Philadelphia Eagles sustainability personified



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Norman Vossschulte on Coliseum Summit US 2022 Image: Coliseum GSVA

Energetic and effervescent Norman Vossschulte comes across as a person who can fill up reams of paper writing on the topic of sustainability. And rightly, so. After all, he is the Director, Fan Experience and Sustainability, Philadelphia Eagles, US.

Sustainability is the second nature of the National Football League (NFL) team Philadelphia Eagles. And Vossschulte too is thoroughly tutored on the topic of sustainability – a cause close to the hearts of Eagles as well as Vossschulte. He speaks with panache on the topic of sustainability, for Vossschulte and the Eagles have taken up the Green cudgels with a passion.

Vossschulte traces his roots back to Berlin, Germany, and he has garnered considerable experience working with the Philadelphia Eagles. In 2014, he became the official Go GREEN spokesperson and began leading the Green team for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Though Vossschulte is from Germany, he came to the United States in the late ‘90s. Sustainability runs in his veins and that serves him well in his present role, drawing from experiences as a community relations and social responsibility spokesperson for Disney, before joining the Eagles in 2012.
 

Philadelphia Eagles

The Philadelphia Eagles are a professional American football team based in Philadelphia. The Eagles compete in the National Football League (NFL) as a member club of the league’s National Football Conference East division. The team plays its home games at Lincoln Financial Field in the South Philadelphia Sports Complex.
 

Lincoln Financial Field

The 67,594-capacity Lincoln Financial Field is an American football stadium located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, US. It serves as the home stadium of the Philadelphia Eagles of the National Football League (NFL).
 

National Football League (NFL)

New York (US)-based the National Football League (NFL) is a professional American football league that consists of 32 teams, divided equally between the American Football Conference and the National Football Conference.

In an exclusive conversation with ‘Coliseum’, Norman Vossschulte, Director, Fan Experience and Sustainability, Philadelphia Eagles, US, explains how the NFL team Philadelphia Eagles stands staunchly by the Green cause and “lives and breathes” sustainability from the word go.
 

Sustainability Personified

One look at the Lincoln Financial Field, and one can realize how everything about the stadium is ‘Green’ and how committed the Eagles are to their Green Goals. Between the reverse recycling vestibules on the main concourse on both sides of the 50-yard line to a life-sized Lombardi Trophy constructed entirely of bottle caps, one will quickly notice that for the Eagles, Green means so much more than the color that staff, fans and players so proudly sport. It represents sustainability, an utmost priority of the organization and a hot-button topic today in a world which is hugely feeling the cataclysmic effects of global warming and climate change.
 

Go Green Program

The Go Green program is ingrained into the team’s identity. With the help of partners like NRG, and in tandem with the Philadelphia community, the Eagles proudly wear the badge of sustainability leader across the globe.

Like Norman Vossschulte put in, “I have been with the Eagles 10 years, 11 seasons. Our team color is green and we have plunged headlong into the GO GREEN program. We wanted to add something to our Green campaign. So, we decided to Innovate and Sustain.”

The bristling with energy Vossschulte stated that there are two components to a successful sustainability program – “First, it has to be sustainable for if you want to carry a program for years into the future it has to be sustainable. The next thing is to elevate – doing something like water conservation or waste diversion.”

Added Vossschulte, “Sustainability is no longer confined to just the operational aspect of our organization. It is a key pillar of who we are, what we stand for, and how we operate as a team and we got down to a world renowned sustainability program.”
 

Sustainability Milestones

  • Philadelphia Eagles have the largest solar power plant in NFL;
  • The solar plant produces about 4 MW per year; and
  • Sturdy deal with the American energy company NRG – “The NRG has signed a 35-year deal with us and they own and operate the solar power plant. We do not have an iota of idea on how to operate these solar power plants. We use about 10 MW per year but we have signed a deal with them where we have a fixed cost for sustainable energy. So, Green wind or solar energy is actually sold to us. When you operate a stadium like this, your energy cost fluctuates by about 40 million dollars every year. But, we have a fixed cost with energy for over 35 years.”

 

Go Green – How to Create a Sustainable Sustainability Initiative

  • Business of Sport/Entertainment;
  • Staff members who studied sports/operations;
  • Not much hype initially;
  • Stadium not built with sustainability in mind;
  • Ownership and Executive Leadership care;
  • Involve everyone;
  • Total buy-in – Eco Committee;
  • Partnerships, Partnerships, Partnerships;
  • Ask the right questions;
  • Can’t start at ROI;
  • Creativity; and
  • Gen Z.

 

‘Flying’ High

  • The Eagles are the first sports team in the world to obtain ISO20121 certification;
  • Under Vossschulte, the Eagles have obtained LEED Gold certification;
  • Vossschulte organized and rebranded the initiative as the GO GREEN ECO Committee (Engagement, Communication, Operations) to involve the entire organization. One of the main missions of the ECO Committee is to Innovate and Sustain; and
  • The Eagles are now the first sports team to actively invest in the ocean by offsetting carbon emissions from player travel by planting seagrass.

