Expanded Waste Diversion Efforts, SunTrust Park, Atlanta
Shawn Mattox, SunTrust Park vice president of operations, Delaware North Sportservice
Photo: Courtesy Delaware North Sportservice

Partnerships enhance greening of SunTrust Park

The 2019 season at SunTrust Park, home of the Atlanta Braves, has been a great one for the playoff-bound Braves and a green one for the ballpark. Determined to expand and improve waste diversion from landfill — through reusing, recycling and composting — Delaware North Sportservice, which has operated concessions, premium dining and restaurants at SunTrust Park since 2016, collaborated with the Braves, area waste haulers, business partners and associates to intensify waste diversion at the ballpark and improve the sustainability of the venue’s operations. 

Data demonstrates the success of those efforts. Through July, the ballpark had diverted 255 tons of materials from landfill, nearly as much as the 269 tons diverted for the entirety of 2018 and a promising start to reaching a goal of 336.5 tons diverted — a 25% increase over last year. In particular, the ballpark had made significant gains in diversion of organic waste/food waste (37 tons in 2019 vs. zero last year) and glass (17 tons vs. zero), while working well ahead of last year’s pace in plastic and aluminum (29 tons through July 2019 vs. 32 tons for all of 2018).

Shawn Mattox, vice president of operations at SunTrust Park for Sportservice, said close-knit collaborations have been essential to the park’s sustainability successes this year. For instance, Sportservice began to work with two new partners with a focus on sustainability: WestRock, which is assisting with public-facing messaging and collateral, and ITAD Technologies, which is diverting electronic waste into a reuse-focused stream. In addition, Sportservice teamed with Closed Loop Organics to implement a new organic waste program to collect food scraps from daily operations and convert them to compost and also contracted with Haulin’ Glass to launch a new recycling program focused on glass bottles. A partnership with the Atlanta Community Food Bank sends surplus food to community members in need.

Deb Friedel, director of sustainability for Sportservice, said it was important to take a comprehensive approach to waste management, both leaning into existing strengths and improving areas of weakness — “making sure that we’re connecting all of the dots on this.” That meant collaborating closely with the ballpark’s many partners and seeking out new ones.

“You have to make sure that all of your stakeholders are really a part of this,” Friedel said. “That’s what makes a program like this strong. That’s what makes it stick.”

Mattox said driving the park’s waste diversion gains was the passionate involvement of staff members, led by a Green Path Champions team tasked with spearheading the effort. The team, which was led by Sportservice’s Fritz Smith, worked with leadership and clients to identify opportunities for improvement and set goals for measurable progress.

“We’ve got some great champions for this work in our facility, people who really wanted to jump in and assist on this,” Mattox said. “I think having those voices in our workforce, connecting with their peers, really was a difference-maker for us.”

An enduring challenge was maintaining effective communication with visitors to the park and making it as easy as possible for them to follow the preferred park procedures, Friedel said. Sportservice and the Braves emphasized clear messaging distributed through visual aids and electronic communication.

“The operation at SunTrust Park is very big, a lot of services are being provided, and a lot of fans and guests are coming from many locations to enjoy the game or event,” Friedel said. “Sometimes their mind may not be on how to recycle or to put their material in the correct bin, and that can be a challenge. We worked to make it as easy and streamlined for them as possible so that they could make a good choice.” 

Mattox said an ancillary impact of this year’s work was the increased visibility for frontline staff and management of how much waste the ballpark generates. 

“There’s this effort underway to divert and repurpose waste but now there’s also an effort to find a better way to do business to reduce our overall waste — to eliminate it rather than divert it,” Mattox said.

Mattox said the success SunTrust Park has seen so far with waste diversion feels like just the beginning of something.

“This only solidifies our desire to ramp up our efforts and continue to push the boundaries in this area,” Mattox said. “We can look at the success we’ve had so far and ask, ‘OK, where do we take this next?’” 

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