Real Leaders

The Super Bowl Game Powered By The Sun

San Francisco 49ers score with the world’s first LEED certified sustainable sport stadium, with games completely powered by the sun.

High-density Wi-Fi for every person in the stadium will facilitate in-seat purchases of concessions and merchandise from any smartphone, and an ability to access in-stadium camera feeds from various angles of the game will ensure fans don’t miss a thing. Cool!

The cheering crowds for the San Francisco 49ers aren’t only be about the game anymore. The American football team, founded in 1949, has combined cutting-edge technology, environmental concerns and their sporting legacy to achieve their ambitious goal of becoming the world’s first sustainable sports stadium. The Levi’s Stadium was completed in 2013.

While traditional football rivalry against the Dallas Cowboys, ongoing since the 1970s, might be restricted to the field, the 49ers have scored a touchdown by integrating sustainability with their game. Perhaps Jed York’s vision, at the oldest major professional sports team in California, was sparked by his first experience at the organization, as Director of Strategic Planning, because he’s kept a consistent long-term view ever since.

Now CEO, York previously managed the integration of brand strategies with long-term operational development. This has perfectly positioned him to grow beyond the sport itself, and while most people would assume his day is consumed with winning the NFL Championship at any cost, he’s been hard at work creating a lasting environmental legacy for Northern California too.

A real leader is someone who has a vision, passion and who isn’t afraid to fail. A lot of the time you see leaders who are not willing to fail and that’s one of the downfalls of leadership in industry today,” says York. “Sometimes youth is a blessing, because when you’re young failure doesn’t even enter your mind.

Dozens of solar panels have been installed on the roof of the stadium, covering 9,574-square-feet. They generate around 375 kW of power, enough to offset the power used at the stadium during 49ers home games. York is aware that the stadium goes beyond a venue for fans to cheer their team on. “I want to make sure the things we’re doing with the stadium fit with the values of our community,” he says.

“That might include becoming the smartest building around, by using technology found here in Silicon Valley, making sure you include the wine and food culture from Napa to San Francisco, and making sure that you embrace sustainability. It’s about the entire community coming together. After all, that’s what sports are all about.” The new Levi’s stadium will be the first LEED certified NFL stadium and will also be neutral to the power grid, meaning that games will be completely powered by the sun.

LEED certification involves value-engineering your construction process and examining how green investments will affect expenses over the life of a building. Often, cutting a seemingly expensive line item from the build can result in losing money-saving synergies on the finished building. Most switched-on architects and engineers would advise you to set your goals for the “life cycle” rather than the “first cost” at planning stage.

While most teams are preoccupied with finding soft drink, burger and beer partners for sponsorship, the 49ers can claim they have a sustainable energy partner – in the form of NRG Energy, a national renewable energy company.

THE STADIUM IN NUMBERS  Seats: 68,500 made from aluminum and plastic, both recyclable materials. Manufactured in nearby Hayward Fireproofing: 60,000 sacks of fire-retardant material sprayed onto all metal beams protect steel from melting in a fire. Thermal Insulation: Placed under the metal decking floor for energy savings in air-conditioned rooms above and visible from below as a black ceiling – its raw color, that also doesn’t require painting. 365 days: The stadium has been designed as a year-round venue to host a variety of different events, such as concerts and soccer, ensuring maximum usage.

A generally held view is that going green, or sustainable, will cost more or not perform effectively, but York is convinced he’s on the right path. “We wanted to make sure that this enhances the fan experience, but is also the right thing to do for the community, making sure everybody’s involved,” says York.

“So far we haven’t seen anything that indicates we won’t be performing at peak performance and I think it’s the right fit and the right way to build a stadium in this day and age.” Rather than keeping the sustainable elements hidden, three solar panel covered “energy bridges” that will serve as the main entry and exit to the stadium, creating a dramatic, and very visual reminder to fans, of its purpose.

We’re striving to do good and do well at the same time. The 49ers motto is to ‘win with class,’ and that’s really what we’ve tried to do both on and off the field. The stadium will be representative of that idea, as will our team on the field.

York’s investment in green and sustainable technologies are already paying dividends. More people want to become involved, especially on the sponsorship side, and they’re able to charge a premium for some of the tickets and suites.

“It just opens the door to so many other opportunities that weren’t otherwise there,” says York.  “Ultimately it makes your fan base feel connected. I consider sustainability to be very important. Teddy Roosevelt coined the term ‘conservation’ at the commonwealth club here at the turn of the century and I think we’re trying to build on that, making sure that California is a leader in conservation.”

York is also aware that sustainability is not a priority among most teams in the sporting industry and acknowledges the future value of the 49ers being at the cutting edge of what he sees as the future of all stadiums. Beyond energy considerations, York cannot ignore the host of Fortune 50 companies located within a 15-mile radius of their Santa Clara stadium, many of which are tech related. He plans to take full advantage. “Technology can enhance the user experience, but it doesn’t create user experience,” says York. The close proximity to some of the world’s most successful tech brands will see the new stadium introduce unheard of synergies with fans.

High-density Wi-Fi for every person in the stadium will facilitate in-seat purchases of concessions and merchandise from any smartphone, and an ability to access in-stadium camera feeds from various angles of the game will ensure fans don’t miss a thing. The team plans to make the stadium a cashless and ticketless venue using smart technology and might even offer updates on bathroom lines. York has realized the power of social media and how the sheer volume of press generated by a sports team means that people are always watching.

“Kids look up to us and idolize our players and if you’re fortunate to be in that position, then you have to take that with great responsibility,” says York.

Part of that responsibility has been holding community events, during the week, which have seen a 100 percent participation from all players. They’ve also raised $3 million dollars a year through the 49ers Foundation, an initiative to keep kids safe, on track and in school.

I’ve learned that first and foremost you should do something you’re passionate about,” says York. “Don’t be afraid to fail. We were told countless times that a stadium couldn’t be built our way, and were labeled failures by just about everyone at first. We didn’t let that bother us.

Perhaps York’s ambitious plans for the 49ers can best be summed up by the team slogan of 2009 – “Don’t tell me, show me.”


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