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Will Seattle’s Climate Pledge Arena Make Good on Its Promise?
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Will Seattle’s Climate Pledge Arena Make Good on Its Promise?


SEATTLE — Fans of the Seattle Kraken, who joined the N.H.L. this season as the league’s 32nd team, had a lot to take in at the club’s first-ever home game last Saturday. There were new players to cheer on, new seats to locate and new concession stands to look for.

Yet their biggest discovery seemed to be the 1,800 square-foot green wall that describes the mission of Climate Pledge Arena, the Kraken’s new home, which opened just in time for the game. Hundreds of people stopped to take photos in front of the thousands of plants that were growing in the vertical bedding. It is made from recycled plastic bottles.

Before the game, Jennifer and Shane Pisani were among those who stopped to view the greenery and the screens that showed images of solar panels, wind turbines and a statement, “The World’s First Net Zero Carbon Arena.”

Longtime hockey fans, The Pisanis, were thrilled to have a team to cheer for. They were also happy that the Kraken represented more than just wins or losses.

“It speaks to what the owners and team want to say to the community,” Shane Pisani said. “I’m looking forward to sitting in a state-of-the-art arena.”

Climate Pledge Arena is truly state-of-the art. It boasts the latest LED scoreboards and grab-and-go food stands. The $1.2 billion arena’s operators are also trying to set a new standard for green building by reducing or offsetting all the planet-warming emissions they, their vendors, and their fans create.

Their mission is difficult, time-consuming, and risky. This has never been done at a sporting venue before. Calculating emissions is complex and imprecise, and exposes the arena operators to accusations of “greenwashing” — providing misleading information about the building’s environmental attributes.

Oak View Group chief executive Tim Leiweke acknowledged that the return of investment was not clear and that more work must be done before the building can meet its goals. He expects that the efforts will pay off over time and that the arena will be a model for others in the sector.

“There’s nothing today that is going to economically reward us for going carbon neutral yet,” Leiweke said. “I believe our fans and sponsors will respect us and the rewards will come, but you’ve got to lead first and take your chances.”

Many sports venues are now certified LEED by the U.S. Green Building Council. However, this designation, which stands as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, primarily recognizes ecofriendly infrastructure and not how a building operates. Climate Pledge Arena is a new model that aims to become net zero carbon while promising transparency. Commercial buildings are taken into account 18 percent of U.S. energy consumption2020

“People over the years have used LEED to guide them, but that only takes you so far,” said Scott Jenkins, a co-founder of the Green Sports Alliance. “We have an urgent need to act and business as usual is not going to cut it. The challenge is, how do we get others to follow?”

Leiweke and the Kraken’s principal owner, David Bonderman, who with his partners owns the other 49 percent of the building, did not start out trying to build the country’s greenest arena. Their biggest challenge was figuring out how to upgrade an arena built for the 1962 World’s Fair with a roof and windows that are landmarks, along with the nearby Space Needle and the monorail to downtown.

After groundbreaking in December 2018The steel roof, which weighed 44 million pounds, was placed on 72 stilts so that the entire arena could be demolished below. Other machinery, such as solar panels and air-conditioning equipment that would normally be placed on the roof, were moved to other parts of the property. A cistern was constructed to hold 15,000 gallons rainwater, which would then be distributed via electric Zambonis to resurface ice.

Environmentalists gave the project high marks for its preservation of an existing structure in a neighbourhood with easy access to public transportation.

Amazon purchased the naming rights to the building last spring, complicating the renovation. spending an estimated $300 million to $400 millionFor the privilege. Amazon chose not to decorate the arena with their logo, as many companies do. named the building after one of its most ambitious initiativesThe Climate Pledge.

The company unveiled the pledge in 2019, promising zero net carbon emission by 2040, a decade before the targets set out in the 2015 Paris climate agreement. Among the 200 companies that signed up are Siemens, Unilever, and Colgate-Palmolive.

