Greener Ballparks Designing Baseball Stadiums with the Environment in Mind

Across Major League Baseball (MLB), teams are turning greener than the outfield grass. They’re reducing energy consumption, extending recycling efforts and investing in renewable energy. So far, four ballparks, including Fenway Park in Boston, the nation’s oldest, draw some of their power from solar energy.

There’s activity on the construction side as well, with green stadiums opening in each of the last two years, and another one on the way for 2010. Citi Field, the new home of the New York Mets, built with 95% recycled steel, just opened in April. Last season brought Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified Major League stadium (it reached the silver level), and next season promises a new park in Minnesota seeking LEED gold.

Building from the ground up gives new parks environmental opportunities that existing parks don’t have. Both Nationals Park and Citi Field have energy-efficient field lighting and waterless and low-flow plumbing fixtures, for example, and both designs incorporate green (vegetative) roofs and white (reflective) roofs to battle the heat-island effect. Additionally, both projects emphasized using recycled steel and concrete and kept construction waste to a minimum.

U.S. stadium designer HOK Sport designed both parks, although the environmental particulars were reached by different routes. In Washington, D.C., the owners of Nationals Park, the DC Sports & Entertainment Commission, “wanted a facility that was as green as humanly possible, within the budget,” says Joe Spear, HOK Sport senior principal.

That’s not to say they insisted on LEED certification, though. Spear says it’s not as easy for the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) to adapt its standards—designed for office buildings and, more recently, homes—to ballparks. “A lot of these ballparks have open-air, seasonal-use areas,” he says. “You really have to understand the way a ballpark works to know what it means to interpret some of these LEED requirements.”

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From Left: Boston Red Sox mascot Wally the Green Monster, Allen Hershkowitz (NRDC), Stephen Johnson (then-EPA administrator), John Adams (NRDC founder). © The Red Sox

Susan Klumpp, a senior principal at HOK who also shepherded the project, cited the number of bicycle racks as an example. The typical formula for earning a transportation credit would have required 2,000 of them, far more than would likely ever have been used, wasting space and material resources in the name of green building. The USGBC agreed, and altered the requirement.

The USGBC “really saw the value in promoting their cause by having this building certified. It demystifies and makes it seem achievable for other people,” Spear says.

Meanwhile, in New York, the Mets called on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for guidance, reaching a memorandum of understanding in March 2008 that was widely hailed by city leaders, but does not involve any third-party certification of green steps taken. Among the extensive pledges the Mets made were to use almost all recycled steel, to add coal ash to its concrete mix (keeping it out of the landfill) and to join two post-construction EPA programs, ENERGY STAR and WasteWise.

The Philadelphia Eagles are widely acknowledged as the first and greenest sports franchise—and cemented their reputation at the start of the 2008-2009 football season with the announcement that they were the first National Football League (NFL) team to be “powered by wind,” thanks to the purchase of 14 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) of wind power. But it was a suggestion from actor Robert Redford, a trustee of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), that got the ball rolling for baseball teams. In 2003, Redford was hosting a council gathering when Allen Hershkowitz, an NRDC senior scientist, mentioned he’d been working with the Eagles on their greening efforts.

At the time, the council was frustrated by the disdain for environmentalism in Washington and was casting about for “nontraditional allies,” Hershkowitz said. Redford recommended they reach out to the sports leagues. Another trustee present was Robert Fisher, whose family owned a stake in the Oakland Athletics, and he offered to connect the group with MLB. There, the NRDC’s missive found a kindred commissioner in Bud Selig, says John McHale, MLB’s executive vice president for administration.

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Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., won a silver LEED rating from the U.S. Green Building Council. © The Nationals

“He has a very longstanding view of the game as a social institution,” most notably how Jackie Robinson’s joining the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 transformed race relations in America, McHale says. Selig “has a daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren, and is as attuned as anyone” to the need to protect and conserve, he says, adding, “we have a game that is gloriously played outdoors on healthy green grass and dirt, so lots of things led to his interest.”

One result of the NRDC/MLB collaboration is the Greening Advisor for Major League Baseball, online at www.greensports.org. Hershkowitz calls it “the most comprehensive environmental resource ever assembled in one place,” and it is indeed voluminous, offering guidance on topics ranging from air quality to waste management—almost 80 topic areas for each team. Some entries are the same from team to team, but where details vary by market, so does the guidance.

The NRDC compiled it for baseball, but it’s a good resource for anyone looking to cut waste and emissions. “Not everyone has to worry about getting ready for thousands of fans 81 times a year,” McHale says, “but the site has lots of information that would be helpful to businesses and to homes.”

The NRDC has grown its sports-outreach strategy several times over. Hershkowitz also advises the NFL, the National Hockey League, the U.S. Tennis Association and the National Basketball Association, for which the NRDC has adapted the website (www.greensports.org/nba). He’s also a green guru to the Oscars and the Grammys, and late last year he initiated the greening of Broadway.

It’s not too hard to see what attracts the NRDC to all these large organizations.”Outside of the family, the most influential role models of children are people in entertainment and sports. It’s not people in the environmental movement, and it’s not people in academia,” Hershkowitz says. “I wonder why we didn’t do it 30 years ago.”