 
Beaming-with-pride Vossschulte explained, “The ISO 20121, first introduced at the 2012 London Olympic Games, provides a management blueprint to address the triple bottom line of sustainability – the economic, environmental and social impacts of events. The standard helps organizations operate in a way that is financially viable for the company, its customers and suppliers, minimizes the use of resources and reduces waste, and considers the needs and expectations of those affected by the event or business. The key component of the standard is the development of a continuous improvement plan which is then implemented, analyzed and modified to achieve ever increasing standards of performance.”

The Eagles’ GO GREEN program has been internationally recognized for its commitment to sustainability and eco-friendly measures. The team has earned LEED Gold status bestowed by the U.S. Green Building Council, a GBAC (Global Biorisk Advisory Council) STAR accreditation and recently became the first US professional sports team to offset team travel emissions through the support of Ocean Conservancy’s Blue Playbook. Their progressive approach has enabled them to serve as proud environmental stewards in Philadelphia and beyond.
 

One-man Army

He said that the biggest challenge in running a NFL team is that “We are in the business of sport entertainment, not sustainability. We know about 170 people that run a multibillion dollar organization. But here I am alone, a one-man operation, responsible for driving the sustainability efforts forward. So, you need people to help you in this entire initiative.”

He added, “When you work in NFL, a lot of consultants come to you and say that they are going to make a difference and to sift through a lot of these consultants is a tough job especially when you are a one-man Army and you have lot of other stuff to do. Then you have to find a person who lives and breathes sustainability.”
 

Sustainability Takeaways

  • “Sustainability is not about excitement and hype and it is a much more serious issue.”;
  • “One cannot hardsell sustainability. It has to be a step-by-step process.”; and
  • “With a sustainability program, one cannot start at a return on investment (ROI). Not yet. Although over the last five years I have seen a huge influx of partners coming to us and saying we want to partner with you on sustainability and we are going to inject dollars. So, now it is monetized for us.”

 

Green Stadium

He informed that the Lincoln Financial Field was not built with sustainability in mind – “In fact, when we decided to build this building, we switched to gas. Now, of course, it is fully run with Green energy.”

He further explained that in order to create a sustainable sustainability initiative, one needs Ownership and Executive Leadership “because without their help and their buy-in, it is not going to work. A lot of sustainability programs in the NFL are driven by the Operations Department because that’s where you do your waste diversion or your energy purchasing.”

“We formed our Eco Committees – Engagement, Communication and Operations. Engagement is HR, everyone is engaging someone. The Communication is our PR Department, they write our annual report, and then we have Operations, who run the stadium, the practice facility, the solar power plant. And then you cannot do without Partnerships. Because we have such a world renowned sustainability program, we have some incredible partners.”
 

Seagrass Initiative

Vossschulte informed that whenever the Eagles travel to a particular destination, they plant trees – “Now, we are planting seagrass in Puerto Rico (Caribbean island and unincorporated US territory). We went to the Ocean Foundation and said, what about trees? Our life starts and ends in the ocean. You need to plant seagrass because less than 20 percent of the ocean is made up of seagrass but 80 percent of all marine life lives in seagrass and about 80 percent of all seagrass is gone in the world today. Only 20 percent remains. And about two billion people rely on fish. So, if you don’t invest into the ocean, then we are not doing something right.”

The Philadelphia Eagles entered into a landmark, first-of-its-kind partnership with Ocean Conservancy and The Ocean Foundation in 2021 to offset all team travel from 2020 through seagrass and mangrove restoration efforts in Puerto Rico.

The US-based Ocean Foundation is dedicated to reversing the trend of destruction of ocean environments around the world.

Seagrasses are the only flowering plants which grow in marine environments.
 

Sustainability Steps

  • A closed loop recycling program;
  • Eagles have bags which are completely sustainably sourced from ethanol, alcohol and sugarcane and they are totally combustible; and
  • Cool creativity required to engage fans.

 

Why Gen Z?

Vossschulte maintained that currently “People in the 40 to 60 age bracket buy our tickets, because NFL tickets are expensive and do not really rank in the Top 10 drivers of why they will support your team. With Gen Z, it is the No 2 driver of why they will support a sports team. Not only is it good to invest in Gen Z but also you can tap into them in the colleges and universities.”

  • In the last couple of years, Gen Z is taking a lot of interest in the entire sustainability topic;
  • Gen Z wants to know more about sustainability; and
  • The Philadelphia Eagles are going to conduct a marketing study on what drives Gen Z and what should be invested next with the Eagles in order to reach Gen Z or maybe a social media platform so that the NFL team can really push its sustainability drive to Gen Z.

 

Sustainability Steward

Norman Vossschulte is tirelessly championing the cause of sustainability and is pushing it into all levels of the organization. He is relentlessly searching for new and innovative ways to preserve the planet by leveraging the team’s star power as a professional football team.

Norman Vossschulte deserves a huge pat on his back as his never-say-die spirit has played an integral role in propelling the Go Green program of the Philadelphia Eagles into one that prioritizes Green energy production, recycling and composting, reforestation, ocean conservation, emission reduction, energy efficiency, and much more. He has almost singlehandedly helmed the team to successfully attain its Green Goals.

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