The Buffalo Bills’ new $1.4 billion stadium won’t be as green or sustainable as it could be.
That’s because the stadium will not seek LEED certification, according to Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and is a globally used accreditation program from the U.S. Green Building Council that helps builders reduce their buildings’ impact on the environment via the energy they consume and how they operate.
Of the six NFL stadiums built since 2010, three are LEED certified and a fourth follows LEED guidelines.
But the new Bills stadium won’t be LEED certified, Poloncarz said, because doing so would be too expensive.
“It would probably add hundreds of millions of dollars to the cost of the new facility,” Poloncarz told reporters on Friday. “I know when we do LEED certification associated with buildings in Erie County it adds 15 to 20 percent alone on the cost if we didn’t do LEED certification.”
On a $1.4 billion stadium, that comes out to an additional $210 million to $280 million.
Experts, though, say those figures are highly inflated.
The U.S. Green Building Council — the creators of LEED certification — said building to LEED standards typically only adds 1 to 3 percent to a project’s budget.
That would be an extra $14 to $42 million on a $1.4 billion stadium, far less than what Poloncarz cited.
Erie County taxpayers will contribute $250 million to construct the stadium. Poloncarz and other county leaders are currently negotiating a final deal to build the new stadium and a community benefits agreement with state officials and Pegula Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Bills.
That public investment is part of why LEED is important, experts have told Investigative Post. Building to LEED standards pays for itself in just a few years, according to the U.S. Green Building Council.
Lynda Schneekloth, a professor emeritus at the University of Buffalo whose work has included environmental design, said the county was missing a big opportunity by not pursuing LEED.
“I think it is just plain stupid for them not to get LEED certification, and as a Buffalo resident it’s just plain embarrassing,” Schneekloth said.
In response to questions from Investigative Post, Daniel Meyer, Poloncarz’s spokesperson, lowered the county executive’s estimate, and said his figures had come from the county’s Department of Public Works.
“Estimates obtained from the Erie County Department of Public Works show that costs of LEED certification for a stadium construction project valued at $1.4 billion would range from $63 million to $155.4 million, including soft costs and additional ‘greening,’” Meyer said in an email Monday.
Those new estimates are still more than triple what the U.S. Green Building Council said they ought to be.
“LEED and green, healthy building is not that expensive if done correctly and early in the development process,” said Stefanie Young, the U.S. Green Building Council’s vice president for technical solutions.
She noted that building to LEED standards saves money on a building’s operation costs within one to three years, something many professional sports teams have recognized in planning their venues.
“Whatever those investments might cost upfront to align a sports venue with green building standards, the payoff is well worth it,” she said in an email.
State Sen. Sean Ryan, in an interview Friday, expressed disappointment that the Bills wouldn’t pursue LEED certification for their new stadium.
“With things going on in our climate and with our environment, we hope LEED becomes the norm and not the exception,” he said. “I was hoping this stadium would have been LEED certified.”
Ron Raccuia, Pegula Sports and Entertainment’s executive vice president, did not return a phone call seeking comment for this story.
LEED certified stadiums and arenas are a trend.
Take the Minnesota Vikings’ U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Opened in 2016, the 73,000-seat domed stadium cost $1.1 billion to build and obtained LEED certification twice. The stadium won LEED Gold certification in 2017 for its building practices and LEED Platinum certification — the highest accreditation — in 2019 for its operations practices.
U.S. Bank Stadium achieved those milestones by powering the facility with wind-produced energy and diverting 90 percent or more of its waste from landfills. The facility also takes steps to reduce its water use.
LEED for a football stadium is important, Schneekloth said, because tens of thousands of fans will travel to the stadium, throw away tons of food waste and use lights and restrooms. That adds up to the stadium requiring a lot of resources, which the LEED process could help conserve.
“You think about how many people go and use a football stadium,” she said. “The volume of it makes me think, ‘How do we cut costs and reduce the burden on the surrounding community?’”
Schneekloth added, “You don’t have to do everything. The thing about LEED is it has different levels.”
Poloncarz and Meyer both argued that while the new Bills stadium won’t be LEED certified, it will be more environmentally friendly than Highmark Stadium.
The county executive said Friday the new stadium would feature a modern electrical system that would conserve energy and an improved stormwater system that would reduce runoff into Smokes Creek.
“I do believe and I do know it will be much more environmentally friendly in many aspects than the current facility,” he said Friday.
Meyer added in an email that the new stadium will include “modern systems, LED lights, and reduced natural gas usage.”
“Overall, we anticipate the new stadium will have a reduced environmental impact over the current facility,” he said.
The new stadium’s Environmental Assessment Forms, part of the State Environmental Quality Review process, state the facility will use low-flow sinks and toilets and include waste-reduction measures. All of those upgrades will save money.
Schneekloth said the Bills including those elements makes it obvious that the Pegulas and Erie County know building sustainably saves money. She questioned Poloncarz’s argument that doing so would be too expensive.
“I don’t think they should buy those numbers,” she said. “I would send it back to the drawing board.”