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Sporting a greener shade


Brooklyn's Barclays Center is looking to become the first LEED Certified promo sports venue in the New York City area later this summer. Photo courtesy of the Brooklyn Nets.

The color green has always been synonymous with sports of all varieties. The freshly cut crass of a well-manicured outfield… or end zone or the more trampled kind heading into the final rounds of Wimbledon.

Now, thanks to the efforts of the Natural Resources Defense Council, sports at the highest levels across the country are donning a deeper shade of green than they ever have before -- and are leaving quite the impressions on their surrounding communities as a result.

“It’s the overall transformation of a cultural center and that’s what is so powerful in the sports movement. There are few sectors like sports that are as culturally and economically influential,” said Alice Henly, who serves as the coordinator of collegiate sports greening at the NRDC. “And when we can take those cultural icons, like our sports stadiums and arenas and transform them with green building measures, with onsite renewable energy, with more efficient operations, they can be a cultural guide and model for the marketplace. We are seeing this happen across the country.”

Many pro sports venues now feature solar panels in their infrastructure. Here, workers install a set of solar panels at the new Busch Stadium in St. Louis, the home of MLB's Cardinals. Photo courtesy of Microgrid Solar.

This past September, Henly and the NRDC released “Game Changer,” a lengthy report that summarizes the ongoing and growing efforts of pro sports venues to begin to implement green initiatives into their own cultures -- from everything to reduced carbon footprint for transportation to the venue to reducing overall water use by relying on ground water catchment systems to installing solar panels. According to the report, here’s the green pro sports scene at a glance:

  • At the time of the report, 15 stadiums or arenas have achieved Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building design certifications, while 18 have installed on-site solar arrays.
  • Of the 126 pro sports in five major pro leagues (Major League Baseball, National Football League, National Basketball Association, National Hockey League and Major League Soccer), 38 have shifted to renewable energy for at least some of its operations and 68 have energy efficiency programs.

Fans of the New York Giants may not want to hear this, but the start of the greening sports movements began with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2004 when owner Jeffrey Lurie and associates first reached out to NRDC senior scientist Allen Hershkowitiz to ask how they could make their Lincoln Financial Field a more sustainable nest. That one initiative started a domino effect. MLB commissioner Bud Selig soon expressed his enthusiasm for the cause and the NBA, NHL, U.S. Tennis Association and MLS soon followed.

Giants -- and Jets fans, too -- can take pride in the fact that when the New Meadowlands Stadium Company went about building MetLife Stadium they did so by recycling 75 percent of its construction waste and using 40,000 tons of recycled steel in the building, including 25,000 tons of steel from former stadium. The stadium also sports 1500 solar panels as well, Henly said. In fact, those who built the venue were scheduled to be honored by the NRDC during a special recognition dinner this month. In addition, Henly said that the USTA’s Billie Jean King Tennis Center has implemented sustainable initiatives into the fabric of its entire operation over the years.

Here's one of the NRDC's promotional videos that shows the various green movements taking place at the USTA's Billie Jean King Tennis Center and surrounding facilities.

The Barclays Center, the sparkling new home of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets and the future pad of the NHL’s New York Islanders, currently has an application for LEED Silver Certification for New Construction out for review. It would be the first LEED sports venue in the New York metro area. Those in charge of the project hope to receive a thumbs-up later this summer. It’s the arena’s location -- smack dab on top of the artery of several trains and subways -- that makes it one of the most transportation-reducing venues in the country.

“They have huge benefits from their location. It’s really incredible how you can walk right into the stadium from the subway. You don’t even go outdoors, so they really [thought] it up well with the transit system,” said Henly, who added that the measures of transporting fans to games is by far the largest carbon footprint from major sports.

Last month Henly headed to Houston for the NBA All-Star Game to take part in a series of events that further gained awareness for the movement. It helped that the game was held at Toyota Center, a venue that received LEED Silver Certification for Existing Building in 2010. Henly said that before the arena went for LEED status there were only a handful of buildings in Houston that had LEED certification. That number has since swelled to more than 100.

Sports teams are also finding another kind of green when committing themselves to more sustainable practice: money. One of the case studies in “Game Changer” profiles the NBA champion Miami Heat, a team that plays in the LEED-Certified American Airlines Arena. The team saved $1.6 million in a single year and attracted $1 million in new corporate sponsors.

“You’re seeing teams align with existing sponsors who have green programs already and they’re able to extend and expand their sponsorship arrangements or attract new sponsors,” Henly said. “So we’re seeing operational cost savings, attracting sponsors, enhancing brands and a stronger community relationship with what is essentially their client, which are the fans who live nearby and within the region.”


Workers help collect beer bottles and other recyclable items during the 2011 World Series. Major League Baseball was the first pro sports league to get involved in unison with the NRDC's efforts. Photo courtesy of MLB Photos/Darrell Byers.

So where does the green sports movement go from here? To college. Although several prominent national universities such as Ohio State University and University of Colorado-Boulder have openly gotten involved with starting more sustainable practices, it is Henly’s hope that more and more schools will follow their lead, such as the league-wide regulations that have been set by all eight Ivy League schools. Henly herself first discovered the passion that became her career while honing her skills as a champion rower at Yale, before started a sustainable campus initiative. “I found it was a natural way to bring activism from the environmental world into my sports life because there was also some potential to reach athletes like myself and sports fans,” she said.

The second edition of “Game Changer” is due to come out later this summer. This time, though, the report will share success stories found within the collegiate space -- while providing more resources for every single community sporting venue, big or small, to be a little greener. The NRDC already provides many examples through its Greening Advisor page.

“Ultimately we are helping to educate millions of sports fans about the invaluable natural resources that make these sports in our daily lives possible,” Henly said. “What is exciting is that a lot of these teams and venues are already on board. They’re already changing people’s minds and encouraging them to make greener lifestyle choices when they lead by example. They can have this impact because they are culturally iconic in a way no other industry is. The potential for environmental education is huge."

What are your thoughts on greening of not only pro sports venues, but smaller community ones as well? Do you know of anyone in your community who has looked to implement some sustainable practices into your local playing fields? If so, we’d love to hear about it.




That is an awsome looking building. Good to see they are using solar panels. Some of the designs of buildings coming out today are out of this world.

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