THE BLOG
10/18/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Greening the U.S. Open

This weekend, I had the pleasure of participating in a US Open event.  No -- not a tennis match -- but something that is still an integral part of the US Open: the announcement of this year's greening initiative. 

This is the second year now that NRDC has worked with the US Tennis Association to make the US Open an increasingly sustainable sporting event. 

I was in good company at the press conference, with fellow spokesperson Alec Baldwin. We spoke about the genesis of this initiative, how it has progressed, and why it matters.  That last part is key.  It matters a lot for several reasons. 

The US Open is an international platform, receiving attention from tennis fans worldwide.  By making sustainability a priority at this event, the USTA is sending a message to their fans that environmental stewardship is a value they hold dear.  We've been proud to be a part of this outreach and have even helped them produce PSAs for their jumbotrons and elsewhere, incorporating the assistance of their spokespeople - Alec as well as Billie Jean King and Venus Williams among others.  Check them out here:

But the greening of the US Open is important for another reason - its impact in the marketplace.

When the USTA decided they were going to make a change, that inspires their vendors to change.  And a ripple effect occurs - more businesses sell sustainable products. Companies that once didn't have enough hybrids in their fleet to service such a big event or couldn't produce napkins with post consumer content expanded and improved the products they had to offer. Today, multiple companies have fully developed green offshoots of their core business, and can now offer these eco-friendlier services for other clients moving forward.

While a full list of the USTA's achievements can be found here - I thought I'd take the time to highlight a few items I think are especially important:

Recycling Measures:

The USTA has made recycling a priority.  They have placed recycling bins throughout 100% of the complex next to each and every trash can.  This is one of the fastest expansions of a recycling program we've seen.

They are recycling the overwhelming majority of the 20,000 tennis ball cans they'll use during the event.  To do this, they had NRDC find a recycling company that could figure out how to recycle the cans that contain two different kinds of plastic (in the can body and lid) and a metal ring that has to be removed.  That's a lot of plastic that will no longer be landfilled - and also a reminder that most things should be recycled. 

Energy:

Another important achievement is their efforts make energy improvements. They have reduced the number of energy servers they use for this event from a whopping 60 to just 6.  That's a huge step in the right direction toward energy efficiency.  And for the energy they're still using, they have purchased wind power through Green-e renewable energy certificates.  By purchasing with Green-e they've ensured that the credits meet the standards we think are meaningful for renewable energy and make renewables that much more cost-competitive.

Concessions:

Lastly, it's important to note their work with Levy - their concessionaire. Levy is in charge of all the food, utensils, paper, etc (basically all the stuff that people normally identify as source of a stadium's waste).  

The US Open worked closely with Levy to make sure they would source food from about a dozen local farms, create a pilot composting program, recover cooking oil for use as biodiesel fuel, and ensure that products including utensils and napkins were made out our recycled and/or biobased content.

And to do all this, Levy had to reach back to their own group of vendors and oftentimes seek out new ones to fulfill the US Open's request.  It's another great precedent-setter for the marketplace.

In the end, I'd say I was part of a great US Open event, even if it wasn't the finals. On the cusp of the event's opening day was an ideal time to highlight all the equally great achievements happening off the court.  From the upstream message the US Open is sending to companies they work with to the downstream message they're sending to their fans worldwide, the USTA has proven that - as they say - "their courts may be blue, but they're thinking green".  Indeed.

But while the press event was important, I admit that watching tennis is more fun.

This post originally appeared on NRDC's Switchboard blog.