11/24/2010 01:13 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Village Green: The Greening of Professional Sports

  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.”

Soon to join the Giants in high-profile green initiatives are the Philadelphia Eagles, who just last week announced a partnership with a company called Solar Blue to make the team's Lincoln Financial Field (below) the first major sports stadium in the world to convert to self-generated renewable energy using a combination of onsite wind, solar and dual-fuel generated electricity.

  Lincoln Financial Field hosting the Army-Navy game

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.

I’ve written before about green stadiums in Washington and Dublin.  Nationals Park in DC, in particular, 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 last week to watch my Georgetown Hoyas beat Tulane.)  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 a recent 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 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:

“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.

Empire Field, Vancouver (by: John Bollwitt, creative commons license)

“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.

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Kaid Benfield writes occasional Village Green commentary on Huffington Post and (almost) daily about community, development, and the environment on NRDC's Switchboard.  For daily posts, see his Switchboard blog's home page