ASM Global’s recent announcement of nine specific sustainability goals for its venue clients means the company is throwing its weight into the environmental movement. That weight is substantial: ASM Global counts more than 350 stadiums, arenas, theaters and convention centers in its global venue management portfolio, the largest such collection in the world.
Several of the target dates for reaching the sustainability goals come as soon as 2025, including elimination of single-use plastic in front-of-house operations, creation of 20% of all consumed energy through renewable sources, and diversion of more than 50% of all waste from landfills. Others, like the goal to reach carbon neutrality by 2050, are long term.
ASM Global plans to integrate the goals as a standard part of its relationships with current and future clients. In almost every case, the company, which is part-owned by AEG and was formed in 2019 by the merger of SMG and AEG Facilities, doesn’t own the venues it operates and is limited to a degree in its ability to compel venue clients to hit sustainability targets.
But the goals are still important, if only for how plainly they’ve been presented. That clarity — stated targets and specific years by which to reach them — has been mostly absent in the sports industry.
“To have these specific and actionable targets and goals is really going to hold us accountable and makes those claims more credible, not only to the greater public but to our venues and the municipalities,” said Lindsay Arell, whose consultancy, Honeycomb Strategies, worked with ASM Global for over a year to develop the targets.
For some venues in the company’s network, the goals won’t be hard to reach. Newer venues were built with LEED certifications and in many cases are already eliminating single-use plastic or reducing water and energy consumption. Others are municipally owned, and their governing bodies already require or encourage sustainable operations. Still others are on the opposite end of the sustainability spectrum and have barely made a dent.
The sustainability targets
ASM Global has committed to reaching the following at the 350-plus venues it operates for clients:
- Reduce energy consumption by 25% by 2030.
- Achieve 20% of all energy consumed through renewable energy sources by 2025.
- Divert more than 50% of overall waste by 2025.
- Eliminate single-use plastic in front-of-house operations by 2025.
- Reduce water consumption by 25% by 2030.
- Award 50% of its reportable spend to suppliers adhering to ASM Global’s environmental purchasing policy by 2030.
- Increase plant-based menu options by 35% by 2024 within venues serviced by ASM Global’s food and beverage arm, Savor.
- Decrease food waste by 75% by 2026 within venues serviced by Savor.
- Become carbon neutral by 2050.
“We’re committed to it, we’ve got a really passionate group of people on the ground, brilliant leadership with Honeycomb, and it’s an area where we feel we can lead,” said ASM Global CEO Ron Bension.
ASM Global and Honeycomb are working closely with sustainability and operations tracking software company WeTrack to measure Scope 1 and 2 emissions — emissions that are directly created by the venues. ASM Global, which is privately held, is not planning to regularly report results to the public.
Once the first two broad emissions categories are under better control, the plan is to take on the more difficult Scope 3 emissions — emissions that aren’t directly created by the venue but result from their hosting of live events, like the carbon footprint of fans traveling to events at ASM Global’s venues, for example.
The sustainability plan wasn’t a central part of Bension’s hiring as CEO in 2021. It became one, though, as he spoke with venues throughout the ASM Global network, and the topic repeatedly arose. The targets were developed through discussions with all levels of stakeholders in the ASM Global ecosystem and tried to strike a balance between unattainable and too easy or already being achieved.
“I’d categorize the ability to accomplish all of this between difficult and really challenging,” said Bension. “But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be doing it.”
About two dozen venues spread across the globe participated in the creation of the sustainability targets, including Allegiant Stadium, Barclays Center, Soldier Field and Target Center.
One example of a building already exceeding targets is P&J Live in Aberdeen, Scotland, a futuristic venue built with sustainability in mind in 2019 and owned by the city. Its head of finance, Jane Burr, is voluntarily overseeing the informal ASM Global sustainability committee.
“I’m quite passionate about it,” Burr said during a Teams call. “If you think about our revenue, you need to have a unique selling point and our unique selling point was that we are very environmentally friendly. From a finance perspective, having that unique selling point is quite attractive.”
There are aspects of sustainable operations that make clear financial sense. For example, ASM Global venues in Europe saw 50% increases in power costs during 2022, and, Bension said, some were measuring power usage and costs on a minute-by-minute basis. ASM Global’s targets are meant to be tangible, not esoteric.
“You can count it in progress, and you can count it in dollars,” Bension said. “Our GMs on the ground level, they’re paid to make money by our clients. When you start to look at reducing energy consumption by 25%, there is value to that for our clients. It adds that extra value to both our GMs and our clients to embrace this.”
Each venue will have its own WeTrack dashboard and companywide data will be shared quarterly. But that system is only as useful as the data put into it, and few venues in the network have full-time employees focused on sustainability.
“We want to do a good job but trying to do it on top of everything else” will be a challenge, said Burr. “Not so much the initiatives, but the collecting of data.”
Some in the sustainability community may wonder why the carbon neutrality goal’s target date is 2050, given many companies plan to reach that threshold sooner. But ASM Global’s target was created in alignment with the UN Paris Agreement and the Events Industry Council’s carbon neutrality goals, both of which are 2050, and the 27-year horizon stems partly from ASM Global not using carbon offsets — essentially the purchasing of credits to offset carbon emissions — to reach neutrality.
All of the ASM Global sustainability targets will be recalibrated annually based on progress or lack thereof. And Bension expects technological advances, more robust public transit infrastructure and any number of other contributing factors to help ASM Global reach its carbon neutrality goal before 2050.
“We’re counting on an assist,” he said, “but there is a lot we can do internally.”