A Greener Playing Field


When plodding through the turn-styles, you may notice that fans nowadays pull out their tickets by reaching into their pockets and with two swipes and couple taps of their smartphones they’d have their paperless ticket scanned. From that point, foam-finger toting fanatics will walk past and watch the latest big play on the energy-conserving LED lights of a giant screen while making their way to the tofu burger stand. From conserving water and increasing recycling to using solar and wind as a primary energy source, major professional sports organizations have made a concerted effort in the past years to become more eco-friendly.

“A single individual has a minimal impact on the Earth system. However, the collective actions of over 7 billion people over time can result in creating changes to those “natural” recycling processes that then have negative impacts upon our lives and our environment,” says Mark Goodman, Chairman of the Earth Sciences Department at Grossmont College. “Much is taking place today in the realm of alternative energy sources due to not only the concerns over fossil fuels and things like carbon dioxide but also because fossil fuels are a finite resource.”

The major incentive for the sports industry to consider an environmental means of running its organization are the effective cost-saving measures. “Reducing your energy costs, reducing your water costs, reducing your waste costs is a money saver as it is an environmental winner,” says Allen Hershkowitz, senior scientist at the non-profit Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

Hershkowitz, ranked as one of the top 50 most influential people in sports by SportsBusiness, adds that sports has been a way to connect with people and their passions: “Only 13 percent of people follow science, but 71 percent of people follow sports.” This gives all sports fans a new-found sentiment and broadened awareness of environmental issues.

A major force behind the endeavors of sports programs to become environmentally aware is a non-profit, Pacific northwest-based group called the Green Sports Alliance (GSA) which works in coordination of the NRDC. The Washington-state sports teams are credited with being the first to win the GSA.  “The Green Sports Alliance leverages the cultural and market influence of sports to promote healthy, sustainable communities where we live and play,” states GreenSportsAlliance.org. The NRDC boasts, “Within two years of its founding, the GSA grew to include more than 100 teams in 13 leagues; today it boasts a membership of more than 300 teams and venues.” The Alliance is responsible for the removal of hundreds of millions of pounds of carbon-emission reductions, millions of saved gallons of water and millions of happy smiles on tree-huggers faces.

The National Football League in particular has been the guinea pig of the GSA and has taken some drastic steps in growing their green thumb. CenturyLink Field, home of the brainchild of the GSA, the Seattle Seahawks and Major League Soccer team, the Seattle Sounders, has 3,750 solar panels installed on its retractable roof.

A NFC West foe of the Seahawks, the San Francisco 49ers has lended a hand as well with a new field in Santa Clara, Levi’s Stadium, that accommodates a “living roof”. The “living roof” is a canopy of green and flowering plants encompassing its eight-story tower of luxury suites to provide insulation. And on the field itself, the turf at Levi’s Stadium requires 50 percent less water than most other  NFL fields.

The Philadelphia Eagles are one of the “greenest” teams in the NFL and no, I’m not talking about their uniforms. Amanda MacMillan of NRDC wrote about the Lincoln Financial Field’s plans, “The team’s owners asked NRDC to help them figure out how to reduce the stadium’s carbon footprint, both during and after its initial build, and this changed the game for good.” Gary Mihoces of USA Today Sports said that since January of 2014, 11,000 solar panels and 14 wind turbines have been generating power at Lincoln Financial Field. “The team’s 10-year-old “Go Green” campaign also includes reduced water and electrical use, recycled paper products for all tissues, conversion of cooking oil into biodiesel fuel, a digital version of the cheerleaders calendar to spare trees and compostable packaging for the hot dogs and Philly cheese steaks.” Along with that, upon entering Lincoln Financial Stadium there are signs that plead “Recycle your beer here and your plastics outside.”

“The technology is such that wind-generated power is more cost effective than solar energy. This perhaps explains the explosion of wind farms throughout the part of the US for which I am most familiar and travel through,” stated Goodman.

Major League Baseball stadiums could be seen as giant metal and concrete structures consisting of jumbotrons that squander electricity, lavish troths that dilapidate millions of gallons of water and food stands that exhaust gas in the sake of Chicago Dogs and garlic fries. However, the MLB has made giant steps in decreasing their ecological footprint as well.

In one of the most ecological cities in America is the baseball team, the Seattle Mariners, a founding member of the Green Sports Alliance. “Since 2006 the team has reduced the use of natural gas by 40 percent, electricity by 25 percent and water use by 25 percent. (The savings amount to more than $1.75 million in electricity, natural gas, water and sewer charges)” wrote Michael Casey of CBS News. After a Tuesday home game last year against the Houston Astros, the Mariners organized a promotion in which first 5,000 fans exiting the Safeco Field gates would receive a bag of soil. Safeco Field was also the first MLB park to feature LED lighting to illuminate their field. According to Sepco-SolarLighting.com, LED lights are up to 80 percent more efficient that traditional lighting.