To make sure it walked the walk, Amazon worked with the builders to cut the arena’s emissions, mirroring the efforts in its own offices and facilities. “We’re trying to draw attention to the climate crisis, and we’re trying to draw attention to the solutions that exist,” said Kara Hurst, Amazon’s vice president of worldwide sustainability.

The project was completely restructured with the new mandate. Jason McLennan is an architect and environmentalist who founded International Living Future Institute. This institute created a certification program that certifies sustainable buildings. It goes far beyond LEED requirements.

To meet those goals, the building couldn’t use fossil fuels. Orders for dehumidifiers, pizza ovens and even the machines that dry players’ gloves had to be canceled because they were powered by natural gas. Electric replacements were needed.

Next, the electricity to power the building must come from renewable sources. Solar panels were placed on an atrium at the arena, at a nearby parking lot and at the team’s practice facility north of Seattle. A wind farm in Eastern Washington was used to purchase more electricity.

The arena is attempting to divert 97% of its waste from landfills. It composts, recycles and uses biodegradable cutlery. Single use plastics will be eliminated by 2024. Opening night saw fans receive beer in recyclable aluminum cups. Leiweke’s team is working with Pepsi and other companies to eliminate plastic wrapping and other packaging.

“We haven’t had any significant pushback from suppliers, but check back with me in a year,” said Rob Johnson, the head of sustainability for the Kraken.

The biggest challenge is calculating emissions at the building and those generated by fans who travel there, as well the emissions from every vendor that delivers goods. Surveys will help determine whether fans arrive in gas-powered or electric cars, or take buses, light rail, the monorail and other public transportation — which they can ride for free by showing their Kraken or concert tickets. Their carbon emissions will be added to the building’s tally. The emissions from charter flights, which Kraken and visiting teams use to get to Seattle, will also be added.

It is difficult to track vendors’ emissions because of their varied carbon footprints. Molly De Mers is an executive chef at Delaware North, a hospitality company, which runs the food service operations at the arena. She said that three-quarters the food at the arena is sourced from farms and ranches located within a 300-mile radius around Seattle.

When sustainability is weighed against profit and loss, “that’s where it gets tricky,” De Mers said. “Because obviously costs rise when you start incorporating that.”

Local buying means that you avoid Mexican avocados. De Mers also prefers foods that are versatile. Watermelons are used as vegan sashimi. Their rinds can be pickled and used to make salads. Carrot tops can be made into gremolata (a condiment). Plant-based burgers have a lower environmental footprint that beef burgers and are sold on the main concourse.

The arena’s emissions will be tallied at the end of each year, and Amazon and the Oak View Group will offset any carbon produced by buying credits in environmental restoration programs. McLennan stated that the data will be made available to hold building operators accountable.

“No one’s ever done that, not even in any of the deepest green buildings,” he said.

For now, the “Net Zero Carbon” declaration on the green wall is more aspirational than real because it will take at least a year for auditors to tally the emissions. Even then, the building will be “functionally zero,” McLennan said, because “true zero is nearly impossible.”

This linguistic sleight of hand alarms some longtime environmentalists, who worry that if the building’s ambitious goals are not met, critics may argue that the project amounts to marketing without substance.

“Claiming superlative accomplishments like ‘carbon neutral’ or ‘net zero’ without specifying what scope of impact is being referred to or, much worse, claiming such a lofty accomplishment when it is not actually achieved, is greenwashing,” said Allen Hershkowitz, who advises the N.H.L. as well as other leagues and teams that deal with environmental issues. “It breeds cynicism instead of inspiration.”

McLennan acknowledged the building would only be certified after its first year. McLennan is confident that the goal can be achieved.

“This is not greenwashing,” he said. “Everyone needs to look in the mirror and say, ‘We’ve all been part of the problem,’ and we need to say, ‘OK, fair enough, but what are we doing now and what do we do going forward?’ That’s how I would respond to that.”

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