This article originally appeared in Commercial Water Fall 2019 as "Water-Free Touchdown"
To understand why Atlanta’s new Mercedes-Benz Stadium is noteworthy–especially for its focus on sustainability and water conservation–it is important to know how the stadium industry has been evolving during the past few years. People are not attending large sports venues the way they were only 10 or 15 years ago.
This has been verified by recent studies that indicate stadium attendance has been on a steady decline. In 2014, more than 35% of U.S. consumers reported that they had attended a sporting event at a stadium in the past six months. By 2017, that number had dropped to just 27%, according to a study by Gartner, a research and advisory company.
To help turn this trend around, the owners and developers of Mercedes-Benz Stadium took many steps to bring attendees back to the sports venue, including making the stadium sustainability focused. It is the first professional sports stadium in the world to earn Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certification.
Gold LEED certification requires a facility to earn 60 to 79 points and platinum requires 80 or more points. Mercedes-Benz Stadium earned 88 points. To reach the Platinum level, the stadium’s administrators developed water-use strategies and installed fixtures that consume far less water–or use it far more efficiently–than ever before in a sports venue.
There were a number of water-reducing strategies implemented at the stadium, including:
- Installing high-efficiency toilets that use less water than those required by government regulations;
- Xeriscaping green space, including planting drought-resistant plants;
- Selecting mechanicals, such as boilers and HVAC systems, which use water more efficiently than comparable systems; and
- Installing a 680,000-gal cistern to collect rainwater, which then can be used for cooling the facility or irrigation.
Steps also were taken to address a water-related problem in west Atlanta, where Mercedes-Benz Stadium is located. Initiatives were employed to reduce water drainage, which historically contributed to flooding in the area.
“We did this for many reasons,” said Scott Jenkins, general manager of the stadium. “Paramount was our goal not only to be a good neighbor, but improve the quality of life for people living on the west side of Atlanta.”
While these water saving initiatives have helped reduce water consumption, the installation of waterless, otherwise known as no-water, urinals has proven to be one of the most effective water saving initiatives.
One traditional urinal can consume more than 35,000 gal of water per year. It is hard to count how many urinals are in the average sports venue in the U.S., much less determine how much water they consume because many stadiums use trough urinals. These urinals can accommodate three to six users at one time. Further, some stadiums have installed a combination of traditional urinals and trough systems. However, whatever the situation, the amount of water used can be millions of gallons. One of the most effective ways to reduce those numbers is to install no-water urinals.
“When we were looking for ways to become Platinum LEED certified, we realized very quickly that no-water urinals would be a a key part of the puzzle,” Jenkins said. “We looked at several urinal technologies that reduce [water] consumption, including pint flush urinals, but we decided that no-water [urinals] was the way to go.”
Jenkins said that another motivating factor in deciding to go waterless was the fact that “water and sewer rates in Atlanta are very high, so there was an economic incentive as well for us to install no-water fixtures.”
Such rates throughout the U.S. are increasing. In March 2019, the city of Pittsburgh raised water and sewer rates by 18%. These costs are rising for a variety of reasons, starting with the fact that water has been undervalued for decades in the U.S. Further, many utility companies now are taking steps to repair and rebuild water infrastructure. The energy costs to deliver and remove water to a facility also are a part of the increase.
How do water-reducing strategies help increase stadium attendance? Younger people are more focused on sustainability and environmental issues than any previous generation. Most likely this is because they will be the first generation to be directly impacted by climate change and other changes in our environment.
Studies indicate that millennials prefer to work for organizations that are greener and more sustainable, and with that in mind, it can be assumed that they are more likely to attend sports stadiums that not only support their beliefs, but are taking tangible steps to reduce their environmental impact. Mercedes-Benz Stadium is doing this, and it is becoming a model for sports venues around the world to follow.