For this month’s Membership Spotlight, we’re pleased to present a Q&A with longtime friend and founding partner of the Green Sports Alliance—John Marler, Vice President Energy and Environment, at AEG. As April is generally recognized as Earth Month, it’s a great chance to highlight an organization’s commitment to sustainability—especially an industry leader like AEG. Our Membership Manager, Rahul Devaskar (RD), recently sat down with Mr. Marler (JM).
RD: John, always great to connect. It’s been a great pleasure working with you and thanks for making the time to sit down with us today. Before we get started, maybe you can tell us a bit more about your role and responsibilities at AEG for our readers.
JM: Sure, I oversee two of AEG’s corporate programs, AEG 1EARTH and AEG Energy Services. My team and I run the company’s sustainability program, which includes collecting data from our worldwide network of venues and producing our annual sustainability report. With our partner, Schneider Electric, we also oversee energy and utility procurement and account management.
RD: AEG is known to many Alliance stakeholders for their extensive work in sustainability and your AEG 1Earth program. Could you tell us a bit more about AEG 1EARTH, and why the organization has committed resources and time to sustainability?
JM: AEG 1EARTH is how we address the environmental impacts of our operations, which includes trying to minimize those impacts, and to raise awareness of the importance of environmental sustainability. We devote resources to sustainability because it’s the right thing to do and we want to be good corporate citizens. But because energy and utilities are generally the second-highest operating cost for a sports and entertainment venue, we also see a clear business case for operating efficiently.
RD: A major thing we see each year is the creation of a very comprehensive Sustainability Report from AEG 1EARTH. Why is creating such a report so important to your organization?
JM: We want to run a first-class sustainability program and that means being transparent and showing that our efforts are having an impact. We also recognize that our brands have a lot of visibility and influence. We feel it’s a responsibility to show that we’re trying to be better stewards of the environment. It’s one thing if we can reduce our power use at a venue by installing LED lights, but what if everyone who visits that venue in a year goes home and does the same thing? That will have a big impact.
RD: There’s no doubt that a lot of time went into developing the report and AEG has gone to great lengths. Why have you decided to go the extra mile in your research and reporting each year? Any lessons learned from this process, and what have you learned from taking such a deep look at your organization’s footprint?
JM: We have learned that sustainability is all about the data. It’s a cliché at this point, but you can’t manage what you can’t measure. So, we spend a lot of time making sure we’re collecting all the relevant data and making sure that it’s accurate and up-to-date. Because we track our progress on a portfolio-wide, absolute basis, we don’t have room for error.
RD: For any other organizations going through the reporting process, do you have any big picture advice?
JM: Figure out what is material to your organization and your stakeholders and be transparent about it. A lot of times organizations are worried about discussing the obstacles of achieving their set targets and only focus on sharing success stories. It’s important to talk about the challenges of a sustainability program because it allows for an honest dialogue. In order to gain the trust of your stakeholders, you must be honest. The last thing people want is another PR ploy or green washing. Also, very few people will ever read a sustainability report cover-to-cover. Make sure your report is easy to follow.
RD: I notice that your sustainability reports feature some of AEG’s (and AEG teams’/venues’) successes around community engagement. As a major platform for the Alliance in the last few years, and a personal passion of my own, perhaps you can share more about the importance of community engagement in your sustainability work?
JM: Yes, it’s a value we share with the Green Sports Alliance: leveraging the power of sports and entertainment to help us all adopt more sustainable habits. It’s not enough that we simply improve our performance, telling people about that is part of our responsibility. By engaging with the community and providing education and awareness, we are serving the cause of sustainability better.
RD: Some members have expressed challenges in connecting operational sustainability to community oriented (and often social) objectives. How has AEG navigated this, and any best practices you can share with our readers?
JM: I agree with this. I think the environmental community could do a better job of framing these issues. At the end of the day, it’s hard to motivate people to act on something like global climate change because it’s abstract and seems far-away. I think the best thing to do is relate the issue back to your audience. I think the NHL has done a great job with this—they have come out and told their fans: “Did you know that our sport got its start on frozen ponds and we may be living in a world without frozen ponds?” That’s a great way to message the issue to hockey fans to get them to understand the importance of what’s going on.
RD: With 2018 underway, what can we expect to see or hear from AEG and AEG 1Earth? Any exciting news coming up?
JM: Honestly, we’re just working as hard as we can to make better progress towards our 2020 Environmental Goals. Beyond that, this Earth Month we’re launching the AEG 1EARTH Ambassadors Program, which is a sustainability leadership program available to full time AEG employees. We’re going to provide training to program participants, so they can build skills, serve their communities, and continue to spread information and awareness about sustainability.
The 2018 AEG Sustainability Report was released April 25. Click here to view and download.