By Lew Blaustein, GreenSportsBlog
Los Angeles-based AEG is the largest sports and entertainment venue operator in the world, entertaining over 100 million guests annually. On the sports side, AEG is both a venue owner-operator — marquee properties like LA’s Staples Center, London’s O₂ Arena and T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas headline its portfolio — as well as a team owner, with LA’s Galaxy, Kings and Lakers among its leading lights.
An early driver of the sports greening movement, the company has accelerated the pace of its sustainability efforts over the past three years, committing to science-based targets in 2016 and to the UN’s Sports for Climate Action Framework earlier this year.
GreenSportsBlog first spoke with John Marler, the company’s VP of Energy and Environment and newly announced Green Sports Alliance board member, three years ago. We caught up with him recently to delve into AEG’s recent sustainability advances and to get his take on how hard sports can push on climate going forward.
GreenSportsBlog: Hi John, it’s great to talk again. AEG adopted “science-based targets” regarding its greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) reductions goals in 2016. What are science-based targets in general and how has the company progressed in the first three years since making the commitment?
John Marler: GHG reductions targets adopted by companies are considered science-based if they are aligned with the level of decarbonization necessary to keep global temperature rise below 1.5°C as compared to preindustrial levels.
While AEG was not the first company to commit to science-based targets, we were an early adopter back in 2016.
GSB: Why did AEG go all in on science-based targets?
John: We realized that, while the planet doesn’t care if we get things right on GHG emissions reductions, humanity and other life forms certainly will care. Progress has been slow but steady. In 2018, we were able to move closer towards our goal by purchasing additional renewable energy. This allowed us to keep up, emissions-reductions-wise, with the growth in emissions from adding new venues to our roster. Many other companies are in the same boat and are taking a similar approach.
GSB: What specific targets are AEG moving towards?
John: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report says humanity has until 2030 to reduce GHG emissions by 45 percent versus a 2010 baseline. We’re working towards that goal and also towards being carbon neutral by 2050.
GSB: How far along is AEG in terms of emissions reductions and how have you gotten there?
John: We reduced GHG emissions by 18 percent from 2017 to 2018 and are very close to being on pace to get to the 33 percent reduction level by 2020, putting us on track to get to the “45 percent by 2030” threshold. Our approach for our venues has been to focus on energy efficiency wherever possible and to purchase renewable energy credits(RECs).
We’ve been encouraged by the quality and quantity of the RECs that have become available as more renewable energy generation capacity is being built out. One somewhat paradoxical challenge for us has been our growth. Meaning that the more properties we acquire or build, those added emissions get assigned to our ledger versus our 2010 baseline.
GSB: So that means you’re actually performing better on a per venue basis if total AEG emissions are down vs. 2010 as your portfolio has grown, right? How do on-site renewables fit into this?
John: Solar and wind at sports or entertainment venues are great in that they serve as high profile advertisements for renewable energy. But the amount of emissions reduction we see from on-site renewables at stadiums and arenas is quite small. The truth is, only about 25 percent of venue roofs can even accommodate solar. So on-site renewables alone will not get us close to where we need to get in terms of GHG emissions.
Again, for us, getting to our targets will come from improvements on energy efficiency plus funding new off-site renewable energy by the purchase of RECs. We’re pleased by the technological advancements and thus the price reductions in solar and wind as well as on energy storage. The question is, when we’re talking about climate change globally rather than just in the sports industry, will these advances be fast enough?
GSB: And will there be the will, from the grassroots and political levels, to make the policy changes necessary to accelerate the adoption of these technologies fast enough? Back to sports for a minute. I think Green-Sports 1.0 — the greening of the games themselves — has largely been a success over the past decade or more. LEED certified stadiums and arenas have become the norm. But the sports world cannot rest on those laurels. What do you think the sports greening movement needs to do going forward to maximize GHG reduction impacts?
John: The good thing is that most people in the sports greening movement realize that Green-Sports 1.0 is not nearly enough to get us where we need to be. The real opportunity is for sports venue management — and that means companies like ours — as well as teams, leagues and athletes is to inspire fans to care about climate. For this to happen, sports organizations need to be more public about their greening efforts and encouraging fans to do the same in their own lives. Maybe fans get interested via the plastic ocean waste issue, maybe by trying a plant-based diet. The important thing is they get there.
GSB: How is AEG going about communicating its greening initiatives to its fans?
John: MLS’ LA Galaxy’s Protect The Pitch initiative engages fans at Dignity Health Sports Park and on its website. All of our California venues committed to the state’s Clean Air Day. Our AEG #GoGreen site has a carbon calculator, powered by Conservation International, which allows the visitor to determine his/her annual carbon footprint. They can also offset their carbon.
GSB: How does AEG promote #GoGreen to its guests? How is traffic to the site?
John: Sustainability is increasingly informing consumers’ purchasing habits and behaviors. Because everyone plays a role in sustainability, we encourage employees and fans through our social channels to visit AEGGoGreen.com, learn how to lessen their environmental impact and ask others to join the movement by sharing a #GOGREEN Pledge via Facebook and Twitter.
Conserving our planet’s resources is a shared endeavor that not only touches all levels of our organization, but all people in all corners of the globe. Only by working together can we improve the health of our planet.
The program underscores AEG’s belief that it has an opportunity to use the power of sports and music to create significant, positive change in the world.
GSB: Finally, AEG’s energy efficiency initiatives, its renewable energy purchases and its communications efforts fit well with the five pillars of the UN’s new Sports For Climate Action framework, something to which the company committed. What is AEG looking for from the framework?
John: One of the underlying principles behind the creation of the Green Sports Alliance is that people care deeply about sports and it’s a great platform to engage with people about a variety of issues. We see the Framework as one of these opportunities – to use the most popular and iconic sports brands in the world to help address climate change.
GSB: Speaking of the Alliance, congratulations John on being named to its Board. You will bring a deep well of venue management and technical experience to the Alliance. As for the Framework, it’s off to a strong start with high profile commitments, including AEG’s. I look forward to talking with you down the road to see how compliance and awareness of the Framework develops.