The massive construction cranes towering over western Atlanta hold a promise for something new: the greenest sports stadium ever built.
The term “sustainability” may not immediately come to mind when most people think about football, but Mercedes-Benz Stadium could soon change that. The $1.5 billion project—which will replace the Atlanta Falcons’ current home, the Georgia Dome, when it opens in June 2017—will showcase innovative, environmentally friendly design elements at every level. From the 5,000-ton retractable roof petals to the 1.1 million-gallon storm vault below the stadium, it all adds up to something sports fans have never seen before.
Scott Jenkins, general manager of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, credits the push for innovation to Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, who has a desire to redefine the stadium experience.
“It’s about raising the bar beyond what other people have done in the past and then doing things that are authentic and meaningful,” he says.
Although they won’t know for sure until the construction is completed, Jenkins says the team hopes its efforts will earn the stadium a LEED Platinum certification. “The team knew we could flirt with it if we did a good job,” he says. “When it became apparent that the efforts were paying off, we started turning over every stone we could.”
Many of those stones involved water, ranging from waterless urinals to the underground storm vault. “From a water standpoint, we’re going to get every available water credit possible within LEED,” Jenkins says. The vault plays a big role in this. Not only will it minimize runoff into the nearby Proctor Creek Watershed, which has a history of flooding during large storms, it will also provide water for the stadium’s cooling towers and for irrigating its landscapes.
“From a water standpoint, we’re 47 percent more efficient than a baseline-designed building,” Jenkins says.
The retractable roof also ties into the entire design of the stadium, which emphasizes natural light and air. The roof itself, with its eight triangular petals, is the first of its kind. “The points meet in the center, and when it operates it looks a little like a camera shutter,” Jenkins says. Not only is this a striking architectural element, but it also opens up the entire building.
“We like to think of Mercedes-Benz Stadium as an outdoor stadium that can close,” he says, noting its difference from other stadiums that occasionally open retractable roofs. The rest of the architecture matches this concept, with entire walls of glass that allow daylight to enter and illuminate the arena.
Speaking of illumination, the stadium also takes full advantage of LED lighting throughout the building—something the stadium team didn’t expect to be able to do when the project started.
“Two years ago, it would have been hard to imagine going all LED,” Jenkins says. “Now our building will be virtually all LED.”
He says sports lighting has come a long way in the past 18 months, allowing his team to take full advantage of the energy-efficient technology. In some cases, the LEDs will save the team up to 60 percent on energy costs, while also providing a better quality of light for both players and broadcasters.
Other green elements being incorporated into the stadium include 4,000 solar panels, metering equipment to monitor energy consumption, onsite gardens for local food production, numerous alternative transportation options, and the use of low- or zero-toxicity materials throughout. All materials were chosen with a goal of reducing the stadium’s global-warming potential by at least 10 percent.
Jenkins says all of these innovations could be put to use by other teams that also belong to the Green Sports Alliance (GSA), an organization which he founded and where he serves as board chair.
“The whole aim of the Green Sports Alliance is to share best practices within our industry and let people know of the opportunities to reduce operating cost, improve your brand, improve your environmental performance, and in some cases, even develop revenue streams around some of the sponsorships,” he says.
More than just a way to save money, Jenkins says he also sees going green as a way to inspire fans. “Sport has the power to influence culture,” he says. “The GSA did a survey a couple of years ago and we found that a vast majority of sports fans around the country were concerned about the environment.” Seeing these new technologies in use in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, he says, might inspire people to take up similar initiatives at their homes or businesses. “When we can adopt those behaviors and do it in a fun and exciting way with your favorite team in your local venue . . . we hope it’s enough to inspire people to start taking action.”
The entire project may be expensive, but Jenkins says it fits owner Arthur Blank’s philosophy of commitment to the fans and philanthropy.
“I’ve never met an owner who cares more about the fan and puts his money where his mouth is,” he says.
Jenkins also credits the wide range of designers and people who participated in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium project for striving to improve at every step of the process.
“It takes a team of people thinking about how to push the envelope and be innovative,” he says. “It’s a harder way to do things. It’s more work, but the result is better.”
Construction of the new stadium is expected to be completed in June 2017, with the first events coming that summer.
“We’ve got a huge lineup of mega-events already booked,” Jenkins says. That includes the National Football Championship in January 2018, Super Bowl LIII in 2019, and the 2020 NCAA Final Four. In other words, the trend-defying new stadium will have the eyes of the entire sports world on it before you know it.