During our recent trip to Seattle, we had the opportunity to visit SafeCo Field, the home of Major League Baseball’s Seattle Mariners, an organization committed to sustainable operations, as evidenced by their decision to become a charter member of the Green Sports Alliance. Scott Jenkins, the Vice President of Operations, was our host for the afternoon, and gave us a fantastic tour of the stadium. While he was guiding us through the owners’ suite and the visitors’ dugout and clubhouse, Scott shared with us some of his insights regarding sustainability and operating such a large facility. One of the most important lessons I took from that tour (besides the fact that the center field wall looks a lot farther from home plate at field level) was the vital importance of communication when it comes to sustainability initiatives. Repeatedly, Scott told explained development and told stories that hinged critically on being able to communicate effectively to various stakeholder groups both upstream and downstream.
When tackling waste reduction goals, the Mariners needed to gain cooperation from vendors, employees, and customers in order to make sure that everything worked out according to plan. As a large client, Scott and his team were able to convince vendors that they needed to provide biodegradable and recyclable product offerings at SafeCo. But what if employees and customers don’t understand what the organization is trying to do, and those new products end up going to the landfill anyway? To solve this challenge, Scott took a more passive approach. Compliance with newly implemented waste reduction programs was achieved by merely relabeling collection areas. For employees, the former trash room became the recycling center, prominently displayed by a poster on the wall. For customers attending the game, trash barrels were removed, and replaced with recycling containers and compost bins. There are only 17 containers at SafeCo now for “trash”, and they are labeled “Landfill”, to remind game-goers what the results of their actions entail.
Although the Mariners have been successful in implementing waste diversion and other sustainability initiatives in the ballpark, it hasn’t always been easy for Scott. He continually stressed the importance of speaking “the same language” when discussing capital investments with his superiors in the organization. As always with any expenditures, you must communicate the business case for the cash outlay. By focusing initially on easily introduced projects with fast paybacks, Scott was able to earn the trust of those above him, and eventually work towards additional sustainable improvements that seem more difficult to finance (such as a small photovoltaic array on top of the stadium’s parking garage).
Overall, the trip to SafeCo was truly a valuable experience that highlighted the importance of communicating on proper terms with various stakeholders… and also allowed some of us to live out our childhood dreams of sitting in a big league dugout with our friends and a bag of sunflower seeds on a sunny afternoon.
– Andrew White, CSBP class of 2013