C of Green? What Calgary’s event centre can learn from sustainability efforts in other new NHL arenas

Seattle’s Climate Pledge Arena and the New York Islanders’ UBS Arena have built in a wide range of features to reduce their carbon footprints

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Construction of Calgary’s new $800-million event centre and NHL arena is expected to get underway in 2024.

And with the City of Calgary targeting some ambitious environmental goals, a question remains how sustainable the upcoming infrastructure will be and how the new arena will align with the city’s carbon emission-reduction targets.

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In October, the city revealed U.S.-based CAA Icon as the development manager for the project, while international firm HOK and Calgary-based architecture company Dialog will collaborate on crafting the event centre’s design.

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As these three companies develop the design for the arena, they will have to keep environmental sustainability and the City of Calgary’s climate strategy in mind.

As part of that strategy, the city is aiming to reduce community-wide greenhouse gas emissions to 60 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 and for Calgary to completely decarbonize by 2050.

Big buildings are notorious for producing high emissions, both while they’re being constructed and from their operations. NHL arenas are particularly heavy carbon emitters, considering their large-scale refrigeration and humidification, heating and ventilation, air conditioning and lighting requirements.

Similar to many of its other municipal facilities, the city said the future event centre will be designed and constructed for LEED certification. Specific sustainability features of the arena will be developed during the project’s design phase.

Mayor Jyoti Gondek said since the project is still in the early stages, the city is well positioned to ensure it incorporates climate-conscious elements.

“We have a really good opportunity to get the design right and execute on something that will be long-lasting and in the best interest of all Calgarians,” she said.

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The NHL has been encouraging its franchises to be more climate conscious since 2010 through an initiative called NHL Green. The program aims to lessen the league’s environmental effects and promote more sustainable business practices across the NHL. How arenas are built and operated play a big part in that mission.

Among the NHL’s newest arenas, two in particular are paving the path toward net-zero: the Seattle Kraken’s Climate Pledge Arena and the New York Islanders’ UBS Arena. Both are operated by Oak View Group, an L.A.-based sport and commercial venue management company, and both take climate consciousness to the next level.

Sustainability features of those two arenas could be considered by the companies constructing Calgary’s event centre.

Climate Pledge Arena
Seattle’s $1.15-billion Climate Pledge Arena was retrofitted from the old KeyArena. David Conger / Climate Pledge Arena

Climate Pledge Arena

Seattle’s Climate Pledge Arena opened in 2021 as a replacement for the long-standing KeyArena. The new venue was named after Amazon and Global Optimism’s 2019 Climate Pledge, which is a corporate commitment to pursue net-zero emissions by 2040. (Amazon bought the naming rights to the facility in 2020.)

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The 800,000-square-foot facility cost $1.15 billion, most of which was financed privately.

In October, Climate Pledge Arena became the world’s first hockey arena to achieve Zero Carbon Certification from the International Living Future Institute (ILFI). The certification recognizes buildings that are highly energy-efficient, demonstrate a significant reduction in carbon footprint and offset any remaining energy use through carbon offset programs, according to the ILFI.

Kristen Fulmer, the head of sustainability for Oak View Group, said what made Climate Pledge Arena unconventional was that the venue wasn’t built from scratch. Rather, it was retrofitted from the old KeyArena, even maintaining the facility’s historic roof.

“They had a lot of constraints and basically proactively made that the most sustainable building possible,” Fulmer said.

The arena uses zero natural gas and is 100 per cent powered by electricity, according to its website. Oak View Group states the facility’s mechanical and heating systems, Zambonis, forklifts, dehumidification and cooking equipment were all converted to fully operate on electric power.

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The electricity used to power the arena comes from renewable energy sources. More than 1,300 solar panels were installed on the roof of both the arena and its parking garage, collectively generating an average of 440,000 kilowatt-hours annually.

For any necessary power that cannot be generated on-site, Oak View Group procures Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) from Puget Sound Energy’s Snake River wind farm. These RECs are then retired so they can’t be reused or resold, the organization’s website states.

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One of Climate Pledge Arena’s most unique sustainability features is its rooftop, which was retrofitted to contain a 15,000-gallon cistern to harvest Seattle’s plentiful precipitation. The collected rainwater is used to flood the ice the Kraken plays on.

