When Green Equals Green with The Heat Group’s Jackie Ventura

September 23, 2015

John Shegerian: Welcome to another edition of Green Is Good. This is the Green Sports Alliance edition of Green Is Good, and we’re here in beautiful downtown Chicago, and we’re so honored to have with us today Jackie Ventura. She is the Head of Operations and Sustainability with the Heat – the Miami Heat that is. Welcome to Green Is Good, Jackie. Jackie Ventura: Thank you so much for having me. John Shegerian: Jackie, before we get talking about all the great things green that you’re doing at the Miami Heat, can you share a little bit about the Jackie Ventura story? Jackie Ventura: That’s a great way to put it. Well, I always found as a child I loved being outdoors. I really enjoyed being – and being from Miami, obviously, we have a lot of beaches and a lot of beautiful places to visit. John Shegerian: Right. Jackie Ventura: And I always loved being surrounded by green. As corny as that sounds, it kind of made my heart sing when I would be outside and partaking of nature. So it started when I was younger, and then as I grew up I wasn’t very involved in a lot of the sustainability movements. Life goes on. You kind of grow up out of certain things. John Shegerian: Right. Jackie Ventura: And then, eventually, when I started working for the Miami Heat, I worked on the operations side, so it was all about maintaining the building, running the building, making sure things were efficient, that we were being responsible consumers, because before the green movement it was all about the bottom line, right? John Shegerian: Right. Jackie Ventura: Not consuming too much is good for your bottom line and that was what originally spiked it. And as this movement became a little bit more prevalent, things trickled down to me, and I already had this love for nature and the environment, so it kind of made sense that I took it over a little bit and kind of started leading us down the path of sustainability. John Shegerian: How many years ago did you start with the Heat? Jackie Ventura: I started a very long time ago – 2001. John Shegerian: Wow. Fourteen years ago. Jackie Ventura: Yes. Fourteen years ago. John Shegerian: So you were working on the operations side. Jackie Ventura: Yes. John Shegerian: And then that evolved into being both operations and sustainability. Jackie Ventura: Yes, because if you think about it in the terms of a venue, all the things that contribute to sustainability – your energy consumption, water consumption, landscaping, all these contracts that take care of the facility – they all tie back to operations, to the back-of-house part of the facility. John Shegerian: Right. Jackie Ventura: So we’ve all taken charge over those issues and kind of led the way. John Shegerian: Isn’t that interesting. And that is why so many people from operations or supply chain management end up in sustainability. Jackie Ventura: Yes. Exactly. Housekeeping reports to us, Levy Restaurants – our concessionaires – report back to the arena division and the ops division so we really do the waste stream. The contract goes through us for all of our waste removal and our recycling efforts, so operations really has their hands in all of the different aspects that contribute to sustainable initiatives. John Shegerian: So talking about sustainability initiatives, you then basically manage the American Airlines arena where the Miami Heat play. Jackie Ventura: Their sustainability efforts. Yes. John Shegerian: All their sustainability. Jackie Ventura: I am not the GM. John Shegerian: Right. Jackie Ventura: I am glad to not have that job. John Shegerian: Right. But their sustainability efforts. Jackie Ventura: Yeah. John Shegerian: And their sustainability efforts can be seen on their website www.AAArena.com. Jackie Ventura: Yes. We have some of our efforts listed up there for our fans to see and try to replicate at home hopefully. John Shegerian: So talk a little bit about your decision with the Miami Heat to pursue LEED certification at the AmericanAirlines arena. Jackie Ventura: Sure. So back in about 2008 the NRDC – National Resources Defense Council. John Shegerian: Right. Jackie Ventura: With our favorite, Allen Hershkowitz. John Shegerian: Right. Jackie Ventura: Dr. Allen Hershkowitz. John Shegerian: Doctor. Jackie Ventura: He had done a great program with Major League Baseball, and they had created this whole sustainable platform for baseball and the NBA wanted to do something similar and launch it league-wide, so they teamed up with the NRDC and made a greening advisor for all the teams. They sent it out to us the summer before. They wanted to launch Green Week in 2009, so we got it the summer of 2008 for all the teams to review and see what we could do each in our own venues. How could we contribute to this movement? John Shegerian: Right. Jackie Ventura: And that trickled down to operations – as it usually does – from the owner to the president