulatory encyclopedia in my head, I don’t, so we kind of have to go from place to place and take the best practices that we developed as a company but always personalize those to the local environment.

John Shegerian: Got you. Well, thank you both for joining us today. And for our listeners and viewers out there, to learn more about all the great work that Becky Dale and John Marler are doing at AEG Worldwide, please go to www.AEGWorldwide.com. This has been the Green Sports Alliance edition of Green Is Good. To learn more about the Green Sports Alliance, go to www.GreenSportsAlliance.org. John Marler and Becky Dale, you’re both making the world a better place and are both truly living proof that Green Is Good. Thank you both so very much.

Becky Dale: Thank you.

John Marler: You’re welcome. Thank you.

John Shegerian: Thank you.