A baseball game is over, and what do you see as you leave the stadium? Probably rows and rows of seats with trash stuffed underneath. If it was up to Allen Hershkowitz, senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), that image would be no more. But Hershkowitz doesn't just want the trash to disappear—he wants to green sports stadiums from the inside out.
Two years ago, in March of 2008, NRDC partnered with Major League Baseball (MLB) to implement the Team Greening Program, which provides team-specific advice on everything from chemicals to concessions to carbon footprints. (Teams can find the NRDC Greening Advisor with recommended advice at greensports.org/mlb). And in April of this year, MLB announced a roll-out of a software system called the Environmental Data Tracking System that will track and analyze environmental data for all 30 club stadiums, hoping that environmental impact measurements will lead to even better facility enhancements.
Hershkowitz oversees NRDC's work as principal environmental advisor not only for MLB, but also for Major League Soccer (MLS), the National Basketball Association (NBA), and the National Hockey League (NHL). He also is an an advisor for the National Football League (NFL) and the United States Tennis Association. Eco-Structure recently spoke with Hershkowitz about the efforts to reduce the environmental impact of professional baseball.
What kind of progress, in terms of specific building methods, money saved, and enviromental impact, have you’ve seen so far in the two years since the Team Greening Program began?
All of the teams in the league [MLB] are now looking at their ecological footprints and their energy use. We’re starting to see the installation of energy-use reduction [initiatives], water-conservation initiatives, solar panels, and widespread implementation of recycling. We’re going to see the installation of some type of solar system on all professional stadiums in and arenas in the next five years.
Stadiums have begun to switch to recycled paper [for most printed material]. The paper industry is the third-largest industrial generator of global warming pollution. … The paper industry is a big contributor to global deforestation. This underscores the importance of sending the message to the supply chain. We’re actually seeing the elimination of paper in favor of electronic information. For example, the Pittsburgh Pirates, Boston Red Sox, and Seattle Mariners used to print media guides each year at 500 pages long each. Now they’re switching to electronic [versions].
What are the most creative methods you’ve seen being used to green stadiums?
There’s Fenway Park, the oldest stadium in MLB; we worked with them to install solar panels on the roof that offsets 30 percent of all the energy needed to heat water and the stadium. The [Seattle] Mariners have eliminated garbage baskets and installed recycling stations or composting baskets. Staples [Center] replaced 176 urinals, each consuming 44,000 gallons a year, with waterless urinals, saving 7 million gallons of year. We’re seeing a lot more LEED-certified arenas and stadiums: the Washington Nationals, the Miami Heat, the Atlanta Hawks, the Minnesota Twins, and more stadiums are now moving to [obtain] LEED certification. There’s really a wholesale integration of environmental criteria into stadium operations as a result of our work that is unprecedented.
What’s the status of the Environmental Data Tracking System, and how will it benefit sports?
It’s going to initially monitor four attributes of stadium operations: energy use, water use, waste generation, and recycling and paper use. We’ve been working for a year with MLB to develop a user-friendly and informative system and MLB has agreed to license the software system with NRDC. Everybody—NBA, NFL, NHL, MLS—is very excited already about incorporating that data collection system into their league operations. We’ll be able to compare environmental operations, not only across leagues, but also within individual leagues. We've had discussions with the World Cup for 2016 and 2020 about incorporating league-preferable operations into those global events as well.
How does measuring environmental impact give stadiums incentive to implement sustainable measures?
It’s impossible to improve things you don’t measure. It’s hard to increase your recycling when you don’t know how much recycling you’re doing to begin with. Many teams are [now] reporting large financial savings in terms of the measures they’ve implemented. If one team sees another team saving money through energy efficiency or recycling, that team is going to think, maybe I should do this.
What kinds on environmental innovations will we see in stadiums in the future—any ballpark wind turbines on the horizon?
The [Philadelphia] Eagles are looking into micro wind turbines; different solar [panel] systems are being evaluated; even incentives for fans to take public transport are being discussed, which is a big deal because a lot of teams make a lot of money from parking fees.
Where else have you seen the effects of greener stadiums?
These programs have now been incorporated into the charitable organizations run by the leagues, such as NBA Cares and MLB's Baseball Tomorrow fund—we worked with [that group] on designing neighborhood baseball fields around the country that have environmental criteria in them, keeping the toxic chemicals off the field, installing recycling infrastructure, getting them to use recycled material for the development of the seats. This has become a priority in all the leagues, so I’m proud of that.
How does the greening of major sports trickle down to affect the fans?
What this initiative of professional sports shows, is that everybody has to do something. But more importantly, all of America’s industries meet on the baseball field and the football field: the chemical industry, the paper industry. When these giant industries get the message from professional sports, they’re hearing that the world is changing. And they’re not hearing it from a political organization. One of the benefits of this initiative is to take the politics out of the discussion about global warming. There’s a lot of people who are taking our need for reducing our emissions and trying to frame it as something being instituted by Democrats or Republicans. But when MLB says global warming is not good for baseball, it takes the political dimension out of the discussion and moves us toward a recognition that we all have to do something. The auto industry, the food and beverage industry, the paper industry, the energy industry, the chemical industry, the plastics industry, water, clothing—all major industrial sectors have a relationship to professional sports. Our interest in this initiative is to affect the supply chain.
Eco-Structure recently profiled an example of NRDC and MLB's efforts in action at the Minnesota Twins' new stadium, Target Field, in Minneapolis. Click here to read about the LEED Silver-certified field.