NBA’s Hawks Offer Sustainability Lesson

Recycling of 12,500 Philips Arena seats shows team commitment to being green

  • by Tim Newcomb
  • Published: June 6, 2018

In a still from a time-lapse video, workers remove seats from Atlanta's Philips Arena to be recycled. (Courtesy Atlanta Hawks)

The removal of 12,500 seats from Atlanta’s Philips Arena as part of the 19-year-old venue’s phased $192.5 million remodel, created 64 tons of recyclable material, one of the largest seat recycling efforts at an arena.

The NBA’s Atlanta Hawks partnered with Atlanta’s Rubicon Global, a company with a focus on recycling and waste-reduction programs, to spend five days pulling out seats and then recycling as much as possible, diverting the seats from a landfill and saving 265 tons of carbon emissions in the process, according to the Hawks.

“As a leader in our community, we felt it was our responsibility to remove seats and other materials in a way that values sustainability,” Brett Stefansson, Philips Arena executive vice president and general manager, wrote in an email. “Aligning with Rubicon, an industry leader in this space, underscores our commitment to keep Philips Arena a green facility.”

The arena, which hosts about 160 events and 1.6 million guests annually, will have a capacity of more than 17,000, after the work is done, a decrease of about 1,000. The current renovation makes changes from the roofline to the baseline with improved sightlines, new video displays, fresh suite options and updated concessions. The project started in the summer of 2017, with the most notable change being a new club area behind one of the baskets on the floor level. Behind-the-scenes support work also went on. After shutting down briefly last summer, the building closed again in April for six months so the renovations can be finished.

Some of the building’s seats were replaced last summer, leaving 12,500 for this project, the largest seat recycling effort Rubicon has participated in, all without an additional cost to the team, said Stefansson.

“Our partnership with the Hawks and Philips Arena is a great example of a sustainable renovation on a large scale,” said David Rachelson, vice president of sustainability for Rubicon. “Together, we were able to save 64 tons of valuable recycled material from the removed seats, which would have been shipped to a landfill. That’s a significant environmental impact and a commitment to the circular economy.”

The Hawks decided not to auction off seats, instead putting a focus on the full-scale recycling effort. Justin Zeulner, executive director of Green Sports Alliance, praised the Hawks for bold leadership in the sports greening movement, especially as the Green Sports Alliance Summit heads to the neighboring Mercedes-Benz Stadium June 26-27. The stadium received LEED Platinum certification, the highest rating given in the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design scale used by the U.S. Green Building Council.

“Just about a month before we arrive in Atlanta, Philips Arena announces, as part of their renovation plans, they will ensure their old seats avoid our landfills,” he said. “These examples are not only environmentally intelligent, (but) they inspire others to take further action.”

The seats removed from the arena were taken to a nearby facility, where Rubicon’s team separated recyclable material for disposal. Rubicon said the project—the largest of its kind for the company—is a high-profile example to businesses of all sizes about the kinds of things they can do to keep materials out of landfills.

Other venues have recycled thousands of seats at a time, often recouping revenue along the way by earning money for aluminum, steel and plastic. Recent large-scale examples come from the 2016 seat remodel at Nashville’s Nissan Stadium, home of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans, and this year’s demolition of the 32,500-seat Hughes Stadium at Colorado State University after the opening of Canvas Stadium in 2017.

“Partnering with Rubicon, an industry leader and a global company that calls Atlanta home, was important for us as we continue our efforts to keep Philips Arena a green facility,” Stefansson said. “Working with Rubicon was a natural fit, as we both value sustainability and the importance of recycling.”

  • by Tim Newcomb
  • Published: June 6, 2018