Stage for Global Green Games in LA & Beyond Set by World Trade Center LA

Stephen Cheung

In the lead up to the 2028 Olympic Games, the Los Angeles region is positioned to become the US Capital for international sports entertainment. For insights on how sustainability managers are impacting planning and operation of these mega-events, in September, World Trade Center Los Angeles and the United Kingdom Consulate in Los Angeles hosted Setting the Stage for Green Games a virtual webinar panel moderated by WTCLA President & LAEDC COO Stephen Cheung, featuring Consul General of the UK in Los Angeles, Emily Cloke, PWC Senior Manager & Head of Executive Office for Commonwealth 2022 Burak Kaplanoglu, SoFi Stadium Sustainability Specialist Nelson Ventress, and Chief of External Affairs at AEG, Martha Saucedo. Panelists highlight how their organizations are delivering on sustainability commitments and incorporating social impact to drive economic recovery using the arena of international sporting events.  VX News presents an excerpt of the discussion, below. Watch the full panel video online, here.

Stephen Cheung: As many of you know, we’re very proud in Los Angeles to be hosting the 2028 Olympic Games for the third time. On top of that, we will be competing for and hopefully getting the World Cup in 2026. Additionally, we have the Super Bowl coming next year. There are going to be additional great sessions and games coming to Los Angeles besides those three major events. This includes the 123rd US Open Championship for Golf, Wrestlemania, Major League Soccer and Major League Baseball All-Star games, and a number of different NCAA championships. These will make Los Angeles the capital for sports entertainment of the United States over the next decade or so.

In staging and running these events, it’s going to mean large crowds, significant energy consumption, and a large amount of trash, waste, and water. There’s a lot of opportunity for us to reduce waste and to increase sustainable practices. As global leaders of green initiatives, both the United Kingdom and Los Angeles seek to lead by example through structures and innovative systems that will significantly reduce both waste and the carbon footprint from large-scale events. That’s why this conversation is so valuable, so relevant, and so timely. We want to improve our footprints and get ready for these mega-events that will be generating revenue for local communities, opportunities for businesses, and sustainable practices.

Our first speaker is Emily Cloke, Consul General at the British Consulate in Los Angeles. In this role, she promotes trade, investment, scientific cooperation, climate change solutions, creative and media collaborations, and educational partnerships between the UK and the Southwestern United States.

Emily Cloke: I am so pleased to hear what different organizations are doing to promote sustainability in sports. There is such an importance and value to UK-LA trade and economic engagement. I’m really pleased that the UK is the second largest investor in California. I hope you all come away inspired by the amazing potential for the UK and LA to do even more on cross-border trade and investment in green games.

Sustainability and sports are two areas that are close to my heart. Climate change is the UK’s top international priority. We need to collectively reduce emissions and take global action to keep the temperature rise under 1.5 degrees. The UK is doing that in a number of ways. Firstly, we’re co-hosting COP 26, the UN Climate Change Conference, with Italy in Glasgow this November. We are bringing together global leaders and actors across society to see what action we can take to reach that goal.

We’re also taking action at home. We were the first major economy to legislate to cut emissions. We have also committed to do that even further by looking to reduce emissions by 70 percent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. We’re looking to do that in a way that promotes growth. In December, our prime minister announced a ten point plan to really spur a green industrial revolution, which seeks to create a quarter of a million green jobs and accelerate actions like zero-emission vehicles, green public transport, offshore wind, cycling, walking, and enhancing sustainability and efficiency in buildings.

Sports can be hugely powerful in meeting these goals of moving to net zero and increasing efficiency. For me, what’s unique about sports is that it also has the power to inspire its supporters, stakeholders, viewers, and there are so many opportunities for that coming up. Whether it’s the Super Bowl in LA, the Commonwealth Games in the UK, or the Women’s Football Euros, these events can be hugely inspiring.

Stephen Cheung: Thank you Consul General and thank you for your partnership. It's been a wonderful experience working with your office, and there's a lot more that we need to do in order to make sure that we have all the information as we're preparing for all these great games. Prior to the pandemic, the Los Angeles region actually led a delegation to the UK to look at the 2012 Olympic stadium that was built there and their experience.  We learned quite a lot not only when it comes to environmental sustainability, but how do you basically continue the legacy of those projects? Learning from those experiences is key to our development for our future as well.

We're delighted to have our keynote speaker, joining us right now Burak Kaplanoglu, who is a director of executive office at Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, leads the wide range portfolio of sustainability. Burak brings experience from London 2012, FIFA World Cup Qatar, and Expo 2020 programs. He is a champion of ethical business and creating legacies for people through the lens of doing good business in every sense, especially in major sporting events.