The Boston Red Sox, known for their famous Green Monster in left field, is not the only concept that’s green about them. The Red Sox have went ahead and used solar energy to power Fenway Park, the oldest stadium in the MLB. “Started in 2008, the Fenway Greening program has included the installation of enough solar panels to provide 37 percent of their energy,” said Casey. Toward the end of the Red Sox 2016 campaign, “a pregame ceremony featured many leaders and partners who are part of the city’s effort to reduce Boston’s greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent by 2020,” writes Mark Newman of MLB.com.

In a conversation with Goodman, he stated that applying solar energy to large bases can yield great benefits for the environment.

Coming off one of the best, if not the best seasons in franchise history is the Cleveland Indians. But their success isn’t happening solely on the playing field. Home of the Indians, Progressive Field is the first of it’s kind to install an actual wind turbine. This is part of the “Our Tribe is Green” program ran by the Indians Organization.

One would assume that the state nicknamed the “Land of a Thousand Lakes” would relieve quite a bit of rainfall. Target Field, the home of the Minnesota Twins, receives that abundance of rainfall and puts it to use in washing down the stadium’s seats.

“Water is critical to life. We live in a semi-desert. There is not enough water locally to support the millions of people who live in our area,” said Goodman. “Much more should be done in our area to conserve water.” Goodman went on to say how pleased he is to see Grossmont College replacing grass with native vegetation. This act alone has resulted in substantial savings on water bills and water itself.

Onto the National League with the Pittsburgh Pirates who have quite the recycling program themselves. The Pirates Organization has effectively removed 65 percent of waste from their stadium, PNC Park, out of the waste stream according Casey.

The Colorado Rockies started feeling green as well last year with their Bike to the Game program to assist in eliminating carbon emissions.

And of course, the hometown Padres did their part with last year’s annual All-Star Game, lighting up the A.L. and N.L. all-stars with LED lighting that is estimated to save over 250,000 kWh per year, which is the equivalent of driving more than 410,000 miles or approximately 16.5 trips around the world.

Onto the asphalt. In attempt to compensate for the burning of fuel and rubber from tires, NASCAR has implemented a program called “NASCAR Green” which includes tire recycling and has vowed to plant 8,000 trees this year to offset carbon emissions. For solar power, the famous 2.5 mile-long Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pennsylvania links its power to a solar farm which also fuels the electricity for 1,000 nearby houses, writes power-technology.com.

Perhaps more than any other sport, hockey is connected to the natural environment. Hockey requires cold climates and freshwater to preserve and develop its rinks. The National Hockey League is the first professional sports league to issue an environmental sustainability report that’s “goal is to address recent efforts and the challenges faced from an environmental perspective” said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.

The NHL is partaking in the movement as well with its NHL Green program. “Among the goals of NHL Green: to reduce the use of natural resources in business operations, to track and measure the environmental impact of the sport and to inspire fans and partners to commit to environmental stewardship,” according to NHL.com. “At the NHL, we recognize that we have great responsibility for the way we conduct our business, and we are uniquely positioned to promote the environmental message,” Bettman said.

Also in partnership with the NRDC is the NBA Green program which “generates awareness and funds for protecting the environment” says NBA.com. The NBA has 18 teams that are part of the GSA as well. Many NBA teams part of the NBA Green program donate prepared but unsold food to charities which eliminates landfilling valuable food that would release harmful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Among the steps inside the arena to eliminate surpluses of energy include team kitchens that use solely Energy Star equipment. Which produces 20-40 percent less energy than standard products.“The NBA’s commitment to reduce its ecological impact and to help educate basketball fans worldwide about the importance of environmental protection confirms why this league is regarded as one of the world’s most responsible sports organizations,” said Hershkowitz. Former NBA Commissioner David Stern said, ”The Seattle Storm and the Portland Trail Blazers are helping to lead the way on the greening of professional sports and the NBA and WNBA are grateful for their leadership. Their participation in the Green Sports Alliance holds the potential to further the greening of professional sports nationally’’.

Goodman advises all Grossmont College students to “plan one’s navigation across space using an automobile more efficiently would help. This means trying to use your car so you reduce the number of miles you put on it during a day while still getting everything you need to get done, done.”

For other tips to generate a better consciousness of the environmental threats and how to make a positive difference in the environment, visit NRDC.org.


One thought on “A Greener Playing Field

  1. It is very strange for those of us in the Philly area to have a football stadium on the cutting-edge of technology. Veterans Stadium and Franklin Field were indeed not known for their “green initiatives” other than what the fans had on. While some can’t resist using this energy effort as a starting point for a “witty” comment about more energy needing to be realized from the team…I think most Eagles fans are pleased the franchise is a winner when it comes to being “green.”

    Liked by 1 person

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