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Jane Schuldiner’s Blog

Visiting Levi's Stadium and the Revolution In Greening Sports

Jane Schuldiner

Posted August 4, 2014 in Green Enterprise, Living Sustainably

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A lot of people ask me what kind of work I do here at NRDC.  My response always includes “sports greening,” which can sometimes lead to a look of confusion.  I then describe the importance of making ecologically sound choices in stadiums and arenas when it comes to issues like diverting waste, reducing energy and water use, purchasing more sustainable food and serviceware and committing to fan education on environmental issues that can, and do, impact sports. 

I recently had the pleasure to attend the 2014 Green Sports Alliance (the Alliance) Summit, which brought together over 700 stakeholders in the sports greening movement to Santa Clara, CA for workshops, panels and sports venue tours. NRDC co-founded the Alliance in 2009 with Paul Allen’s Vulcan Inc.

Levi’s Stadium was my most memorable event at the Summit. The future home of the San Francisco 49ers is officially certified LEED Gold with 44 points (39 are required for Gold certification) on July 22, during the Summit.  The stadium boasts three solar-paneled pedestrian bridges and one solar-paneled roof deck as well as a 27,000 square foot green roof on the top of the stadium’s suite tower. 

As a vegetarian, nothing resonated with me quite as deeply as the huge “vegan dogs” signs hanging proudly at food courts throughout the stadium.  The Levi’s Stadium menu has over 30 vegetarian options and General Manager Zach Hensley proudly declared, “We are going to be the most vegan-friendly stadium in the entire sports industry.” As for the non-veggie food, the hot dogs will be antibiotic-free,hormone-free meat, and the chicken they serve will be raised locally at Mary’s Free Range Chicken in the San Joaquin Valley.

vegan dog.jpg

Photo by Alice Henly, used with permission

Levi’s Stadium is proud of its local food sourcing- with 78 percent of suppliers of stadium food located within 150 miles of the stadium, and 85 percent located within California.  I highlight Levi’s Stadium because I had the pleasure of touring it, and do not mean to downplay the many other initiatives going on all over the sports world that NRDC helped to instigate-- from the USTA to MLB and on college campuses across the country.  

Because of NRDC’s work, and the work of the Alliance, these types of initiatives are becoming more common among stadiums and arenas and the momentum for making environmentally intelligent decisions is growing. Fans are holding venue owners to higher standards than ever before.  In a survey done by the Shelton Group, fans were asked how they’d react upon learning that all trash left after a game went straight to a landfill, without sorting, recycling or composting efforts. 42 percent said they would blame the venue owners – and it would tarnish their opinion of them.

According to one estimate, fans leave an estimated 16 million cubic feet of trash behind every year -- enough to fill Yankee Stadium and leave another two million cubic feet of garbage piled up outside -- these numbers really matter.

The bottom line is that sports are an integral part of American culture.  I am certain that not all sports fans consider themselves environmentalists.  But the fact remains that 63 percent of Americans identify themselves as sports fans, and sports account for more than $400 billion in economic activity annually.  Not connecting with sports to educate people about the environment would be a missed opportunity.

Appropriately, the summit keynote speech was delivered by James Curleigh, Executive Vice President and President of Levi’s Brand, whose passion for the environment was obvious.  Curleigh serenaded the crowd with a song by the Beatles, singing, “You say you want a revolution, well you know, we all want to change the world.” Sports has the ability to do just that--indeed, it has done so many times in the past--because of its worldwide reach and cultural influence.   

If you’d like to join the revolution yourself, get involved by following us on Twitter at @NRDCGreenSports and join the conversation at #GreenSports. Learn more about the NRDC Sports Greening Project at www.nrdc.org/sports

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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