How Oak View Group Became the Live Leader in Building Sustainability: ‘We Should All Be Doing This’

When Co-op Live, the latest arena from developer Oak View Group (OVG), opens in Manchester, England, in April, it will look a bit different from most similarly sized British venues.

Inside, it will serve up an eminently modern offering: the United Kingdom’s largest arena concert capacity, an acoustically efficient infrastructure and a star-­studded concert lineup including Stevie Nicks, Olivia Rodrigo and Nicki Minaj. But outside, the venue’s innovations will be most visible. Situated on the Manchester Ship Canal, Co-op Live is surrounded by a “biodiversity ring” — over 29,000 square feet of lush greenery offering a natural habitat for local wildlife and a surrounding green wall to attract bees. A mile-long pedestrian path partially along the water will encourage more environmentally friendly travel to and from the 23,500-capacity venue.

Since OVG broke ground on Co-op Live in 2021, chairman/CEO Tim Leiweke has frequently walked that route to the arena, which was built by local suppliers to reduce the transportation of materials, is entirely powered by electricity to eliminate the use of gas on site and even collects rain to water its plants and flush its toilets. “Co-op Live is going to be the most sustainable arena in the U.K. and one of the most in the world,” he tells Billboard. “It is our intent, our ambition and our commitment to be carbon neutral, but it takes a year to be certified” with an “excellent” rating from the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method, run by U.K. accreditation service BRE Global.

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A veteran of the live sector — and of innovation in arena construction, specifically — who once served as president of AEG, Leiweke is known for his enthusiasm for ambitious new projects like Co-op Live and Green Operations & Advanced Leadership (GOAL), a sustainability program developed by founding members OVG; State Farm Arena and its NBA sports tenant the Atlanta Hawks; Fenway Sports Group; and green building expert Jason F. McLennan for arenas, stadiums, convention centers and other venues. “I love GOAL. It’s the most important thing we’ve done toward sustainability,” Leiweke says. “It’s hugely important that we get other people in the industry committed to GOAL. That’s one of [OVG’s] highest priorities.”

Building Co-op Live is only the latest milestone in OVG’s commitment to creating more sustainable concert spaces that began with its billion-dollar, four-year renovation of Seattle’s Climate Pledge Arena (formerly Key Arena), which reopened in late 2021. Now OVG is working to bring sustainability to each of the more than 400 buildings it owns, operates or partners with.

“As an industry, we are a lightning rod of attention,” Leiweke says. “Can we use that platform that has such a big profile to be an example of tackling this issue and doing the right thing?”

A rendering of U.K. venue Co-op Live, where a pedestrian path encourages foot travel to the arena. Courtesy of Oak View Group

During Climate Pledge Arena’s renovation, OVG floated its iconic roof in the air for conservation — Seattle designated Key Arena’s exterior a municipal landmark in 2017 — and overhauled the 60-year-old building to consume zero fossil fuel, use solar panels for 100% renewable energy power and employ a “Rain to Rink” system harvesting water off the roof to help create the ice for NHL tenant the Seattle Kraken. Naming-rights partner Amazon chose the new arena’s moniker, basing it on its Climate Pledge with environmental advocacy group Global Optimism. Today, it’s a zero-waste venue without single-use plastics — and was the first arena to achieve International Living Future Institute Zero Carbon Certification, meaning it’s energy-efficient, combustion-free and powered entirely by renewable sources.

After working with OVG on Climate Pledge, Amazon provided its web services software to track venue performance for sustainability measures such as energy and water use, greenhouse gas emissions and waste management. In October 2021, OVG and fellow founding members launched GOAL to provide resources to venues exploring how to operate more sustainably.

“You don’t have to be Climate Pledge Arena and chances are you won’t be, at least not at first,” says Kristen Fulmer, OVG head of sustainability and director of GOAL. “It’s important that we meet operators where they are and make incremental improvements over time.”

Take OVG’s newly built Acrisure Arena in Palm Desert, Calif., as an example. It’s surrounded by drought-resistant plants, uses electric Zambonis to maintain the ice used by AHL team the Coachella Valley Firebirds, runs on solar panels covering its parking lot and is sunk 25 feet below grade to limit exposure of its exterior facade and thus reduce its HVAC dependence. Parking lot lights are on dusk-to-dawn sensors, the venue composts, and prepaid parking reduces the time cars spend idling.

“When you open a venue that has all these elements already designed into it, [sustainability] becomes part of your daily procedure,” Acrisure senior vp John Page says. And GOAL provides a “tracking system that allows us to evaluate on an ongoing basis how we can lower our carbon footprint” and reach a target of carbon neutrality by 2025.

As with Acrisure, GOAL’s approach to sustainability often utilizes creative solutions to regional issues, a practice made easier by the data it collects from its now 50 members. (Leiweke intends to double that number by the end of 2024.) “No one does a better job than State Farm Arena on recycling,” Leiweke says. “We brought them in and said, ‘Great, write the playbook.’ And then we bring in all of the other people in our industry that we see as best in class on green and sustainability and say, ‘Great, write that playbook.’ ”

Even with its collected best practices, Leiweke says, “Amazingly, many people turn down [GOAL] because they say it will cost too much money, which is ridiculous. How much do you think it’s going to cost to replace the Earth?” It’s true that upfront costs are higher at OVG’s tricked-out-for-sustainability venues — but, Leiweke insists, GOAL’s energy tracking and operational data will prove they’re saving money in the long term. “It’s usually about how long you’re looking at the budget,” Fulmer says, “and usually it will pay for itself.”

In the meantime, there are ways to defray costs. Corporate partners, Fulmer explains, are often eager to contribute funding for environmental causes, promote their own sustainability agendas or both. GOAL helps those that want to back specific measures — say, funding a venue’s switch from plastic to compostable cups — to team up with venues in exchange for on-site branding or activations.

As artists calculate their carbon footprint for upcoming tours, GOAL venues and partners can provide numbers, as well as initiatives and proposals, to lessen a tour’s impact.

“Do I think it makes a difference that Billie Eilish is going to play my venue when she has a choice because she knows how committed we are to sustainability? 100%,” Leiweke says. “But that’s not the only reason we did it. We did it because we should all be doing this.”

This story will appear in the March 30, 2024, issue of Billboard.


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