By Marsha W. Johnston
A frequent obstacle to greening sports venues is retrofitting old facilities with what is needed to sustain zero waste initiatives and other environmentally innovative features. But with the nearly 100-year-old Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum — home to both the University of Southern California (USC) Trojans and the National Football Leagues’s (NFL) Los Angeles Rams — achieving as high as 94 percent waste diversion on some game days in 2016 shows that a venue’s age need not be a deal breaker.
The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (Coliseum) opened in June 1923 as the USC Trojans’ home field. In 1932, it hosted the Summer Olympics. And 90 years later, in 2013, the Coliseum’s management got serious about implementing zero waste practices. “When I got here, we weren’t even really recycling,” recalls Brian Grant, USC’s director of operations at the Coliseum since September 2013, the same year USC took over management of the stadium from the Coliseum Commission comprised of city, county and state officials. “We went live with Zero Waste on September 5, 2015, and went from zero percent diversion to zero waste in two football seasons.” On average, in 2016, the stadium had an 83 percent diversion rate.
The feat got the attention of the PAC-12 Conference, which awarded USC First Place in the Fall 2016 Zero Waste Bowl Challenge that it conducts with the Green Sports Alliance. “It is hugely significant for a couple of reasons,” says Jamie Zaninovich, Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer of the Pac-12 Conference, which is holding the nation’s first summit on greening collegiate athletics just prior to the 2017 Green Sports Alliance Summit this month. “One, because they were able to accomplish it despite the logistical challenges of having an NFL and a high-level collegiate team in the same facility. Second, this is an iconic building. It is not a LEED Gold facility built five years ago. We have had success around the conference with older buildings in Boulder and Cal [University of California, Berkeley], which won the Zero Waste Bowl a couple of years ago. But it takes a little bit more elbow grease in those older facilities to make it work.”
USC’s Sustainability Department had been pushing zero waste at the stadium for a few years, explains Halli Bovia, program manager. While it secured a sponsor partnership with Glad Corp. to pilot a successful Zero Waste Tailgate event in 2011, and piloted several zero waste events at the Coliseum, it took the arrival of Grant to launch an all-out assault. Grant, who had started a recycling and composting program for the University of Minnesota’s 50,000-seat stadium, was the “keystone,” Bovia says. “When he came on board, the university really made it a priority,” adding that USC has set a goal of 75 percent waste diversion by 2020 over its three campuses, various centers, and all Coliseum operations.