The KFC Yum! Center, home to the University of Louisville’s basketball teams, has been called one of America’s best sports venues and one of the strangest-named arenas. However, the Yum! Center also has teamed with building operators AEG Worldwide to make the arena an impressively sustainability-focused sports facility.
The Yum! Center opened in 2010 and was constructed on a brownfield site where Louisville meets the Ohio River. Its architectural aesthetic and high-tech building design earned it an American Institute of Architects (AIA) Kentucky’s merit award. The building featured smart, customizable controls for both the water heating and HVAC systems that served to improve energy efficiency. Energy recovery, furthermore, was achieved by equipping the HVAC with enthalpy wheels.
At over 700,000 sq. ft, the arena is one of the biggest in college basketball and Louisville’s largest venue. “We’re a high-profile facility, and a lot of people are looking at the steps we take in regards to recycling, energy conservation, and water conservation,” Sean Langer, the KFC Yum! Center’s operations director, told the Louisville Courier-Journal in 2015.
Over the years, the arena has continually taken measures to lessen its environmental impact. Early on, WiFi-enabled controls were put in to decrease unnecessary electricity usage while another device helped monitor the refrigeration system. The Yum! Center also joined Louisville Gas & Electric’s Demand Response Program, which employed on-site metering that lowered energy consumption and the building’s energy bill.
Lighting upgrades were a central part of the Yum! Center’s nearly $8 million renovation in 2021.
The flashiest addition was the huge center-hung scoreboard with 12,000 sq. ft. of LED lighting alone. However, the renovation added new LED sports lighting, including swapping 184 high-intensity discharge lamps with just 116 LEDs.
While the new lighting limits glare, which fans, athletes, and performers appreciate, it also improves energy efficiency, which makes the arena operators happy. LEDs turn on and off faster and generate approximately 50% savings in energy use and equipment costs. “The new system will pay for itself,” explained Sandra Moran, Yum! Center’s marketing director.
To tackle its zero waste goal, the KFC Yum! Center has developed a recycling program around four main commodities: organic waste, mixed recyclables, food grease, and cardboard. Just five years into its existence, the arena was composting 100% of its food waste, from its main kitchen to its 100+ concession areas, and recycling over 125,000 pounds of food and materials.
The venue also emphasized purchasing eco-wise products. The toilet paper, for example, is a mix of post-consumer recycled and eco-friendly materials.
In 2017, bamboo flooring was installed on the suite levels largely because it lessens the building’s environmental impact.
Perhaps the arena’s most innovative environmental endeavor involves one of the earth’s basic elements: water. As part of its green policy for the maintenance department, the venue adopted the PathoSans cleaning system. It can create a non-toxic cleaning solution and disinfectant simply by adding salt and an electrical current to normal tap water.
These cleaning products reduce the Yum! Center’s carbon footprint on several fronts. Not only did they replace the previously used cleaning items, but the PathoSans products also reduced the arena’s carbon footprint. Because they are made on-site, they eliminate pollution caused by transportation and the disposal of packing materials and unused chemical-based cleaners.
“It is eco-friendly, less expensive than purchasing bottles, drums, or chemical mixing stations and very user friendly,” Sean Langer praised the PathoSans cleaners to the Green Sports Alliance. “The staff loves it, and the building is by far the cleanest I’ve worked in.”
Besides the various green initiatives, the KFC Yum! Center has been involved in multiple community ventures. “The Pipeline Project” was launched during the building process that hired and trained several thousand local workers for jobs in construction and related fields.
Over the years, the arena has participated in the World Wildlife Fund’s Earth Hour and American Recycles Day to raise public awareness of environmental issues.
The Center has also done more direct community actions, from organizing a winter clothes donation drive to hosting a Fill the Truck supply drive to collect and deliver essential items to help Eastern Kentucky residents following the devastating flooding in that region in August 2022.
“I was so grateful for the opportunity to spend the day working with our enthusiastic KFC Yum! Center staff and Pepsi representatives to fill the truck with essential items for flood victims,” shared Leslie Geoghegan, the Louisville Arena Authority chair. “It was incredible to see the Louisville community come together to support this meaningful initiative.”