to our GM down to ops, because we are the ones that take care of all of those different areas. And as we were going through all of these recommendations from the NRDC and the greening advisor, a lot of light bulbs started going off and we were like, “Wow, we are doing so much of this already.” John Shegerian: Right. Jackie Ventura: Because it’s just efficient to run the building this way. And at that point, there wasn’t an NBA team that was LEED certified that played in a LEED-certified building, so we – none at all. John Shegerian: You were on fresh ground here. Jackie Ventura: Yes. John Shegerian: Wow. Jackie Ventura: Groundbreakers. John Shegerian: Wow. Jackie Ventura: And once I took the LEED checklist, and I started going through it, and I was like, “Wow, we can really do this. Let’s get this third party certification. Let’s get this validated. Let’s show that a building of this size, this age” – because in 2009 we were already hitting almost the 10-year mark – “that we can do this.” John Shegerian: No kidding. Jackie Ventura: We can be efficient. We can meet these standards. And it didn’t hurt that we would be the first, because, you know, everything in sports is about competition. John Shegerian: Right. Great point. Jackie Ventura: It never hurts to be first. John Shegerian: That’s right. Jackie Ventura: So we pursued the certification and it was successful, and in April of 2009 – just before the NBA’s first initial Green Week – we announced that we were the first NBA facility to gain LEED certification, closely followed by Atlanta. John Shegerian: Wow. And so when you say “LEED certification,” what kind? Jackie Ventura: Existing buildings operation and maintenance. John Shegerian: Got it. Jackie Ventura: Or “EBOM,” as I like to call it. John Shegerian: That’s amazing. So you’re the first. So AmericanAirlines arena – which our listeners and viewers can go look at their website, www.AAArena.com – was the first to become LEED certified with regards to an NBA team? Jackie Ventura: Yes. John Shegerian: Wow. And this is back in 2010? Jackie Ventura: This was 2009. John Shegerian: 2009. So what are some of the key sustainability features that you are the most proud of that you got accomplished there that exist today that you put in place then? Jackie Ventura: Well, they existed back then and they exist today still because we got a recertification November of 2014, and that one is a little bit more exciting because we were the first sports facility to get recertified in the world. John Shegerian: Wow. Jackie Ventura: So the USGBC had never had a sports facility recertified under a new level of certification and achieve a higher standard because we received Gold Certification for our recertification – it’s a mouthful I know. John Shegerian: Wow. Jackie Ventura: And a lot of the things that helped us in 2009 continue to contribute in 2014, which was – our energy consumption is a big one, and the hard part is that it’s so hard to illustrate this to our viewers and to our fans and make them understand what these concepts means, but we powered the building so efficiently compared to other venues of our size. John Shegerian: OK. Jackie Ventura: When you compare us to existing data of venues of like-size, like-occupancy in 2009, we were 57 percent more efficient than those venues. John Shegerian: OK. Jackie Ventura: Now, fast-forward to 2014, where we can only cut so much and other venues have kind of jumped on board and they’re trying to curb their consumption. John Shegerian: Sure. Jackie Ventura: So now we’re about 24, 25 percent more efficient. Still great numbers. John Shegerian: Amazing numbers. Jackie Ventura: And if you take into consideration how much energy a building of that size consumes, just that reduction could power hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of homes in our state, in the country. John Shegerian: That’s incredible. And how did you achieve that? How did you even get over that big energy hurdle? Jackie Ventura: Our VP of Ops who is my boss – Jim Spencer – he has been with the building since construction. John Shegerian: OK. Jackie Ventura: And he has always been very big on historical data and tracking data and that is also a passion of mine, because I was – originally, in a former life my degree is in Forensic Anthropology, so it’s a lot of statistical analysis, a lot of regression analysis and that kind of blends well with data monitoring and energy monitoring and trends and all these things that go into tracking our consumption. John Shegerian: The bottom line is you’re comfortable with numbers. Jackie Ventura: Yes. Exactly. John Shegerian: Right. Jackie Ventura: I love numbers. So when we paired up – I started with the Heat in 2001, but he and I paired up in 2003 under the umbrella of operations – it was something that we were both passionate about, tracking our consumption and understanding how the building functioned. Because the building to a certain extent