I wrote this story for Grist, where it first appeared.
Talk about sporting greens: On Wednesday, all of the United States’ professional sports leagues said they would distribute a guide on how to switch to renewable energy and urge their teams to solarize their stadiums.
The guide was prepared by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Bonneville Environmental Foundation and marks a new alliance between environmentalists and the nation’s baseball, football, hockey, and soccer teams.
“It’s not a league mandate, it’s not a requirement for stadiums and arenas to install solar panels, but it indicates an important cultural shift recognized by professional sports that all arenas and stadiums in the country should at least consider and evaluate the opportunity that solar power might provide,” Allen Hershkowitz, a senior scientist with the NRDC, said during a conference call Wednesday.
“Frankly, sports matter. Sports matter a lot,” he added. “Sports is one of the most iconic and influential sectors of our society and frankly we need to have a cultural shift as well as a technical and economic shift if we’re going to advance and move to sustainability.”
In other words, if Jill Six-Pack sees that the Yankees have gone solar she might consider doing the same.
“We really have the ability to shift the dial,” said Darryl Benge, the assistant general manager of Qwest Field in Seattle, home to the Seahawks and Sounders. “We basically bring together small cities on game day.”
Representatives from the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League, and other stadiums said that economics as well as the environment were pushing them to go green.
Benge noted that Qwest Field’s electricity rates had jumped 18 percent this year, which played a part in the stadium’s decision to solicit bids to install a 600-kilowatt solar array.
In Los Angeles, the Staples Center flipped the switch on a 345.6-kilowatt photovoltaic system that has so far saved $100,000 in electricity costs, according to Lee Zeidman, executive vice president for operations for the facility.
The Staples Center has gone beyond solar to install waterless urinals that save seven million gallons of water annually, and switched to non-toxic cleaning products.
Other teams have tackled the waste issue. Scott Jenkins, the vice president of ballpark operations for the Seattle Mariners, said the team has saved $1 million over three years by recycling 80 percent of the waste generated at games.
Gary Betteman, commissioner of the National Hockey League, said 30,000 shopping bags were replaced with reusable totes during the Stanley Cup, and he noted that several NHL venues have installed solar panels.
Stadium managers acknowledged that sports’ biggest carbon footprint comes from fans driving to and from games. The challenge, they said, will be to get more fans to take public transportation as well as to build arenas in urban areas with accessible mass transit.
For his part, Hershkowitz said he was astounded that it has taken the environmental movement 40 years to forge a strong alliance with professional sports.
“If you want to change the world you don’t emphasize how different you are from everybody else,” he said. “You focus on your similarities.”