Expert Interview – Greening the Gridiron

This month’s interview is with Marcelo Essabba, Director of Housekeeping Operations at Hard Rock Stadium, home of the Miami Dolphins. Marcelo gave me a tour of the facility which is going through some amazing upgrades. Along the way he explained their sustainability initiatives which are impressive to say the least. (Photo courtesy of the Miami Dolphins)

College Football Semi-Final at the Orange Bowl

LC:   What is your role with the Miami Dolphins and how long have you been part of the organization?

ME:  I have had a few roles in the past ten years with the organization but the majority of the years have been in the Housekeeping Sector as Director of Housekeeping Operations. My team covers parking lots, the main facility, concessions and kitchens, pest control, window cleaning, all waste removal, full laundry service and sustainability as well as covering more than 11 million square feet.

LC:   When did you begin your sustainability program and what was the inspiration?

ME:  We picked our sustainability program up again once we went back to in-house housekeeping service in July 2014. We assumed operations and went from a 6% to 58% diversion rate the first year. From there we saw that we can enhance it and finished last year around 77%. We are looking forward to continuing to improve on our sustainability plan and efforts.

LC:   Who is involved on the sustainability team?

ME: We have a team of eight people involved. The group is composed of upper management, Hard Rock Stadium’s hospitality provider, Centerplate, and all of the housekeeping team.

LC:  What were your initial goals and initiatives and how were they prioritized?

ME: The initial goal was to start with simple and basic changes that could be made immediately. The initiative we had available was the single stream/comingle recycling option. We then prioritized by baling cardboard and collecting all bottles, cans and cups. This proved to be a simple and non-complicated beginning that made sense operationally.

LC:  What is one of most innovative sustainability projects you have been able to accomplish?

ME:  We did research and not having many options for composting in our area, we decided to try an organic food composter/digester. We installed two of them in October 2016 and have been able to divert tons of post and prep food to landfills and reduce our waste weight from going to the landfill as well as our cost of waste dumped per event and non-event days.

LC: It was interesting to see that equipment in action. Food waste is such a big issue today, even in small restaurants let alone massive stadiums. Has sustainability become a major focus in the sports arena community?

ME:  It is a priority for the Dolphins and Hard Rock Stadium as we feel we are making a great impact on our community. We have thousands of fans that attend events. We care about being part of a clean and sustainable environment locally. The organization continues to receive inquiries about our programs from many sports complexes.

LC:  What are your plans going forward?

ME:  We are focused on establishing a tangible vision and growing our sustainability plan. We are trying to implement our sustainability plan for all events in and out of the stadium to maximize diversion from landfills. We continue working with vendors, such as Dade Paper, to use items coming in and out of the facility to fit into our sustainability plan. This ensures operationally that the plan makes more sense for all and facilitates the process of sorting the waste streams.

LC:  What advice do you have for other facility managers embarking on a sustainability program?

ME:  Start small with the simple things that won’t really change much of your operations. It will evolve to a sustainable program that you will be happy with. Do lots of research in your area, some cities offer more sustainable options than others while some offer composting and some only offer single stream. We’ve able to use different vendors for items that our hauler can’t sort for us. We have been able to implement many parts of our everyday business to increase our sustainability and divert more and more from landfills and still be on budget and/or below for some of the events. Get as much help as you can from others and research. In the process you’ll learn plenty that you can apply to your particular venue. At the end of the day, you have to make it work for your operation in your facility.

To learn more about Hard Rock Stadium visit www.hardrockstadium.com and check out this video https://vimeo.com/178241412.   

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