is a living organism, right? John Shegerian: Right. Jackie Ventura: So we created all these different spreadsheets and data trend lines monitoring our consumption, our demand, our kilowatt hours, water and natural gas, chilled water, everything that makes the building run and started comparing it and trying got understand it. What time of the day do we consumer more? Less? Where can we scale back? What has an impact on our consumption? Is it attendance? Is it when a concert ramps up and kick off? John Shegerian: Right. Jackie Ventura: Or is it static? Because sometimes there is not too much fluctuation from one day to the next. So really understating all of this helped us understand where we can scale back and where we can control our consumption. And our CFO loves it because less consumption is not only good for the planet, but it’s good for his bottom line. John Shegerian: So let’s stop there for a second. Back in the day when sustainability was just starting to rise as a big issue in the United States back in – let’s just say – 2003, 2004, 2005…. Jackie Ventura: Yes. John Shegerian: A lot of people used to throw eggs at it and say, “Wait a second – it costs more to be green?” And here you’re saying, “When you do it the right way, the truth is it actually saves money.” Jackie Ventura: Yes. Green equals green. John Shegerian: Green equals green. Love that. So you were able to save money. Jackie Ventura: Yes. John Shegerian: Both for not only getting Gold LEED Certification in 2014, but you were able to save money for the organization. Jackie Ventura: Yes. John Shegerian: That’s amazing. Jackie Ventura: And money that can be used towards other projects or other initiatives. Helping out the community. We have a lot of projects with schools and working within our own community, so it helps loosen up those dollars that would go into unnecessary consumption and have them reallocated to something that is of more value. John Shegerian: Now that you were the first, you were really the torchbearer on this issue. Jackie Ventura: Yes. John Shegerian: Do other arenas come to you now? Do other operations and sustainability managers come to you and say, “Jackie, how did you do this?” And have you become sort of the person that disseminates this information to help people learn how to get their arena LEED certified as well? Jackie Ventura: Yes. I am very open to helping the other teams. A lot of it has been in conjunction with the Green Sports Alliance. I’m also on the Board of Directors for the Green Sports Alliance. John Shegerian: Well, let’s talk about that. We’re here today at the Green Sports Alliance Green Is Good edition, and for our listeners and our viewers out there that want to learn more about the Green Sports Alliance, you can go to www.GreenSportsAlliance.org. Explain how you got involved with GSA, because that is also very important to the whole story. Jackie Ventura: When we got our first certification in 2009, there was a lot of excitement around that and there was a lot of excitement around the fact that it was all due in part to the greening advisor and the work that Allen had done with NRDC. John Shegerian: And for our listeners and our viewers out there, you and I refer to him as “Allen,” but say who was Allen back then to you. Jackie Ventura: Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, PhD. John Shegerian: With the NRDC back then. Jackie Ventura: The senior scientist for the NRDC – the National Resource Defense Council. John Shegerian: Right. Jackie Ventura: Put in place a lot of great programs. So passionate about using the sports and the platform and the access that sports give you to kind of forward this movement and bring sustainability home. He’s got a great line about how many people follow science versus follow sports, and I can’t remember the percentages…. John Shegerian: But it’s big numbers. Jackie Ventura: I’m sure you’ll hear it, but it’s big numbers. John Shegerian: Big numbers, right. Jackie Ventura: A lot more people follow sports than follow science, so it’s a great avenue to get this information out there. And with the NRDC, they were doing some case studies on sports venues to launch one of their publications. The name escapes me right now but it was a big publication. John Shegerian: I remember that. Jackie Ventura: And they did a few case studies on key venues that were kind of leading this movement in the sports realm. And we talked for a little bit, had a conversation, an interview. We put the report together, and then they invited me out to the White House for their Sustainability and Sports panel. John Shegerian: And which year was this? Jackie Ventura: Back in 2012. John Shegerian: Got it. Jackie Ventura: Back in 2012. John Shegerian: After you were already LEED certified? Jackie Ventura: Yes, after the LEED certification. A lot of it – this movement snowballs kind of. That’s what it feels like. John Shegerian: Sure. Jackie Ventura: So it was a couple years