Expanding the Field

The promotional opportunities are evident to more than just the NRDC and the teams. All four of the solar installations at MLB parks—at the homes of the Colorado Rockies, the San Francisco Giants, the Boston Red Sox and the Cleveland Indians—were funded in part by local utilities or nonprofits.

In Cleveland, the club was approached by the nonprofit group Green Energy Ohio, the host of the 2007 National Solar Conference, “because they wanted a showpiece for the attendees to come see,” says Brad Mohr, assistant director of ballpark operations. The result was a 42-panel, 8.4-kW array.

Mohr, a passionate proponent of renewable energy who now is investigating wind turbines for the club, thinks the panels will not only influence “the average person used to coal burning,” but could also yield an even broader benefit: “What I’m hoping for is th

at a startup will see that photovoltaics work at this latitude, recognize that Northeast Ohio has an incredibly skilled labor force from the car manufacturing plants that have closed,” and open a plant, he says.

Embodied in the promotional frenzy is the widely held belief that fans approve of greening initiatives, and think well of those who undertake them. The Red Sox’s Katie Haas, who as senior manager of business affairs oversees the greening initiatives at Fenway Park, says the fan feedback has been consistently positive. “We’ve received overwhelming response from our fans on everything we’ve done, but especially the Dream Team,” she says, referring to crews of college-age volunteers who roam the stands during the game retrieving recyclables. The volunteer job is a choice gig in Boston in light of the scarcity of Red Sox tickets. “We get letters commending us all the time and asking us how they can participate,” she says.

The Red Sox, considered an environmental leader in baseball, actually enlisted the NRDC before MLB did, asking in 2007 for help developing a five-year sustainability plan to culminate in Fenway’s 100th anniversary in 2012. The team times its irrigation to be most water efficient, composts its grass clippings and this season introduced single-stream recycling (putting all recyclables into one bin), among a number of other initiatives.

The Seattle Mariners are another baseball team that connects with fans through sustainability. Scott Jenkins, vice president for ballpark operations says, “It’s the right thing to do, but also, we’re in Seattle, and the state of Washington, where environmental concerns are high. It makes good sense as a business to show you’re concerned. It’s not just bottom line.”

But, as Jenkins points out, the club is still a business, and many steps he’s taken are more than paying for themselves, especially in energy conservation. One part of his strategy has been to ask all employees to bring to work the money-saving ethic they employ at home—to turn off lights, for example. In two years, electrical use has fallen 13% and natural gas use has declined 32%, he says. The club also installed a building automation system that displays energy use in real time. Altogether, he says, energy costs have fallen a half-million dollars in two years.

Down the coast in Oakland, the Athletics have worked with their utility to reduce their electric use, and they urge their fans to use public transportation. They made their sustainable splash by being the first Major League club to serve beverages in compostable cups.

David Rinetti, the A’s vice president of stadium operations, says the club’s recycling pays more in PR points than in pennies saved. “We’re very aggressive, and that’s labor intensive,” he says. The club has offered electronics (or e-waste) recycling internally, and is considering offering it to fans on occasion, but anything like renewable energy generation will have to wait until the team gets a new stadium.

Saving Stadiums

In fact, there’s a bit of new-stadium envy among the facility managers. Rinetti mentioned that “some of the newer stadiums have the opportunity to do newer stuff.” And in Boston, Haas mentioned that the “brand-new parks are able to have updated lighting, plumbing and things like that. But,” she added, “[Fenway] is a hundred years old and takes up only six city blocks for the entire ballpark.”

Her point raises another sustainability perspective. The previous Red Sox owners were loudly on record as wanting to relocate to the city’s waterfront, where, if they’d wanted to, they could have achieved all sorts of green firsts—not to mention considerable new revenue streams. But the owners decided to update the current ballpark instead, preserving not only its historical allure but all its embodied energy, a fact acknowledged by the city last year when it named Fenway one of its 12 greenest buildings.

It is likely that the vast majority of green construction work over the next several decades will also be renovation, not new construction. MLB is at the end of an epic building boom, and most parks are far nearer their beginnings than their ends.

Stadiums “don’t simply get built and then remain intact for 30-40 years,” says MLB’s McHale. “There’s a lot of rearranging and repurposing of space, probably at the 8-10 year mark, and then again at 20—about every decade. I expect the renovation work is going to be done with a much higher consciousness to LEED certification than has ever been the case.”

In the meantime, there are other steps that baseball and other sports franchises could address, such as realigning their leagues and scheduling so teams could fly shorter average distances, less often, or both. But all sports revere their traditions, and disrupting rivalries in the name of reducing carbon footprints might go well beyond the limits of fan tolerance. Popular fashion or climate-change realities may one day force such broader changes, but until then, the most significant steps might remain closer to symbolic than substantial, such as the solar additions to ballparks.

“Ballparks use so much electricity that it’s almost impossible and impractical to expect those PV cells to make a significant dent in your electrical bill,” Cleveland’s Brad Mohr says. “It would certainly be nice, but we’d have to have propellers all over the place and solar covering every square inch.”