Just five short years ago the Mariners were a pretty typical baseball franchise when it came to sustainability. They were recycling a bit here, trying to save some energy there, but nothing too out of the ordinary. Then Scott Jenkins came in as VP of Ballpark Operations and made some changes—that’s the short and sweet version anyway.
Today the Mariner’s have a diversion rate of over 70 percent with their sights firmly locked on reaching 80+ for 2011. That’s up from 12 percent in 2005. And Jenkins’ success in this area, among others like energy efficiency, has earned support from the ballpark’s executives for other, more sweeping initiatives. In our interview, he details how he’s been able to create such dramatic impact in a shining example of winning the business case for sustainability.
GoGreen Conference: Sports and sustainability aren’t always considered natural bedfellows. Have people told you that achieving a zero-waste ballpark is impossible? If so, what’s your response?
Scott Jenkins: If you had asked even me about that three or five years ago, I would have scoffed at the idea of a zero waste facility. At that point it seemed like we generated so much waste and I couldn’t fathom how we would possibly recycle it all. We were diverting less than 20 percent of our waste, so it was inconceivable to me how we could get to the point we’re at now—and I’m a green thinking person.
But in that short period of time we’re now, during season, recycling over 80 percent of our game day waste. And it makes me really excited to see that, because now I think that we can possibly get to zero waste—though it matters a bit how you define “zero waste.” In my mind our current waste streams, with what we’ve done in the last year in switching to compostable service ware, make it very feasible for us to get to 80 percent diversion on the year. And we’re still looking for ways to get to that 90+ percent recycling rate. It’s gotten a lot closer and a lot more conceivable that I would have thought even a year ago.
GG: Your rate of recycling has increased substantially in recent years. A lot of people tackle waste because it seems like a low hanging fruit, but are you seeing benefits from a profitability standpoint? Are your efforts saving the Mariners money?
SJ: Fortunately for us, we’ve been able to make the business case for it and there are a couple of ways we’ve done that. One concerns the sheer cost of getting rid of the waste.
For us, it costs less to recycle than it does to send something to the landfill. So last year, with an average diversion rate of over 70 percent on waste, we saved about $70,000 just by recycling. That’s a pretty good business case. Now that changes based on where you live and what it costs to send things to the landfill, but we’re able to benefit from the fact that we’ve seen growth here in terms of facilities that can handle our compostable waste in an economical way. So it makes direct bottom line sense for our club to do that and it also greens our brand—which ultimately makes bottom line sense as well.
GG: When did the importance of greening your facilities hit you?
SJ: I’ve always been green minded. I grew up appreciating the environment and the natural world, which provides us everything we need to live. I think we have to be mindful of the waste and pollution we create, and also of what we consume. As the manager of operations at the ballpark, one of my jobs is to be efficient and not waste resources—so those two things go hand in hand.
From a business standpoint it’s mostly about dollars and we’re lucky that green initiatives that save resources—like energy and water—also save money. It just makes sense all around to be as efficient as we can with energy, water and the way we handle waste. Even if I wasn’t green minded, I’d like to think I’d be doing the same kind of things, but it becomes even more fulfilling to me as a person to know that we’re lessening our impact on the environment as well as improving our bottom line.
GG: Did waste seem like a natural place to start? Or did you go through an analysis and strategic planning process of some kind?
SJ: It started with data. Fortunately, before I came to Seattle, the data was being kept on energy and water use and recycling rates. So I had the numbers in hand. When I first took a look at the baseline, I immediately saw room to get better from what we’d done historically with those three areas—energy use, water use and recycling.
The first year, I looked at the resource use and thought we could save $100,000 in year one alone if we considered what we’d used in the first six or seven years of being in the building and stuck to a goal of keeping to the low end of usage at all times. We found that $100,000 of savings in the first six months and ended up saving around $274,000 in that year compared to the previous one. After that it became pretty obvious that there were some tremendous opportunities to save money by being more efficient—turning off equipment, using automation, setting back temperatures, decommissioning equipment once the season was over, weather stripping and faucet aerators—without actually investing any real money. I knew we were on to something pretty big.
GG: Has hitting those efficiency points without major investment helped earn buy in for more initiatives from the C-Suite?
SJ: Absolutely. You might not be able to get everyone to talk green and see the benefits of lessening our impact on the environment. It sounds good and while I’d like to be optimistic about getting everyone on board and willing to invest in those values, but the reality is that we’re a business like any other business. When you’re able to talk seriously about bottom line savings—which just happen to comes along with this “side benefit” of green opportunities—then you can get that investment you need to take it further.
In the four years since we did our baseline on energy and water, we’ve saved $1.2 million. So in 2010, I’d put a placeholder in our budget of about $500,000 as TBD capital improvements and consumption reducing investments. We’d hit that point where we needed to do that, because we’d done just about everything we could without investment. So I put this placeholder into the budget—not knowing exactly what those projects would be—and I came back after we’d approved the capital budget with a plan for the exact projects and how they would pencil out money wise. I presented well over $1 million worth of projects and they approved them all, even though the capital budget originally only had a placeholder for half that. I think that was a direct result of achieving credibility and showing how the future projects made good business sense as well.
GG: Nobody likes to talk about what stands in their way of achieving greater success with sustainability, but we also know this isn’t a cakewalk all the time. What are some of the challenges that have come up in the time you’ve been working with the Mariners on green initiatives?
SJ: The supply chain is definitely one. Trying to find greener products that meet your needs and are priced competitively. We’ve ultimately been able to do that—in paper products and cleaning chemicals—but sometimes you have to ask deep questions of your suppliers. Price will always be an issue. Performance will always be an issue.
Fortunately we have great folks in our procurement and promotions department that are on the lookout for those opportunities. And once you get people in the mindset of looking across your organization, you start finding more opportunities. You need that teamwork. You can’t do it all yourself, because you’ve likely got a full-time job already. When you’re working at a large organization, you have lots of people who impact decisions that affect your bottom line and your green status. So the more you can help develop a culture that sees the value in greening your business, the easier it will be to find the solutions. And the supply chain is wizening up as well. They’re getting more price competitive in offering products with a lesser environmental impact.
GG: Cowboy Stadium in Dallas promoted this year’s Super Bowl as the greenest ever. Obviously your ballpark is taking sustainability seriously, but are other major facilities following suit? Is there some sort of peer pressure going on to invest in going green?
SJ: Yes. Though I don’t view it so much as peer pressure as I do illuminating the opportunities that exist to save money, lessen your environmental impact and green your brand. All of which have value to a growing percentage of the population—and the executives who hold the purse strings. Those are three really compelling reasons why businesses should go green.
The exciting thing for sports businesses is that we’re very visible, public serving facilities. We touch a lot of people through the team brand and the building brand. If we can use that facet of our influence to promote sustainability and efficiency to the greater public, we’re able to make great impact just by the sheer number of people we touch. If we can do these things, then just think of the opportunities that are there for other businesses and at home. As people see this integration becoming more mainstream in the teams and buildings, I think it will open up a lot of eyes.
Scott Jenkins is the Vice-President of Ballpark Operations for the Seattle Mariners. He is also a featured speaker and case study presenter at the GoGreen Conference Seattle, Wednesday April 20 at the Convention Center. Register today to lock in Early Bird Rates (through March 1, 2011): http://seattle.gogreenconference.net/registration
To learn more about the Seattle Mariners’ sustainability initiatives and 2011 ticket information, visit: http://www.mariners.com