before it really started taking ground and people started recognizing our efforts. So at the White House panel, we became a little bit more familiar. They invited me out to Seattle later that year to speak at the second Green Sports Alliance summit, and that’s where a lot of these relationships started happening with Scott Jenkins, Justin Zeulner, Allen Hershkowitz – all great people with the GSA. And last year, they invited me to join the board so I can have a little bit more of a hands-on effort and offer my knowledge. John Shegerian: How exciting. Jackie Ventura: Because I am really speaking from the operator’s point of view. I’m not a marketing person. I’m not a communications person. I understand how the building functions, and that’s where the real meat is for sustainability. John Shegerian: Sure. So now you sit on the board at the GSA. Jackie Ventura: Yes. John Shegerian: And you’re seen as really the “green guru” when it comes to LEED certification of sports venues. Jackie Ventura: Yes. “The Green Monster,” that’s what I’m called back home. John Shegerian: Wow. That’s exciting. So now you’re on the board. You’re here today. Are you speaking today? Jackie Ventura: I am. Workshop panel “How to Benchmark and Baseline Your Data,” so I’ll be speaking on energy. We have someone speaking on waste, someone speaking on water. and it’s led by Stephanie Young with the USGBC. John Shegerian: So it’s great. It’s all about what is measurable. Jackie Ventura: Yes, what’s measurable. John Shegerian: It becomes manageable. Jackie Ventura: Exactly. That’s a great line. John Shegerian: Wow. So talk a little bit about some of the benefits. You were mentioning community. Now that you’re LEED certified twice and now that you’re Gold LEED certified, when you sit with leadership from the Miami Heat, what are they so excited about in all the efforts that you’ve made in terms of sustainability? What is ownership and leadership really excited about? What have you been able to accomplish? Sustainability has then equaled what kind of other accomplishments? You mentioned community a couple of minutes ago. Jackie Ventura: Yeah. The community effort is one of our big ones. Going back to our environment, we do a lot of beach sweeps. We bring out the players and bring out some of the schools that we work with and do beach sweeps a few times a year, clean them up, replant dunes, leave picnic tables, build picnic tables for them, environmentally friendly picnic tables. We started the Reheat Program about five years ago, which takes all of our hot food at the end of a game that has not been sold or put out to the public and it donates it to shelters in Miami, so they alternate coming to pick up the food afterwards. John Shegerian: Wow. Jackie Ventura: We’ve donated about 5,000 pounds a season of food. And the one that’s most exciting to me is we implemented a challenge with Broward County schools. So we’re based in Miami-Dade County. John Shegerian: Sure. Jackie Ventura: But this challenge in particular is with Broward County schools. Linda Gancitano, who is a teacher there at Driftwood Middle School, approached us learning about our sustainability efforts. She approached us to try to help their students and help their schools learn about how they can become more efficient and try to curb their consumption and save dollars, because our schools are suffering. John Shegerian: Wow. Jackie Ventura: A lot of our schools are suffering. John Shegerian: Sure. Jackie Ventura: Budget cuts. There is not enough money to go around. John Shegerian: Right. Jackie Ventura: So the same kind of concept. If you can save this money and not spend it on wasteful consumption, we can take it and put it into these programs. So 2013-2014 season, we did a pilot, launched it, did it only for a month; about 60 schools participated and the county ended up saving roughly $140,000 more or less in energy consumption just in one month over 60 schools. John Shegerian: Wow. Jackie Ventura: If you put it across the entire county, over 200 schools, those are some real big savings you’re talking about. And just one month. John Shegerian: That’s incredible. Jackie Ventura: Yes, it is. 2014-2015, we did it again – challenged them for three months now, almost a quarter of a million dollars in savings over three months for the 80 schools that participated. John Shegerian: Wow. Jackie Ventura: So next year we’re hoping to maybe stir up some healthy competition and get Miami-Dade County involved and maybe have the schools challenge each other. We tell them, “It’s easy, turn off the lights. Have a group of students make a green team and make sure the lights are off at the end of the day. Check the thermostats, make sure they’re at a reasonable temperature. It doesn’t have to be sitting at 65 degrees all day. Check your irrigation. Plant a garden.” It’s very easy manageable steps. It’s overwhelming when you think of it. John Shegerian: Right. Jackie Ventura: In the grand scheme