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Kaid Benfield’s Blog

The greening of professional sports

Kaid Benfield

Posted November 17, 2010

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  San Francisco's AT&T Park (by: randychiu, creative commons license) 

You’re looking above at AT&T Park, where the World Series champion San Francisco Giants play.  It’s one of the greenest stadiums in the country, writes Amanda Little in Forbes:

“[The Giants’] stadium, AT&T Park, which accommodates about 45,000 fans, runs its scoreboard on solar power, recycles and composts nearly 50 percent of its waste, sources eco-friendly napkins, containers, utensils, toilet paper and the like, and has enough efficiency features to cut the stadium’s annual energy and water bills in half. That amounts to huge savings, given that stadiums can consume as much energy as small cities.”

This is part of a trend, says Little, and I’m pleased to report that it is a trend being led in many respects by my NRDC colleague Allen Hershkowitz, who is quoted in the story.

  DC's Nationals Park (by: Nick Hall, creative commons license)  recycling bin at Nationals Park (by: llemanie/melanie, creative commons license)

I’ve written before in this space about green stadiums in Washington and Dublin.  Nationals Park in DC (above) sports a great location and a green roof donated by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, among other features, and was the country’s first stadium to be LEED-certified.  I’ve also written about DC’s Verizon Center, whose incredible location has been a major catalyst for downtown revitalization and which draws a huge majority of its customers from the plethora of public transit lines that serve the facility.  (I walked there from work Monday night to watch my Georgetown Hoyas beat Tulane; Austin Freeman dropped 23 points and Jason Clark had 17 points, 11 rebounds and five steals.)  We take the arena and surrounding neighborhood vitality for granted now, but building the facility there was a brave and farsighted move by the late Abe Pollin back in the early 1990s.

AT&T Park's solar-powered scoreboard (by: Wally Gobetz, creative commons license)I was brought up to date on the broader subject of greening sports and entertainment by an excellent presentation of Allen’s at last week’s multi-day meeting with sleep deprivation NRDC staff retreat.  It’s been an area of focus for Allen and a few other colleagues for some time, and they have been working with a number of leagues and teams, as well as with entertainment events such as the Oscars, to improve these high-visibility businesses’ environmental performance.

It’s paying off.  Both Allen and Little report that sports teams are stepping up recycling and efficiency in their facilities, attracting lucrative corporate sponsorships with green messaging, and raising consciousness among fans.  Other facilities mentioned in Little’s article include Boston’s Fenway Park, Atlanta’s Turner Field, and stadiums and arenas hosting the Philadelphia Eagles, Utah Jazz, Portland Trail Blazers and Phoenix Suns.

Of course, not everyone has been converted yet.  Cowboys Stadium in Texas looks like a swell place to visit if you’re a car (or, even better, a helicopter, since the traffic must be massive):

  where the woeful Dallas Cowboys play and their fans park (via Google Earth) 

Little describes the Cowboys’ facility as “an energy-guzzling Colossus averaging $200,000 in monthly utility bills and consuming about as much power as Santa Monica, California.”  Not too green, that.  Compare the site for Dublin's super-green Aviva Stadium, below:

  Dublin's Aviva Stadium under construction (via Google Earth)

Or check out Vancouver’s Empire Field, below, where that city’s soccer franchise plays.  It is amazingly made from some 22,000 recycled tires.  

Little’s article describes the bottom-line benefits to teams from energy savings and a more favorable public image.  And she also points out that, given the toxic political climate in the US, working directly with business and other non-government entities may be a more fruitful way to achieve environmental benefits than trying to work for legislation:

Empire Field, Vancouver (by: John Bollwitt, creative commons license)“At a time of federal paralysis on energy and climate legislation, our push for progress must happen from the ground up, in our schools, churches, cities, states—and sports teams.

“Let’s applaud the teams that are greening professional sports.  Let’s also exhort them to do more, and demand similar practices from those that have yet to join the movement.  The reality is, we’re not getting positive environmental action from our elected leaders, but we might be able to get it from our players.  For now, anyway, they’re more popular than our politicians—and perhaps more influential.”

She will get no argument from me on that.

Move your cursor over the images for credit information.

Kaid Benfield writes (almost) daily about community, development, and the environment.  For more posts, see his blog's home page


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SteveNov 17 2010 10:03 AM

I'd love to talk about this issue sometime more. One of my hobbies. The bigger question about football stadiums is whether they are ever really a good use of prime urban land. For football alone in the US, they're never going to see more than 12 home games if a team goes all the way to the Super Bowl. While more can be done to site them closer to transit and use other modes of transportation to get there, I don't want to see a new Skins stadium on valuable land inside the land-constrained District that should be used for more people, more housing, or more retail. We have constrained supply and a football stadium is a waste of space that should have more intense uses. Baseball is somewhere in between, with 81 home games each summer, but now Nats park sits empty until April. The Verizon Center is about as good as it gets, with nearly 300 events a year in there. Hoyas, Wiz, Caps, Mystics, Concerts, Rodeos, etc. It has enough busy days to truly anchor a commercial district, which a baseball or football stadium can never truly do. I love urban ballparks of all kinds but it's rare that they are a great use of limited urban space.

(The Dublin stadium is indeed awesome, though it's going to be used for soccer, football, gaelic football, rugby, and numerous other events too. Add to the mix that the Euros don't have the long tailgating culture that we have and it becomes much more feasible to weave one into the urban fabric. If you put a football stadium somewhere with minimal parking, fans would grip to no end about the lack of tailgating options. Huge part of the experience.)

Kaid @ NRDCNov 17 2010 10:21 AM

Steve: good points, but your UGA Dawgs' roots are showing.

DesNov 17 2010 12:40 PM

Don't be too quick to pick on the Dallas Cowboys. I attended a presentation at a recent ITE conference that outlined their parking and travel demand management strategies; the whole thing was actually quite impressive, particularly given the auto-oriented location.
Parking costs at Cowboys Stadium are upwards of $60 per car, and average vehicle occupancy was something like 5 persons. Most of the presentation dealt with reserved parking in relation to seat location, coordinating in- and out-flows, and accommodating tailgating activities. Still $60! and 5 people per car! Impressive.

Kaid @ NRDCNov 18 2010 11:22 AM

Apart from consuming as much power as Santa Monica, Cowboys Stadium fills 30,000 parking spaces under the team's control, roughly twice as many as the team's old facility, Texas Stadium. That's big even by NFL standards, with a seat-to-space ratio under 3:1.

By contrast, the transportation-horrible FedEx Field, where the Redskins play and the league's largest capacity stadium, has a 4:1 ratio. Says ESPN about transportation to Cowboys Stadium: "There is no public transportation nearby."

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