If Sports and Entertainment Facilities Can Save Water, Your Buildings Can, too

Los Angeles-based AEG, a member of the Green Sports Alliance and one of the world’s leading sports and entertainment providers, launched its AEG 1EARTH initiative in 2007. The goal of the initiative is to make changes to how its sports and entertainment venues are operated and to retrofit them in such a way that they use less energy, save water, produce less trash and promote sustainability overall.

(AEG owns or manages prominent sports venues, such as the Staples Center, Los Angeles; Oracle Arena, Oakland, Calif.; PlayStation Theater, New York; Allphones Arena, Sydney; and MasterCard Center, Beijing.)

One of the big concerns—and one of AEG’s primary focuses—has been water consumption. As you can imagine, a sports/entertainment center uses a significant amount of water. When there are no games being played, fields and vegetation must still be irrigated, and when the games are on, water consumption is at its peak.

In Chicago, for instance, Wrigley Field can seat about 41,000 people. As last year’s team moved closer to the World Series, attendance averaged about 40,000 people per game. On the other side of town, Soldier Field can seat 61,500 people. In 2015, nearly 500,000 people attended sporting and entertainment events at Soldier Field. With this volume of people at these and other sports venues around the world, it’s easy to see how millions of gallons of water are consumed each year just at sports venues alone.

As part of its 1EARTH program, AEG set a goal of reducing water consumption in 2020 by 20 percent based on 2010 consumption levels. AEG’s initial emphasis was in what company officials called “water-stressed” sites, such as those in Southern California where chronic water shortages are prevalent.

According to the company in its 2016 1EARTH Sustainability Report, “We are pleased to report that we are on track to meet our 2020 goal to reduce potable water use by 2.3 percent annually at water-stressed sites. These sites reduced their collective water footprint from 459 million liters (about 120 million gallons) in 2014, to 394 million liters (about 105 million gallons) in 2015.” AEG also reports its sites around the world are well on track to reduce overall water consumption by 20 percent.

How is this being accomplished? AEG venues are reducing water usage with the following practices:

  • At the Los Angeles Convention Center, AEG replaced 30,000 square feet of turf with drought-tolerant landscaping.
  • The convention center also upgraded its irrigation systems to eliminate leakage and water waste.
  • Bathrooms at the convention center were retrofitted with more than 700 water-efficient toilets and urinals.
  • Related to this, in one AEG property, 178 conventional urinals were replaced with 175 waterless urinals. This singular retrofit project reduced water consumption by 7 million gallons and resulted in an annual water bill savings of $28,000.

AEG is not the only organization working to become more sustainable and reduce water consumption. Many organizations and facilities are looking to become what is called more “water efficient”, referring to long-term water conservation or reduction in water consumption. These efforts are not based on whether the facility is in a “water-stressed” area, experiencing a temporary drought or in a water-rich region. The goal is to simply reduce consumption year-round. Consider the following:

  • Target Field, Minneapolis, has installed low-flow urinals, dual-flush toilets and aerated faucets, saving about 4 million gallons of water annually. Further, rain water is recycled, saving another 18,000 to 21,000 gallons of water each year.
  • Marlins Park, Miami, has incorporated new landscaping, reducing irrigation consumption by about 60 percent.
  • Simply installing more water-efficient plumbing and discarding leaking pipes has helped Nationals Park, Washington, D.C., reduce its annual water consumption by more than 3.5 million gallons.
  • Safeco Field, home of the Seattle Mariners, has put a lot of emphasis on recommissioning HVAC systems so they are more water-efficient. This has helped the park reduce water consumption by 25 percent from 2006-11.

The takeaway here, when it comes to using water more efficiently, is there are at least two areas we should focus on (at least initially): vegetation and restrooms.

Xeriscaping is a type of landscaping that, among other things, uses plants native to an area. These plants typically require less water and irrigation than nonlocal vegetation. Additionally, xeriscaping involves such strategies as placing plants in areas where they can take advantage of water runoff. When this type of landscaping is properly planned and installed, facilities invariably report significant water savings. Xeriscaping is spreading to many areas of the U.S.—even areas that are not currently experiencing water shortages.

As far as restroom fixtures, dual-flush toilets, which are commonplace outside of this country, are now making big inroads in the U.S. market. On average, these use about 1.25 gallons of water per flush (instead of 1.6). Sensor-controlled dual-flush toilets are also available. The sensor determines which type of flush is needed—to remove liquid waste or solid waste—depending on how long the toilet is used (more than 60 seconds usually tells the sensor a bigger flush is needed).

In coming years, we can expect to see the development and installation of new types of toilets that use about 1/2 gallon of water per flush. That’s down from the current required 1.6 gallons per flush and 1.25 gallons per flush on the most efficient toilets now available.
Finding ways to reduce the amount of water used by traditional water-using urinals also is high on the list, even though today’s urinals use less water than older systems. California has set new standards that require urinals installed in new facilities or in renovated restrooms use no more than 1/2 gallon of water per flush. This is down from the federally mandated 1 gallon per flush and considerably less than the 2 or more gallons of water per flush that older urinals use.

Because of California’s large market size, it is expected that more manufacturers will accept this as the new standard. However, because these urinals still require the use of flush valves and plumbing to carry water to the fixture and because traditional urinals tend to be the target of vandalism in many different settings, some building owners, architects and designers are taking this a step further by installing no-water urinal systems. At this point, the technology is several years old and many, if not most, of the issues that hampered earlier installations have been eliminated. In addition to these factors, cost and water savings are also driving forces in why no-water systems are given the green light today in more retrofits and new-construction projects.

In a sense, when it comes to water, we are lucky. Various technologies are available and new ones are coming online that are making it easier to use water much more efficiently.

About the Author

Klaus Reichardt
Klaus Reichardt is CEO of Waterless Co. Inc., Vista, Calif. Reichardt founded the company in 1991 with the goal to establish a new market segment in the plumbing fixture industry with water conservation in mind. Reichardt is a frequent writer and presenter, discussing water-conservation issues.

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