of things. But when you take it down and you break it apart and you see what you can do, it makes it that much more manageable. John Shegerian: Not only that, your influence on those kids. Jackie Ventura: Yes. And they get recognized. They get brought to a game during Green Week – the first, second and third place winner – we do a little recognition ceremony for them on the court. They get plaques, they get banners, they get a pep rally at their school with Bernie and the Heat dancers – everyone loves our Heat dancers. Sometimes a player will make it out depending. That’s kind of a rough time of the year because it’s the end of the season going into playoffs. John Shegerian: Right. Jackie Ventura: And all that stuff. So if we can get a player, we’ll get them a player too. John Shegerian: Wow. Jackie Ventura: But it’s a lot of fun, and it’s a great incentive to get them to really rally around this movement and see how they can implement it in their daily lives. John Shegerian: And that’s going to make them think about sustainability for the rest of their lives. Jackie Ventura: Yes. And take it home and barrage their parents into complying. John Shegerian: That’s amazing. Well, sustainability – as you and I both know, Jackie – is a journey. Jackie Ventura: Yes. John Shegerian: What’s next with regards to your journey with the Miami Heat and the AmericanAirlines Arena? What are your goals in the future, now? Jackie Ventura: Well, we are looking to partner with sponsors that have a similar viewpoint that we do. John Shegerian: OK. Jackie Ventura: So we will be installing – hopefully, by the end of the year it will be visible – a canopy with some solar panels, solar rays that will convert one of our plazas into a more functional space and also educate people as to the value of solar panels. Being so far down south in Florida, we don’t have access to a lot of the other renewable energy sources. We can’t harvest wind really. The sun is our renewable energy. John Shegerian: Right. Jackie Ventura: So solar panels are something that is feasible for people in Miami to do, and there are certain grants and rebates from the government to help you implement, if you choose to do that. So hopefully, if they see it at our place and are like, “Wow. These are cool” – and they’re very beautiful circular panels. John Shegerian: Right. Jackie Ventura: They’re not like the grid that most people see and are like, “I don’t want that on my house.” John Shegerian: Right. Jackie Ventura: There are different options. The technology has advanced so much in such a short amount of time and it has made it cost-neutral, so you’re not really going to be spending that much more money on something that is more efficient than on its counterpart. We’re really trying to bring that message home to our fans and are hoping that they can see that, if we can do it and implement it on such a large scale – I’m talking 1,200,000 square feet – you can do it in your 2,000-square-foot home. It’s not that hard for you to implement it. John Shegerian: And speaking of “you can do it at home,” how many other arenas have you convinced, or have come to you for advice that have now become LEED certified in the last five or six years? Jackie Ventura: There are not too many LEED NBA facilities. I think we’re only at about nine. I might be mistaken. John Shegerian: Still. You were the first, and you got nine to follow. That’s amazing. Jackie Ventura: We were the first, so we always try to act as an educator, as a facilitator and try to break it down and make it manageable steps. If you just monitor your data, if you just do a handful of things that we can lead you down, then you can potentially pursue it. Some people don’t want the third party certification. I think it’s a great validator, and it shows people that you are living by a standard. John Shegerian: That’s awesome. Jackie Ventura: Instead of just saying, “Hey, I’m doing this, I’m doing that,” it gives it that validation. John Shegerian: Absolutely. Jackie Ventura: So we try to convince them that the processes can be overwhelming, it can be difficult, but the USGBC is there to help, the GBCI is there to help, I’m here to help. John Shegerian: That’s amazing. And we thank you so much for joining us today. Nine other arenas since you’ve done it. Nine other arenas. If you’ve just been listening today, this has been Jackie Ventura. She is the Head of Operations and Sustainability for the Miami Heat, and to learn more about all the great work Jackie and her colleagues at the Miami Heat have been doing, you can go to www.AAArena.com. Is there a Miami Heat? Jackie Ventura: It’s through the NBA, www.NBA.com/Heat. John Shegerian: www.NBA.com/Heat. And also this is the Green Sports Alliance edition of Green Is Good. You can learn more about the Green Sports Alliance at www.GreenSportsAlliance.org. Jackie, you’ve been so inspirational today. We thank you for your time. You are truly living proof that Green Is Good.