Stadiums, arenas, playing fields and other sports venues present a unique management challenge for waste management, water conservation and electricity consumption.
Consider your average home game. In a few short hours, thousands of fans leave an impact on parking lots, restrooms and consume huge amounts of food and drinks. Countless kilowatt hours of electricity go toward displaying stats and random fan videos. And how do fans get there? Public or private transportation.
So, it is great to hear that energy efficiency, renewable energy, recycling and composting are becoming far more common in the professional sports world.
Of the 126 professional sports teams in the five major North American leagues, 38 have shifted at least partially to renewable energy and have energy efficiency programs, reports the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Green Sports Alliance.
They are also taking the opportunity to educate millions of people about sustainability practices - 61% of Americans identify themselves as sports fans, compared with just 13% who follow science.
“The motivation for sports to engage in greening is simple; the games we love today were born outdoors, and without clean air to breathe, clean water and a healthy climate, sports would be impossible,” says Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, director of NRDC’s green sports project. “A cultural shift in environmental awareness is needed in order for us to address the serious ecological problems we face, and the sports industry, through its own innovative actions, has chosen to lead the way.”
There are other motivations. It turns out that sponsors like the fact that an event or a venue is considered green.
In 2010, the major professional sports leagues collectively began encouraging the use of renewables in arenas and stadiums across the US, and the Green Sports Alliance formed last year.
“The sports industry is proving that greening is smart business,” says Alice Henly, a principal author of NRDC’s Game Changer report. “From cost savings and brand enhancements to new sponsorship opportunities and strengthening community ties, sports organizations are reaping the tangible economic benefits of greening which is essential to keeping their operations efficient.”
To help advance sustainable business practices in sports, the Green Sports Alliance is teaming with US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to share best practices. The alliance represents more than 50 amateur and professional teams and leagues, and is studying 19 or so different environmental base line indicators.
The Alliance is also using data from EPA's ongoing Game Day Challenge, where colleges and universities compete to come up with the most effective waste reduction strategies for their biggest games.
Which leagues, teams or events are proving to be the most valuable players?
The NRDC report (Game Changer: How the Sports Industry is Saving the Environment) offers 20 game plans that other sports organizations might seek to emulate. Here are some notable examples:
Solar – Football team Washington Redskins has a 2 MW solar array, which completely powers FedEx Stadium when there arenn't games and partially powers during games.
The STAPLES Center in Los Angeles has a 1,727-panel solar array covering 25,000 square feet on its roof. The 345.6-kilowatt system supplies 5%-20% of the building’s energy, and saves an average of $55,000 a year.
Wind – In 2012, Progressive Field in Cleveland was the first professional sports facility to install a wind turbine.
Renewable Mix - Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, home of the National Football League’s (NFL) Philadelphia Eagles, is building the largest solar installation in the NFL. Combined with micro wind turbines, renewable energy will provide about six times the power used at the stadium each year and the excess will feed the grid.
Irrigation – AT&T Park in San Francisco uses an irrigation clock receiving up-to-the-minute local data to establish zone watering times, saving 33%-50% in water use; the surface of the infield was also changed to reduce field watering by 33%.
Water Conservation - Target Field in Minnesota has installed low-flush, dual flush toilets and aerated faucets, which use 30% less potable water, saving 4.2 million gallons of water annually.
Recycling – The Cleveland Indians cut trash in half from 1,262 tons to 613 tons through an enhanced recycling program that cut trash pick-ups by 64%. The Seattle Mariners baseball team recycles or composts about 80% of the waste at their games at Safeco Field, with the goal of being the first stadium that sends zero waste to landfills.
Energy Efficiency -- The Seattle Mariners cut $1.5 million in utility costs from 2006-2011 by reducing natural gas use by 60%, electricity use by 30% and water use by 25%. Meanwhile, the Miami HEAT saved $1.6 million by using 53% less energy than the average facility of similar size and use.
A coalition of 25 professional sports teams were among the first to join the Obama Administration's Better Buildings Challenge and a Texas football stadium is now LEED-Platinum.
Here is NRDC's report: