What happens when the world’s largest chemical company sits down at the table with the design and construction team on one of the largest and arguably most iconic projects of 2015, the new Atlanta Falcons stadium?

The approach was groundbreaking in many respects although not without its hard conversations, finger pointing and a healthy amount of skepticism. What construction project is without a certain amount of drama after all? From the initial group meeting including 15 individuals representing BASF, the Falcons, the GC, sustainability consultant, architect and owners reps to all of the follow up meetings the transformation occurred in the ability to shorten the distance between the manufacturer and owner as well as the design and construction team. The upfront conversations led to a much more direct line of sight into setting up the appropriate connections at the right time in the project.

You’re both seemingly at two very different ends of the spectrum in regards to sustainability — a chemical company and a NFL football team building a stadium. How did this collaboration happen?

Michael Fletcher: BASF is a large company… that’s an understatement… and the Center for Building Excellence is a somewhat, new and unique group within BASF focused on driving these types of relationships — engaging the end of the value chain in the conversation of sustainable solutions and innovation. As a group focused on solutions across the built environment (from new construction to operations and maintenance) we’re charged with understanding the myriad of ways our products impact the built environment. I credit Lisa Barnard — a key account manager with our commercial construction team with the foresight in building a relationship early on with Scott. They met in a somewhat random occurrence at a USGBC event in Arizona where Scott was presenting about the Green Sports Alliance and his quest for zero waste which led to mention of his work with BASF’s biopolymer’s group and the Ecovio product. As I said we’re a large company so the story was news to us. Needless to say Lisa and Scott stayed in touch and exchanged conversations on various sustainability related topics at events like the Living Futures Conference and the Green Sports Alliance. When we learned that Scott had moved over to the Falcons and was building a new stadium we jumped at the chance to learn more about Scott’s sustainability mission with the Falcons.

Scott Jenkins: In 2011, BASF became the Seattle Mariners founding corporate partner for Sustainable Saturdays, a unique season-long environmental awareness program to call attention to various environmental issues and support the Mariners longstanding commitment to sustainability in all aspects of club operations, including Safeco Field. This unique partnership allowed the Mariners to further their composting and recycling program at Safeco Field. BASF supplied Safeco Field with compostable bags made with BASF’s Ecovio® bioplastic, a completely compostable plastic that is made partially of renewable raw materials. Ecovio is the main component of the compostable liners used at all Safeco Field concessions stands and kitchens as well as for the individual compostable bags at seats in the KeyBank Diamond Club. This partnership is now in its 4th season at Safeco field. This was my main connection to BASF, however I was also familiar with many of their building products having previously used them in the construction of a practice facility in Arizona.

Can you elaborate on your company perspectives or approaches to sustainability?

Michael Fletcher: In many ways BASF has been involved in this conversation from our origin. BASF turns 150 this year and since the late 1800s or early 1900s we’ve been supplying onsite medical care as well as incorporating a Verbund practice within our key manufacturing facilities whereby the outputs of one process are the inputs of another — almost 70 percent of our energy for manufacturing is captured from waste steam. Since the mid-1990s we’ve been leveraging eco-efficiency analysis to assist our customers and ourselves in developing products that take into consideration multiple levels of analysis including emissions, land use, resource depletion, occupational illness and accidents, toxicity potential and water. We take a true three-pronged approach to sustainability — economy, environment and society. Sustainability is so strategic to BASF that we moved it out of environment, health and safety and into strategy function to ensure that sustainability is integrated into every facet of our businesses.

Scott Jenkins: With sports we have the ultimate opportunity to make a great impact on sustainability through construction, operations, maintenance and fan engagement. An organization like ours reaches many people from diverse walks of life. We can educate current and future fans about a myriad of topics from construction practices to recycling efforts. Through the construction of the new Atlanta stadium we are pursuing LEED certification which will drive us toward energy and water reduction, uses of alternative transportation, renewable energy, sustainable building materials and becoming a zero waste facility. Then there’s the economic impact all of this will have on the local economy –construction of the stadium alone will roughly create 4,500 jobs and generate more than $400 million in total statewide economic impact, including more than $160 million in personal income.

What motivates each of your companies to take on this work?

Michael Fletcher: We’re motivated by a number of factors. As I mentioned earlier sustainability, the drive to be socially, environmentally and economically responsible has always been part of our DNA. As a chemical company we certainly adhere to the regulatory requirements but we definitely don’t stop there; we believe the changes in the marketplace are a perfect opportunity to leverage BASF’s wealth of talent internally and externally with our various stakeholder groups and value chains to cause innovation for sustainability. Right now we’re developing bio-based catalysts, renewable feedstocks and assessing our massive portfolio of products all to drive new developments in efficiency, bio-diversity, water reduction and water quality, renewable energy, reduce hunger just to name a few. During the panel discussion in October* we’ll take a much deeper dive into our Sustainable Solutions Steering approach to understand how we’ve assessed more than 50,000 products. We believe making our customers more successful ultimately makes us more successful.

Scott Jenkins: The new Atlanta stadium will be an iconic landmark for the city of Atlanta and state of Georgia. It will provide Falcons fans, MLS Atlanta fans and other event guests with an unparalleled experience, while contributing to the economic growth and success of the city and state. The new stadium will feature the highest levels of environmental sustainability inside and outside the building. The Falcons organization is motivated by people, planet and profits just like BASF, but we feel as a sports team we have a profound and unique opportunity to impact people. In addition to building a state-of-the-art facility, our goal is to ensure that Atlanta residents and all Georgians are affected in a good way by the revitalization of the areas surrounding the new stadium. This is more than just a construction project; it’s an opportunity to ensure that the city and especially the neighboring communities around the stadium are resilient beyond game days.