Burak Kaplanoglu: Commonwealth Games is a major investment in the UK. As it was mentioned before, it's a major event building on the legacy of London 2012. What we have done is organized a multi-sports event with 72 nations attending. There will be a million tickets sold, and 1.5 billion TV audiences. So, from that perspective, it's really important that we are actually staying relevant to what is going on in the world.

In the world of post-COVID-19 green recovery, our UK Government has an important agenda, called Leveling Up where we’re looking for green recovery together in a more fair way.  One of the key challenges that we have is thinking how are we going to actually deliver this event successfully? Our pledge is that we have promised to deliver the most sustainable Commonwealth Games yet. It's very important for us to actually acknowledge that we're all in this journey, we're all learning from each other, and that this will be an ongoing process from lessons learned and from an operational perspective.

 One of the biggest commitments that we had made is being the first ever carbon neutral games. Another commitment is to be socially responsible and to act and deliver in that way. Economic recovery and regional recovery is a big part of it. Birmingham is the second largest city in the UK, and it's actually a very important economic powerhouse outside of London. We really care about equal access, so there's a number of initiatives that we've taken in Birmingham 2022 to kind of promote that.

There's ongoing debate about carbon and environment, and something really important when you speak about the ESG agenda—environmental, social, governance agenda is that we do need to balance in these major events, not only the environmental aspects but also need to seriously think about the social aspects of it.

So, if I could share with you a number of lessons we have learned. When you're setting up a major program to deliver sustainability, it's really important these days to start from the get go. You do need to get the commitment from the leadership, set up your strategy, and build a team. It's really interesting because a lot of organizations talk about sustainability, but they really struggle and go for point solutions. In our experience is the best way to approach sustainability is to take a programmatic approach to include social and economic as well as environmental aspects.

It's very important to get the right resource allocation. A lot of organizations talk about it but when it comes down to it, they really struggle to do the right investments. One of the best ways that we have found in terms of delivering sustainability is that you are not alone. There is a really good way you can actually deliver by having regional and national partnerships.

 In the case of Birmingham 2022, for example, we got into sponsorship deal with our local utility water company in terms of delivering. In terms of our carbon neutrality, when done, we'll be able to build a forest to offset some of our carbon footprint. The important thing is to take it as a learning opportunity because I think a lot of organizations make big claims, but they don't really recognize the fact that the best way to go, again, is through what we will call a humble leadership: recognizing that it's a learning opportunity for everyone.

When you talk about different functions of the organizing committee, a lot of them are actually really interested in learning with us. It's also important to have the right blend of leadership and expertise. Something that does happen is that in many organizations, sustainability is given to sustainability professionals and experts. Of course we need their inputs and expertise, but it's really important that the leadership and the management is truly engaged with this. In the UK, we're quite lucky, at least in the Organising Committee, that there's huge amounts of engagement.

One thing that you really need to think about when. you have a number of games coming up is that is that there are growing expectations. What are you planning to do next year or a year after and a couple of years time that is still going to be relevant and impactful? It's very important for your plans to be credible, but as well as future proof.

It's extremely important to engage your stakeholders. There's a number of stakeholders in a complex environment like this. They're mainly interested in legacy, so we've done a number of things that connect our agenda with their agenda, which has been really helpful.

Lastly, nobody has all the answers. It's very easy to make these commitments in one aspect, but it's really difficult to deliver them. So what we need to do is that we take it as an opportunity  to learn, work together and be able to be a mission driven organization. And I think if this is the only way that we will be able to be successful, we're in contact with a number of major events, and if anybody in this call would like to follow up and have further conversations, we'll be more than welcome to do so. Thank you very much.

Stephen Cheung: Next, Nelson Ventress, the Sustainability Specialist from SoFi Stadium will be joining us. Nelson is responsible for the creation and implementation of SoFi Stadium’s sustainability program, including tracking the stadium’s waste diversion metrics, water consumption, energy conservation, food donation, and assisting with community events. We're very interested to hear what's happening at SoFi.

Nelson Ventress: Before I talk about how we operate the stadium, I want to talk about the design of the stadium itself. The stadium was designed with sustainability in mind. The whole stadium is covered with an ETFE canopy, which is an ethylene tetrafluoroethylene plastic polymer that covers the entire seating bowl, the 2.5 acre plaza that sits next to the stadium, and the 6,000-seat YouTube Theater. The stadium had that in mind as a cover, and it holds about 90 percent of the strength of glass with only 1 percent of the weight. That ETFE has a 60 percent drip pattern that reduces the UV rays, so we don't create a greenhouse effect with seating bowls. There are no walls that surround the stadium itself. It's an open-air stadium, and we like to call it the first indoor/outdoor stadium that's ever been built in the United States.

That open air creates a natural cooling of the building. Cold air comes in through the sides of the building, and we have 36 panels within the ETFE canopy that can slide open that push the hot air out and creates a chimney effect. We can naturally cool the building by opening these 36 panels. That was designed to create at least a five-degree difference between under the canopy and outside the canopy.

