In less than a decade under Derrick Hall’s leadership, the Arizona Diamondbacks have become one of the MLB’s most successful franchises on the field and in the realm of sustainability. Building upon a deep commitment to the Phoenix community and a pursuit of innovation on the operations front, the Diamondbacks have proven that greening the ballpark is both financially prudent and the right thing to do as a corporate citizen in the Valley.
GoGreen Conference: What was the motivation for the Diamondbacks journey into sustainability? What was the first initiative and why did you start there?
Derrick Hall: We have a social responsibility to pursue sustainability in all aspects of our operation. We recognize that we can serve as a very strong influencer for local businesses, as well as our stakeholders, such as season ticket holders, corporate partners and casual fans. Every action that we take here at Chase Field can be replicated in the business or home of these people. We figure if these people observe the changes we have taken in such a complex facility, they will be encouraged about following our lead.
The Northwind system was arguably our initial foray into sustainability, and was developed from the need to air condition our facility during the hot Phoenix summer. It uses a chilled water and serves as a sustainable air conditioning provider for most office buildings downtown. Other early initiatives have included recycling programs with Waste Management and solar projects with APS. Several corporate partners are showcasing their own sustainability efforts and we are a strong platform for them to partner with. The Diamondbacks (and its venues) are making some substantial capital investments into facilities.
GoGreen: Why have you chosen to take the leap past simple efficiency retrofits (recycling, LED lighting, low-flow faucets, etc.) and into more infrastructure-related projects? What do you believe the ROI will be literally (financial terms) and figuratively (environmental/community impact/etc.)?
DH: Again, social responsibility leads these decisions. We recognize the business efficiencies and ROI that will result from many of these changes, but this is not the motivating factor behind these investments. Our ownership has an interest in the D-backs becoming industry leaders in all aspects of our business and sustainability is no different. Also, as our facility enters the second half of its lifespan, many areas are in need of renovation or replacement, so it just makes sense for us to include sustainability. Making the change to sustainable components is the easy decision to make and, in some cases, the only alternative (i.e., light bulbs and government policies phasing out incandescent light bulbs and requiring the use of CFL or LED instead).
GoGreen: Have you found programs like MLB Green Tracks to be good motivators? Is it helpful to feel some added pressure from friendly competition? If so, do you think a similar model could be used in other industries successfully? How so?
Baseball, and sports as a whole, is a wonderful industry for best practices. Each league has encouraged their clubs to pursue sustainability at their own pace, but has also encouraged involvement in organizations such as the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Green Sports Alliance. We learn from other teams and support them with ideas of our own as well. Our spring home, Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, became the first venue of its kind to achieve LEED-NC certification and several teams have reached out to learn how we accomplished this recognition.
GoGreen: How is a sustainable mindset benefitting the Diamondbacks organization beyond just saving money? Are you seeing notable behavior change come out of it with your staff, players and fans?
DH: Yes, very much so. It started with creating employee buy-in, which we accomplished with simple changes such as issuing reusable water bottles and coffee mugs, recycling containers for each office, rewarding carpooling or alternative transportation use. All of these were branded with our D-backs Playing for the Planet logo and it has taken on a life of its own. You walk the halls and see lights off in offices, garbage cans empty and recycling units full and employees even suggesting sustainable ideas of their own. It becomes a way of life for our staff and we hope our efforts will have the same effect for our fans.
GoGreen: Why do you, as a CEO, support sustainable initiatives—why is green business, good business? What do you have to say to business leaders who are skeptical on the benefits?
DH: I want us to be leaders that walk the walk and influence other business and community leaders to do the same. It definitely is the way the world is heading, so I feel we need to encourage others to get on board. There is a track record of benefits of course, both economic and social, and we would be irresponsible to turn a blind eye to this movement.
GoGreen: What lessons can business leaders learn from your experiences in integrating sustainability into the Diamondbacks’ culture, brand and operations? What are the transferable takeaways that apply to businesses outside the sports industry?
DH: If we can make these changes in a building as large and complicated as Chase Field, anyone should be able to make changes in their respective businesses. We are part entertainment venue, part food court, part office complex, but we have still identified opportunities to execute and have seen success. Again, it goes back to the concept of us serving as an example for others to follow, regardless of industry.
GoGreen: 2011 has brought some major accomplishments for the Diamondbacks in terms of sustainability. What are you most proud of? Why?
DH: LEED certification at Salt River Fields, hosting our APS Green Series and the introduction of the APS Solar Pavilion at Chase Field. Each one is a powerful example for our fans and the result of great relationships and initiatives with our corporate partners and innovative ideas that all have a lasting impact.
GoGreen: What are the BHAGs (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals) that make up your next challenge in deepening the Diamondbacks’ sustainability? What’s on the horizon?
DH: Developing a comprehensive sustainability plan that encompasses our entire operation. Using our D-backs Playing for the Planet program, we will strive to identify opportunities to pursue sustainability in each and every department, from operations, to purchasing, to concessions and beyond. In a perfect world, we would achieve LEED-EB certification at Chase Field, but we are not sure if that is the correct goal for us. Regardless of that designation, we want to have a comprehensive sustainability plan that we can showcase and communicate to the group mentioned before, made up of season ticket holders, corporate partners, employees, players and fans.
GoGreen: What are the key components for your success, thus far, in executing some very ambitious projects (Salt River Flats facility, new solar array, etc.)?
DH: Support from our ownership group and utilizing industry professionals that have the know-how and resources to complete these projects. We know how to run a baseball team, but rely heavily on the expertise of our partners and individuals within the sustainability industry for guidance.
GoGreen: What has been the biggest challenge faced in integrating sustainability to date? How did you overcome it?
DH: Patience. We wish we could tackle all of the wonderful opportunities in front of us at once, but realize that some changes aren’t a fit for us yet (either operationally or through available technology). We needed to walk before we ran, but we are finally starting a light sprint!
GoGreen: How have the Diamondbacks worked collaboratively with government or non-profit organizations to achieve your goals related to sustainability? What benefits did you find in building those relationships?
DH: These organizations have access to the experts that we rely on. Many governmental organizations (NRDC) and non-profits (Green Sports Alliance) have had a huge impact on us.
Derrick Hall is the President and CEO of the Arizona Diamondbacks. We are thrilled to welcome Derrick as the 2012 Keynote Speaker at GoGreen Phoenix this year. You can see Derrick and many other of the region’s top sustainability experts at GoGreen Phoenix, Thursday, December 6, 2012. Get more information and register to attend at phoenix.gogreenconference.net.