The rainfall also waters a natural “green” wall in the facility’s concourse, which hosts some of the Pacific Northwest region’s endangered plant species.

Climate Pledge Arena is also a certified zero-waste facility, with more than 90 per cent of its generated waste diverted from landfills. Last February, the arena replaced all of its single-use plastic beverage containers with fully aluminum cans that can be recycled.

In line with Climate Pledge Arena’s “rain-to-rink” system, Oak View Group also installed waterless urinals, ultra-efficient showers and retention tanks to reduce stormwater runoff.

“I would say their achievements around carbon neutrality have been even more elevated since they got the Zero Carbon Certification from the International Living Future Institute,” Fulmer said.

The focus on sustainability extends beyond the arena’s operations. Purchasing a ticket to a Kraken home game includes a free public transit pass. Climate Pledge Arena’s website stated its goal is for at least 25 per cent of attendees to access the arena through public transit.

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UBS Arena
UBS Arena, home to the New York Islanders, is linked to the Long Island Rail Road network. Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

UBS Arena

The role of public transit in shepherding sports fans was also a big part of UBS Arena, the New York Islanders’ new home that opened in 2021 on Long Island.

As part of Oak View Group’s development plans for the NHL’s newest arena (which received LEED certification last January), a new station was developed for the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) train network — the Elmont-UBS Arena station.

The arena’s climate-focused transportation strategy has taken more than 55,000 cars off the road, the arena’s website claims.

“In terms of encouraging fans to reduce their carbon footprint, that was one of the top priorities for the venue,” Fulmer said. “The train station opened just after the venue did, so that was a huge upfront investment that is definitely contributing to carbon emission reduction.”

When designing UBS Arena, Fulmer said Oak View Group followed in Climate Pledge Arena’s footsteps by incorporating many carbon-conscious elements into the plans.

“They pursued and achieved LEED certification on the building design itself, and from a carbon-emissions perspective, that reflects in the LEED certification — everything from more recycled material procurement all the way through to more efficient construction and demolition waste diversion,” she said.

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The building is lit by LED lighting and uses occupancy sensor technology, which turns off lights and reduces energy consumption when the arena is unoccupied.

Appliances and equipment within UBS Arena are also all electric-powered, including its Zamboni.

Water conservation was also a consideration of the facility’s design. Oak View Group states the arena uses 40 per cent less water than comparable NHL arenas by using low-flow plumbing.

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The arena also sources 75 per cent of its food ingredients from within a 300-mile radius, depending on the season.

The venue offers separate waste streams for recycling and composting, as well as LEED-certified pest management and green cleaning policies. According to the arena’s website, all of the venue’s landfill waste stream is diverted to a nearby resource recovery plant, where it is converted into fuel before being fed into Long Island’s local power grid.

Acknowledging that sustainability can come with a hefty price tag, Fulmer said Oak View Group applied a 3.5 per cent “carbon reduction fee” to all food and beverage purchases at UBS Arena concession stands. The fee is in effect for all events, excluding Islanders home games.

“We . . . recognize a lot of sustainability, unfortunately, does take somewhat of an upfront investment,” she said. “That fee, which we share on the website, is basically just a small component that contributes toward the Long Island Rail Road stop as well as a few other key sustainability initiatives we’ll be working on in the future.”

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Arena event centre map

What is Calgary doing?

Since the funding agreement for Calgary’s event centre was finalized in October, nothing has been revealed about the design of the facility, though construction is expected to begin as early as next year.

HOK, Dialog and CAA Icon did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

While it’s still unclear how the Flames’ future arena will incorporate climate-conscious elements, Fulmer said sustainability can “look like a lot of things” and that Calgary doesn’t necessarily have to copy what Oak View Group did for its arenas in Seattle and Long Island to be climate conscious.

“It doesn’t have to be carbon neutrality,” she said. “There are probably lots of ways unique to Calgary . . . that might actually be a better fit than something that might have worked for Seattle or New York.

“Everyone has their own vision of what sustainability could look like, so if you just get in a room and talk about what you want to be known for and the impact you can have, that can go really far.”

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