Arts & Entertainment, Sustainability, and Travel & Tourism

Concert venues ramp up green practices

Management tunes in guest feedback alongside citywide, countywide sustainability goals.

July 20, 2018
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Green Venue/Brooke Taylor
Brooke Taylor, a volunteer resources intern at Frederik Meijer Gardens, is tasked with sorting waste materials. Courtesy Frederik Meijer Gardens

Grand Rapids concert venues are getting in a groove with sustainability this summer.

SMG-owned Van Andel Arena, DeVos Place and DeVos Performance Hall, 20 Monroe Live and Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park Amphitheater all have made steps toward recycling and reducing waste this season in their local concert and event venues.

20 Monroe Live

Sue Barsoum, general manager of 20 Monroe Live, said her venue’s big news came June 28 when it announced a “strawless” campaign in which it stopped offering single-use straws with beverages. Eco-friendly straws still are available by request.

Barsoum said 20 Monroe Live has followed the sustainable practices of its management company, Live Nation’s House of Blues Entertainment, since opening in January 2017. The strawless campaign was identified by the local management team as an additional step to help the environment.

The infographic created for the campaign says the World Economic Forum predicts by 2050 there will be more pieces of plastic than fish in the ocean.

On the recycling front, 20 Monroe Live only offers recyclable cups, and all cans are taken away and recycled by its beverage company, DLS Events.

Event staff at 20 Monroe Live are trained to point people toward the recycling bins placed throughout the venue, and if the guests have food waste from the concession stand next door at The B.O.B., to show them where the trash cans are.

It’s not a perfect system, Barsoum said, as sometimes food gets tossed in the recycling or recyclables are discarded inside the auditorium.

“Most of our (event) people are picking up with huge plastic bags in the middle of the event; we’re just trying to keep up and keep it clean,” she said. “After the event, we have a cleaning company that comes through, and they do their best to sort it out.”

Other eco-friendly practices at 20 Monroe Live include hand dryers instead of paper towels in the restrooms, washable hand towels in the artists’ dressing rooms, environmentally safe cleaning products and using glassware and plates in the administrative offices rather than paper products.

Barsoum said the venue also has a policy that servers don’t pour beverages out of the cans into other containers “unless there’s an artist that requests all liquids be poured,” and even then, the staff follows up to ensure the artist really wants that.

This fall, 20 Monroe Live will start offering polycarbonate beverage cups that look like glass in the VIP room instead of disposable cups, and in the next year, she said the team plans to create reusable 20 Monroe Live water bottles and jugs for staff members.

“Now that the strawless thing has happened, we are trying to investigate other things,” she said. “We’re definitely on the way and doing as much as we can.”

SMG

Eddie Tadlock, assistant general manager of SMG’s Grand Rapids properties, DeVos Place, DeVos Performance Hall and Van Andel Arena, implemented a recycling program at the venues 10 years ago.

Currently, SMG is diverting 35 percent of its landfill waste from DeVos Performance Hall, DeVos Place and Van Andel Arena, he said.

Tadlock said SMG is aware of and working in step with the waste-reduction goals of Grand Rapids’ 2030 District, a public-private initiative which aims to reduce energy use 50 percent by 2030.

But SMG is aiming for an even more ambitious goal — running all zero-waste events by 2022.

To that end, the company spent “at least six figures in the last 10 years” on sustainability efforts.

This year, Tadlock and his team worked to solve a persistent problem of concertgoers throwing recycling in the trash bin by separating the sorting system into three bins instead of two — landfill, bottles/cans and paper — so people have to stop and evaluate what type of item they are discarding.

Everything but the landfill items gets recycled.

In the foodservice areas, the containers are made of compostable materials such as bamboo and soy.

SMG also composts food through its catering vendors, Amway Grand Plaza Hotel and Savor.

Tadlock said the venues’ sustainability program is both socially responsible and a business decision.

“It’s more than just doing it for the sake of doing it. You’re saving money,” he said. “It’s making the investment in your infrastructure to meet those goals.”

A recent illustration of that was a “re-lamping” program enacted in the venues, where the light fixtures were switched from traditional lighting to LED, reducing utility bills between 40 and 60 percent.

“If you think about stairwell lights, those are on 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If you change those out, you drop your energy consumption,” Tadlock said.