Underneath that canopy is also a gutter system that system leads to a six-acre lake. Sofi Stadium sits on a 295-acre property that we call Hollywood Park. We know that Southern California, and particularly Los Angeles, doesn't have a lot of rainfall throughout the year, so that gutter system helps us collect the little bit of rain that actually does come, and that water then flows into the lake. Now, knowing that we don't have much rain, and it’s a six-acre lake, it's millions of gallons of water that we'll have in an area of the country that is prone to drought.

Our brilliant designers who built the lake understood that it was important to have a sustainable lake and be able to support the local water infrastructure. So, the lake is actually infilled with millions of gallons of reclaimed water from the local West Basin water district. They're able to provide us with about 28 million gallons of reclaimed water per year on average, helping us keep the same amount of water available for drinking water for the local Inglewood community.

Stephen Cheung: What are the best practices that you want to share in terms of a project like SoFi?

Nelson Ventress: From the operations side, we did take a lot of notes from other stadiums around the country, and particularly our counterparts in Seattle, Minneapolis, and Atlanta. We wanted to understand behaviors and different trends that were going on within our industry as a sustainably run football stadium. Understanding our fan behavior and getting our waste management down was key for us.

That's why we chose the two-stream system, trying to make the end use of the product an easier process. Here in Southern California, a lot of our guests understand what recycling is. Not everybody understands composting yet, so on our bins we put aluminum and plastic for our recycling and then food and food-related items for our compost. This is so our fans can understand that the proper behavior is that food goes into the green bin and all recyclable products go into the blue bin.

We also work very closely with our community engagement team. Community has been a big part of our project. The community engagement team speaks to a lot of these organizations throughout Inglewood trying to boost up prosperity. We have several organizations that we talk to. We speak to the City of Inglewood as well as our Chief Sustainability Officer for LA County on the local guidelines.

I've been talking closely with the EPA local region to discuss local laws regarding organic composting and trying to have those conversations with our food and beverage provider to create more compostable products. One is Ball Corporation, who has a partnership with our stadium. They provide us with aluminum cups and are helping us create educational programming for the city of Inglewood.

Stephen Cheung: Martha, AEG is a global operator of sports and music events. In your work around the world, are there any specific interesting projects AEG is working on in sustainability that we should be keeping an eye on?

Martha Saucedo: I think increasingly, sustainability is more of a business imperative. Europe has been a little ahead of the US in many ways. A lot of times, there's collaboration between our US team and our European team in terms of what they've already implemented. Now, there's an understanding that sustainability can also be good for your bottom line as a business. I'll highlight just a couple of things.

The Staples Center uses a lot of energy and water, and we were approached by a company called BluEco, who had developed a system to essentially take the humidity in the air and transform it into a water source. It was good for us because it creates a better environment for the ice, and the players have a better skating experience. The environmental plus is that it's actually capturing a substantial amount of water, and we're using that water.

I'll share another example. The O2 in London has committed to less than 1 percent waste being diverted to a landfill. So again, it goes back to having specific goals. Companies are increasingly dedicating teams to innovation in these areas to capture the positive benefits of sustainability, both on the bottom line for the business and on the footprint you're creating in the environment.  

We also have a music festival and for every artist that performs, we are planting a tree. There are a lot of really fun, interesting ways that you can incorporate sustainability into the work that you're doing.

Stephen Cheung: Community partnership and giving opportunities to small, local businesses is something that has been mentioned as important. Do you find that there might be some challenges when it comes to sustainable suppliers being able to provide recyclable products at the scale that you need? How do you overcome those challenges?

Martha Saucedo: What we've seen is actually a substantial increase in the amount of vendors, both large and small, that are creating sustainable products. With regard to small businesses in particular, scaling is always an issue, whether it's sustainable products or anything else.

There are some innovative things that folks are doing, and I'll give an example. We're looking at expanding the Los Angeles Convention Center, which wouldn't happen for several years. We're looking at the population of small and minority businesses that exist today, and what resources we can provide today, so that in four years, they would have greater capacity to be a part of that project.

From the technology side, there are a large number of individuals and entrepreneurs who are looking at how to leverage technology to benefit sustainability. Sometimes that technology may have a larger price tag, but for a company like us, with the long-term value, you capitalize that out, so at the end of the day, the costs become nominal.


“As global leaders of green initiatives, both the United Kingdom and Los Angeles seek to lead by example through structures and innovative systems that will significantly reduce both waste and the carbon footprint from large-scale events.” Stephen Cheung
“Sports can be hugely powerful in meeting these goals of moving to net zero and increasing efficiency. For me, what’s unique about sports is that it also has the power to inspire its supporters, stakeholders, viewers, and there are so many opportunities for that coming up.” – Emily Cloke