What happens when we bring a new voice to the table like a manufacturer?

Michael Fletcher: It’s as new for us as it is for everyone else in the AEC community but once we’re through those awkward stages inherent in a new relationship our ability to address the material palette earlier in the life of a project helps the team avoid monumental challenges down the road. BASF is unique here given the breadth of our portfolio from ingredients to end use products. Our understanding of the entire supply chain allows us to brainstorm big picture ideas; discuss challenges and limitations alongside performance benefits, and then get to work creating solutions. Part of the awkward stage I mentioned earlier was clearing up misconceptions; one problem on a past project, whether an installation or product issue can put up road blocks, none of them insurmountable, but resolution requires open and honest dialog and high degree of professionalism.

Scott Jenkins: I welcome the voice of the manufacturer at the table, particularly the teams I have experienced with BASF that truly listen to our needs before making recommendations. Now more than ever with changing codes, regulations and certification programs like LEED v4, I rely on the manufacturers’ expertise in materials. Having them at the design table helps us to be efficient and effective in our choices as project timing gets ever more condensed. The process wasn’t without its hurdles, for instance in the selection of various materials the architects and engineers definitely held up red flags based on their experiences. All of these areas needed multiple conversations from everyone involved as well as testing in some instances to move the technologies along in the decision process. I think the direct owner-manufacturer relationship provided the opportunity to cut to the chase about the real issues.

Give us a sneak peak of the project(s) you’ve engaged and/or any best practices you can share.

Michael Fletcher: I’ll let Scott speak to our collaboration on the stadium and will instead speak briefly about best practices. Although I’m a bit biased, BASF’s strategic decision to foster cross-functional/business teams is a best practice for a large manufacturer interested in influencing and impacting sustainable development and construction. It allows us to act as consultants across the built environment in a non-threatening way through the very early stages of project and beyond. It’s difficult for our sales organizations to develop and maintain relationships particularly at the developer and owner levels over the lifespan of a project, then engage at the ground level with specifiers, GCs and subs. Our group acts as a hub internally and externally by engaging early in the project to understand customer needs, then unleashing the full power of BASF experts in a coordinated, united BASF approach.

Scott Jenkins: Lisa Barnard, who Michael mentioned earlier, has been instrumental in connecting me and my design and construction team to resources at BASF. She contacted me relatively early on to inquire about our needs with the new stadium. We met and discussed our sustainability approach, our challenges and pain points on this project specifically as well as other projects. Following that a large group including my entire team — architect, engineer, sustainability consultant, general contractor, owner’s rep and myself, met with a BASF team to review a number of solutions applicable to the stadium. These included structure, flooring, waterproofing, life safety and other areas I was familiar with from my days at the Mariners like compostable plastics, turf and seating. It was impressive to see the wealth of resources, attention to detail, expertise and level of commitment. Not only did we discuss product applications but also tools such as life cycle analysis and environmental product declaration to achieve our pursuit of LEED v4 Materials and Resources credits. I’ll save the details for the summit but suffice to say while the collaboration wasn’t without its challenges it was time well spent.

Can you point to any specific innovations as a result of your collaboration?

Michael Fletcher: Working with Scott and team on the new Atlanta Stadium was definitely innovative from a process standpoint for us at BASF. This was a first in terms of having a cross-business collaborative effort and a united BASF voice in construction presented to an owner. While its likely old hat for the AEC industry to collaborate and form joint ventures and ad hoc design teams we’ve lived in silos for quite some time. This endeavor proved that on large-scale projects we’re much more valuable to our customers as a team than individual businesses.

Scott Jenkins: BASF’s approach to mix optimization for concrete paired with eco-efficiency analysis and environmental product declaration was one of the technologies I was very interested in driving on this project. Not just for the stadium, but as chair of the Green Sports Alliance, I think acceptance of innovative approaches like this are the future of reducing impact in stadiums. While we weren’t able to run with this approach on the new Atlanta stadium due to budget and time constraints, I was happy to hear that BASF’s professional and thorough dealings with producers in the marketplace have led to successful contracts on the concrete for the Atlanta Braves Ballpark.

What specific lessons do you think the industry can learn from your experience?

Michael Fletcher: We’ve heard it before, but start early. The earlier we’re included in the planning, the more opportunity we have to explore the materials palette, resolve conflicts and innovate.

Keep an open mind. Just because you haven’t done it before doesn’t it mean it isn’t the right thing to do.

Adapt the model and encourage greater interaction between owners and their project teams and the manufacturers and suppliers.

Scott Jenkins: Keeping an open mind is critical, partners, allies and great ideas can come from the most unlikely places. As an owner be willing to share open, honest feedback with your manufacturer and suppliers. We’re privy to really heated conversations, fierce competitiveness and egos but if you can share that kind of feedback honestly and tactfully you can open up the lines of communication which gets to the heart of the matter and moves the ball forward.

Michael Fletcher is the commercial segment manager for The BASF Center for Building Excellence and currently serves on the executive board of the Design Futures Council. He is actively engaged in industry initiatives focused on disclosure and transparency as it relates to chemistry in building materials and has been nationally recognized for his efforts to promote sustainable development.

Scott Jenkins, General Manager for the new Atlanta Stadium, provides insight into the planning and construction of the new multi-purpose facility leading up to its opening in 2017, after which he will manage the operations of the stadium. As the board chair of the Green Sports Alliance, he advocates for sports leagues, teams, venues, their partners and millions of fans to embrace renewable energy, healthy food, recycling, water efficiency, species preservation, safer chemicals and other environmentally preferable practices.