SMG also installed variable rate drives — controllers that go on air handlers to allow better control over the buildings’ HVAC system — and installed flush valves in the toilets to reduce the amount of water per flush.

Other efforts SMG is planning to curb costs and reduce waste include developing a mobile app with information for event attendees, along with digital monitors posted around the building, rather than printing thousands of programs that get recycled or thrown away.

It also is, like the other venues, planning to go strawless except upon request.

“For people with disabilities, they need to have straws,” he said. “They will be paper straws or other type of compostable straw. An able-bodied person doesn’t think of that.”

Tadlock said he is pitching the idea of producing solar energy to meet a portion of its energy needs for the venues.

Before making changes, he needs to show management it would save money over the long run.

For SMG’s sustainability program to be effective, the company needs to educate concertgoers and event clients about the changes.

“On our website, we have our recycling efforts listed,” Tadlock said. “In the sales process, we let our clients know we recycle, and we have zero-waste goals you can be part of to reduce your carbon footprint and waste output.

“It’s the same thing with concerts. Most of the people, when they attend the concerts, buy tickets online, and we capture their email addresses. We send out reminders that we compost and recycle along with telling them to come early and go through security. We have ways to get that message out before every show.”

He said he also has been the “800-pound gorilla in the room” when it comes to pressuring fellow Grand Rapids businesses to adopt sustainability practices.

“I’ve dished it out to my peers in the community downtown,” he said. “How come you’re not recycling? We have guests coming downtown and they will want to eat at your establishment, and they say, ‘How about the rest of your city; is it sustainable?’

“We say, ‘We’ve got this event, and they’re all about recycling, so what are you doing for that?’”

Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park

Angela Violet, director of human resources and volunteers at Meijer Gardens, said guests may notice subtle changes to the amphitheater’s recycling program this season.

The venue has added volunteers to act as recycling monitors and educate the concertgoers on the sorting system, which consists of trash, recycling and deposit containers such as cans and bottles.

The sorting systems are in seven locations around the perimeter of the amphitheater and also at the gate.

Violet said Meijer Gardens, which has had a recycling program since 2002, made the changes in response to guest and employee feedback, and it will continue adjusting as it gathers data from volunteer monitors.

An issue with the prior system was it required too much sorting after the shows ended, Violet said.

“Guests would sometimes place trash in recycling bins or recyclables in the trash, and it was a lot of work to sort it,” she said.

“Now, we can be proactive and educate the guests, and they can carry that into their home life. It demonstrates our mission of caring for the natural world.”

Meijer Gardens’ expenses to ramp up sustainability practices have been low since the venue is using volunteer labor — it just had to buy bins for the depositables and bags for returning beverage containers to West Side Beer Distributing for recycling.

“Our initial recycling costs are more than made up for in waste management expense savings,” said John VanderHaagen, Meijer Gardens public relations manager.

The organization also hired the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum this year to conduct a waste audit as the first step in the process of setting waste-reduction goals for itself.

The audit found Meijer Gardens as a whole, not just the amphitheater, generates an estimated 1,152 tons of waste material a year and diverts about 263 tons of compostable and recyclable material — a 23 percent diversion rate.

“The goal of the Kent County Department of Public Works on a countywide level is 20 percent diversion by 2020, so we are ahead of that goal and aiming to increase our diversion rate every year,” said VanderHaagen.

During the next year, the organization plans to set a waste-reduction goal and possibly join Grand Rapids’ 2030 District.

In the meantime, the venue is doing what it can, including switching to compostable food and beverage containers, reducing food waste, sourcing food locally, maintaining conservative watering practices in the gardens, cutting out the use of chemicals in the horticulture and discontinuing single-use items such as plastic beverage stirrers.

The venue also does not give out straws unless requested.

Violet said she thinks West Michigan’s overall commitment to sustainability will help inspire businesses to get on board with the 2030 District and the Kent County DPW’s goals.

“I think it’s wonderful we have local commitment like that. I think we’re fortunate to live in an area where that’s prominent and the messaging is coming from several different sources,” she said.

Violet said the sustainability efforts fit into Meijer Gardens’ mission.

“It’s part of our whole approach to care for the natural environment,” she said. “We are doing it because we care.”

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